Shortage could last forever

31st August 2001 at 01:00
A recession will not be enough, says think-tank - only a fundamental change in working conditions will attract graduates in the numbers we need. Nic Barnard reports.

A leading think-tank today warned ministers that only a transformation in the way teachers work will reverse a teaching shortage which risks becoming permanent.

Demos, the left-of-centre policy unit with close links to the Labour Government, says the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention is no longer cyclical, and will not be solved by a recession.

In Transforming the Teaching Profession, a report for the National Union of Teachers, it warns the profession could be locked into a "spiral of decline". It says urgent and radical changes are needed to lift teacher morale, make the profession more attractive and meet the needs of a changing society.

Its recommendations include cutting bureaucracy, giving every classroom teacher an assistant, and putting teachers at the centre of curriculum change and inspections. This follows decades when teachers have felt that they were victims of "a never-ending barrage of externally-imposed, randomly-timed and badly-managed initatives" from above.

Changes to working conditions were as vital as increases in pay, it said.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"It's clear from this report that teachers are committed to the care of children and high standards, but morale is low. There has to be a restructuring of the profession which puts teachers back in control.

"The Government has to trust teachers. It has no choice."

Tom Bentley, director of Demos, said the government had to find a different way of understanding the recruitment problem.

"The force of change isn't just driven by political whim. Politicians are desperately trying to keep up with the pace of change they see in wider society - in technology, the labour market, the media, parents' expectations. None of these are going to slow down."

The report's author, Matthew Horne, says teachers have been overwhelmed by change in the past 20-years. While they understand the need for it, he says, they will accept it more if it is done with them, instead of to them.

He says education must remain transparent and accountable. The report recommends more school self-evaluation, backed by inspection on demand. But it also says inspectors should spend the equivalent of a term teaching each year.

Teachers want more autonomy and more flexibility, the report says, so they can become "lead learners" in their schools. To do that, they need to be liberated from bureaucracy. Technology should play a part, and all teachers should have their own laptop computer.

Despite initial suspicion of classroom assistants, teachers now value them, and enjoy the responsibility of managing a colleague and working in a team.

And they are keen to improve their own practice. The report says that unions should now get more heavily involved in providing training opportunities for their members.

DEMOS SAYS...

Cut unnecessary workload with greater use of IT

* Give all classroom teachers full-time support from teaching assistants

* Use more self-evaluation in inspections; lead inspector should spend at least one term a year teaching

* Give teachers a greater role indeveloping the curriculum

Reform school leadership programmes to make change in schools sustainable

* Emphasise in national recruitment campaigns that teachers can reshape schools

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