In search of lost time

7th February 2003 at 00:00
Much-vaunted workload reforms to cut hours only scratch the surface.

What we really need is more teachers, says Jim Hudson

As teachers, we are constantly riding an emotional roller-coaster, but three particular events in recent weeks have really put me on the Big Dipper - leaving me frustrated with ministers and full of admiration for colleagues.

The first event was troubling. It was the release of a Mori survey for the General Teaching Council that revealed widespread discontent in the profession. So much so that half of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years. These are not the moaning teachers of old - they are frustrated practitioners who lack the resources to carry out their responsibilities. The frustration is compounded by the fact that incomprehensible funding decisions steer resources away from where they are most needed: the classroom.

As ever in teaching though, there's always something to cheer us up. This brings me to the second event. As reported in this week's TES, the National Primary Schools' school-centred initial teacher-training consortium has announced it is proving very successful at keeping people in teaching. Of trainees who successfully completed the programme in the past five years, 96 per cent are still teaching - that's a drop-out rate of just 4 per cent.

Contrast this with the drop-out rate revealed in the GTC survey for the profession as a whole, which still relies mainly on traditional college-based training. Amid the perceived despondency within our profession, something is going right and there are valuable lessons to be learned.

The third event that grabbed my attention was schools minister David Miliband's enthusiastic claim that the Government is truly committed to cutting workload and freeing teachers to focus on teaching.

But it would be naive to think a real sea change is about to take place. I admire Mr Miliband's enthusiasm and commitment, but he is being poorly advised and, as a result, is missing the point. His school workforce reforms merely scratch the surface of the problem - and fail to address the fundamental difficulties.

The basic problem is this: there are far too many people being funded to monitor, advise and direct the far too few actually doing the work.

Quite simply, to deliver sustained improvements in teaching and learning in schools we must build on what works, and change what does not. This will require a bold reallocation of funding towards schools, and teacher-training. If we were to do this we could fund all of the following solutions.

First, we could ensure that all schools employ more teachers, especially those in challenging circumstances. Those in deprived areas would get extra funding, enabling them to increase substantially the size of their teaching team, which would be backed up by a range of community support services.

Second, we should invest to reform teacher training. The aim would be to retain new teachers by introducing a voucher system entitling them to five years of quality training. This programme could be delivered by partnerships between school consortia and higher education institutions, creating opportunities for teacher research and sabbaticals.

We can also make it easier for prospective teachers to get into training by removing unnecessary entry conditions. Instead we would trust training providers to make their own judgment about whether a candidate is suitable to train to be a teacher. And let's make it easy for those training providers who have the best record of retaining teachers to expand further.

A crucial element in teacher-training reform would be the establishment of an accredited national mentoring programme. The mentors would work in initial teacher training, induction of newly-qualified teachers and in all subsequent professional development. This could revitalise and reward our most experienced teachers who have so much to offer, while at the same time drawing practical expertise into teacher-training colleges.

All these initiatives would deliver what teachers and schools need most: less interference; more and better trained teachers; and the ability to manage our most treasured resource, time. We might even find time for our children.

Jim Hudson is chair of the National Association of School-based Teacher Trainers and headteacher of Two Mile Ash middle school, Milton Keynes

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