The media campaign to attract new teachers is a success but, says Anthea Millett, a vital piece of the jigsaw is still missing.
Teacher recruitment is on everyone's lips. Not just because we are approaching the Easter conference round, but because the Teacher Training Agency's No One Forgets A Good Teacher campaign has attracted considerable public interest.
The campaign, part of a five-year recruitment strategy, has succeeded in raising awareness about the importance of teaching as a profession - but, six months after the strategy was launched, what has been achieved and what more needs to be done and by whom?
No one disputes the objective which lies at the heart of the recruitment strategy - to ensure that the teaching profession attracts high-quality candidates in sufficient numbers to meet the needs of schools. We have developed five targets that include the need, by 2002, to raise the average academic achievement of those entering undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and the number of those applying for primary and secondary initial teacher training.
We launched the strategy with a commitment to working with key partners, including higher education, local education authorities, professional and subject associations, and industry, and looked for specific contributions from these partners in seeking to achieve our targets. Crucially, the strategy's success also depends to a large extent on the involvement of teachers themselves as potentially the best advocates for their profession.
The commitment from our partners so far is patchy. While some have made a significant contribution, others have been slower to react. That must change. The Government is making the running, but that will be futile if others do not at least attempt to match its pace.
The TTA has taken a lead not only through formulating the strategy but through decisive action: a pound;10 million scheme is providing financial support to trainees in subjects such as mathematics and modern foreign languages; new employment-based initial training programmes have been launched; taster, returner, bridging and conversion courses are being sponsored by the agency across the country; joint TTA-subject association conferences have taken place and more are in the pipeline; a new website attracting hundreds of thousands of visits is available; and we are seen at practically all major - and many minor - recruitment fairs.
A regional strategy is being developed so that effective local networks can be encouraged to tackle local recruitment issues. Our attempt to recruit more ethnic minority candidates into teaching has been helped by three joint conferences with the Commission for Racial Equality, which has also helped us develop a targeted advertising strategy.
The No One Forgets A Good Teacher campaign itself has been exceptionally successful in raising awareness. Cinema audiences of 13 million have seen two new commercials boosting the profession; our teaching hotline has been receiving about 1,000 new enquiries per week; a single edition of Panorama generated more than 600 telephone calls the next day from people wanting to find out more about teaching as a profession, And all this will be magnified many times by the extension of the campaign to television with an audience reach of 30 million.
And it is not only recruitment initiatives which will help secure a good supply of trainees. Our far-reaching reforms from new QTS standards to new headship training programmes are helping shape a new profession geared to meet the challenges of the millennium and beyond.
But one piece in the jigsaw is missing. Concerted action by the agency alone is not sufficient to achieve the right number and quality of candidates for initial teacher training. Some partners have been very active in their support; some, however, assume that their signature on a document is an adequate contribution to the general effort on recruitment. It is not. While I am grateful for their moral support, I am now looking for a more substantial contribution.
Target setting, as for the national literacy and numeracy strategies in schools, has quickly established its potential value and I am now advocating this for those who provide initial teacher training. I want each provider to agree with the TTA individual targets which stem from our five national targets on quality and numbers at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In return we will reward providers financially, and I can assure them that how this financial reward will work in practice is still to play for.
Every teacher-training institution is in a position to tell us where they are now, and where they propose to be in a year's time, given adequate support. Each provider needs to develop an action plan to help them secure individual targets, which must be both realistic and challenging. These plans shall incorporate monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to help us judge progress made against key national targets.
It is not just ITT providers, however, who are under the spotlight. Local education authorities too must take responsibility as key stakeholders, in solving recruitment problems. While some positive LEA initiatives are under way, too many LEAs still do not feel it is their business to collect information on local teacher vacancies. That results in a market intelligence void which hampers all those trying to ensure our present and future classrooms are well-staffed.
The response of the teacher organisations and subject associations to the agency's recruitment campaign has been encouraging. We are, for example, working with the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association on developing a pool of teachers to act as advocates for the profession, and have, with the National Union of Teachers, commissioned a survey into the attitudes of 16 to 18-year-olds about teaching. Government regional offices, training and enterprise councils, careers organisations and industry have also contributed to developing the strategy. But, as with ITT providers and local authorities, other stakeholders need to ask themselves: "What can we do to get the right number and calibre of teachers in our classrooms?" Schools must also be at the heart of the strategy. Not just in terms of more extensive advocacy of the professions, but also in influencing option choices by students post-16. To put the recruitment needs of teaching and initial teacher training in context: to recruit to target in 1998 we need to take around 21,750 graduates on to postgraduate certificate in education courses. That is more than all the rest of the members of the Association of Graduate Recruiters put together. The largest private-sector recruiter, KPMG, took on 550 graduates last year.
If PGCE targets were to be met entirely from a single year's graduate cohort, we would need to recruit nearly 50 per cent of all pure mathematics graduates, 42 per cent of all graduates in those modern foreign languages commonly taught in schools and 40 per cent of all graduates in English. That is the magnitude of the task we face. We now have to ask questions about whether and how we create a larger pool of graduates in these subjects and how we use the good graduates we have to better effect.
Let no one underestimate the scale of the problem. And let no one claim that this problem is insurmountable. I am confident that we can find creative solutions, and that we need to move forward together, perhaps thinking the unthinkable, in ensuring that all our pupils are taught by professionals focused on one thing only - raising standards in classrooms.
Anthea Millett is chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency