Recruits must meet tougher standards

27th June 1997 at 01:00
Trainee teachers' English and maths curriculum spells out not only what they should know, but how they should teach it. Nicholas Pyke reports.

Trainee teachers will have to meet tough standards in English and mathematics from next year as part of a new drive to raise the quality of recruits to the profession.

A new "national curriculum" for primary trainees demands exacting technical knowledge from newly qualified teachers. Graphology, phonology and morphology must be allied to a grasp of Cartesian co-ordinates in two dimensions.

The Government's training quango, the Teacher Training Agency, described the new curriculum as "a substantial step forward" in the level of professionalism demanded. Primary teachers' knowledge of maths has been a particular source of concern.

Demands for better recruits will prove controversial at a time when applications to teach in primary school have fallen by 11 per cent.

"These are proper standards for a proper profession and that needs to be recognised," said Anthea Millett, chief executive of the TTA." The new standards will, for the first time, spell out in detail what is required. "

Officials said they hoped the standards would dispel the notion that "you can drag people off the street and get them to teach children to read and write".

The agency has also published a set of general professional requirements for all teachers, primary and secondary.

The regulations create two new types of training course in developing areas of policy: for subject specialists at primary school and for 14-to-19 specialists in the secondary sector.

The main development is, however, the training curriculum, where the TTA spells out not only what new teachers should know, but what sort of method they should use.

In maths, they must understand, for example, the arithmetic of integers, fractions and decimals; the distinction between a rational number and an irrational number; and how to make sense of simple recurring decimals.

In English they must have a technical grasp of how language works (for example, they must know that adverbs normally qualify verbs) and be able to identify common mistakes.

The curriculum will, for the first time, specify teaching techniques, including a heavy emphasis on phonics. It will no longer be acceptable to adopt merely "a range of methods", says the TTA. It must be a range of methods known to work.

Both the English and maths proposals back up the findings of the Government's national literacy and numeracy projects. There is, for example, a heavy emphasis on mental arithmetic; teachers must be familiar with specific mental strategies for helping children cope.

The detailed knowledge of the curriculum will be required of all undergraduate trainees starting this year, and of all postgraduate trainees starting in 1998. The new regulations replace the previous Circulars 992 and 1493.

"There was previously some confusion particularly among trainees themselves, " said Ms Millett. "They had difficulty finding a clear expression of what it was they were expected to fulfil. This makes it easier for everybody, students, teachers, inspectors and schools."

"This makes much more explicit demands; it moves the system even further forward.

"Providers will start to look at this and ask themselves questions. I hope they will bear these things in mind when they're interviewing trainees for next year."

All trainees, she said, will be "audited" at the start of their course so that universities can assess the true state of their knowledge.

"In my view, we failed 18 years ago to grasp the nettle of making explicit what we expected of teachers," said Ms Millett. "If we'd done it then, the whole delivery of curriculum and assessment might be easier. We now have a second opportunity."

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