Teachers: still an under valued currency

5th May 2000 at 01:00
Will the Government's cash offers solve the teaching recruitment crisis? Phil Revell gauges theopinion of sixth-formers, trainees and students.

The news of golden hellos for teachers in shortage subjects and pound;150 a week for PGCE students has not been greeted with universal approval. The inducements come into effect from September, but critics question whether they will be sufficient to attract the next generation of teachers into the classroom.

From this autumn, graduate entrants will earn training salaries of pound;6,000 a year. In addition, all trainees in the shortage secondary subjects of maths, science, modern foreign languages and technology will, on completion of their induction training, receive a one-off payment of pound;4,000. Schools training teachers through the employment-based SCITT route will be paid pound;13,000 per person to meet the salary costs of the trainees.

The Sixth-formers

The initiatives received a lukewarm response at Idsall School, Shropshire, where sixth-formers Hannah Taylor, Amy Connon, Rebecca Clarke, Michelle Yates and Lynsey Woolford are contemplating teaching careers with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Hannah has been accepted on to a four-year primary teachers' BEd at Worcester College. She would like to teach key stage 1. "I've wanted to be a teacher for three of four years," she says. Her mother is in the profession, and this has "inspired the interest".

The other students say they're keeping their options open. Rebecca wants to pursue her subject interest first. "I want to do history with German. I'm thinking of a PGCE after that, but I'm still not really sure whether teaching is for me."

All five see the job's attractions in traditional terms: working with people, making a difference. "It's challenging and rewarding," says Hannah. "You can influence lives."

The students are aware of the looming financial pressures presented by student loans and fees. "I've got two cousins at university," says Lynsey. "One of them took out a loan, but now he's unsure how he's going to cope when he leaves."

Hannah is less than enthusiastic about the PGCE payments: "They're paying pound;6,000 to people who may be unsure about teaching. And yet they're not paying people like me who are dedicated enough to do a four-year course. I was tempted to do the degree followed by a PGCE, but I was swayed by the fact that the PGCE is only one year. It doesn't have the advantages of the BEd with school experience over the whole course - with PGCE it's just two terms."

Hannah, Rebecca and Lynsey, have parents who teach and they are realistic about the demands of the job.

Lynsey says: "A lot of people think teaching is just about standing at the front of a room talking to a class or going through a textbook - unless you know people who are teachers. It's not a nine-to-three-thirty job - work carries on once you're at home."

The girls are also aware of new pressures likely to be created by recent changes. "There's more planning," says Lynsey, "especially with literacy and numeracy. And the expectations are higher, teachers are expected to stay on with after-school clubs."

Rebecca adds: "With the performance pay teachers have to prove they are doing extra things to get the money."

All five are agreed that pay alone will not improve the recruitment situation. "If you get children who are not behaving, that must really grind you down," observes Rebecca. The others agree that discipline in the classroom is a major concern. "I don't think there's any one thing that would attract people," says Lynsey. "Smaller class sizes, more support, no tuition fees - a combination of these things might work."

Teacher trainees and nqts

One group particularly underwhelmed by the Government's initiative are the current crop of students, already embarked on their courses, who have missed out on pound;6,000 by a year. "I spent seven years in higher education," says Emma Clarke, a PGCEstudent at St John's College, Cambridge, who has also completed a doctorate. "And all so that the kids call me 'Miss' at the end of it. Now, I'm spitting. Any sense of pride and willingness to accept my lot has been replaced by resentment."

At the Institute of Education, in London, Flora Wilson is equally angry. "I've got a loan of more than pound;5,000, an overdraft limit of pound;15,000 and a horrendous credit card bill," she says.

Emma and Flora point out that this year's crop of PGCE students has been affected by the Government's indecision over tuition fees last summer. They have had to meet numeracy requirements brought in after they registered for their courses, and now discover they are the last cohort obliged to finance their own postgraduate training.

The anger isn't limited to postgraduate courses. Tim Wilson and Lorraine Webb are BEd students at Homerton College in Cambridge. "I feel slighted and undervalued," says Lorraine. Tim is in the second year of a four-year BEd. As a male primary teacher, he will be filling a shortage category, as acknowledged by the Government, but he will not be rewarded with an incentive. "I don't come under any of the schemes," he says. "It's costing me a fortune to do this course and I'm rewarded like this."

Both students chose the BEd believing it offered a better route into teaching, especially for primary practitioners. "It seemed to be a more rounded course," says Lorraine. "I don't see how a graduate who takes a single subject into primary education, an English graduate perhaps who might be expected to teach science, is going to teach as well." Tim points out that the course is less crammed than the PGCE.

"I'm going into the profession with a better theoretical knowledge," he argues. "And I will have had at least five big blocks of teaching in a variety of schools." He believes the Government is turning away from the BEd as an entry route. Students also question whether the plans will succeed in attracting candidates. "It's so short-termist," says Flora Wilson. "It's not going to solve the problems of retention." She argues that students coming out of university with loan debts of pound;15,000 will not be swayed by a pound;6,000 salary. "They're going to want to earn a real wage as soon as possible," she says.

One of Flora's close friends has recently handed in her notice after two years teaching: "The money would be better spent making sure those who are in the profession stay there," she says.

Lorraine Webb agrees. She thinks graduates will look at starting salaries before considering any other incentives. "Anyway," she argues, "it's not a recruitment problem. There are plenty of teachers out there - but they've left the profession. These are the people the Government should be getting back."

There was some solace for the Government and the Teacher Training Agency. Paul Mooney, a PGCE graduate of the institute now in his first year of teaching, thinks the scheme will attract graduates.

"On my course, there were a lot of people in financial difficulties who had to get part-time jobs - this money will make a difference."

Alison Bonnet, a third-year student at Nottingham who is considering taking a PGCE course, also welcomes the new payment. "That's great news," she says. "It will make next year a lot easier."

But Emma Clarke is unforgiving: "If only I'd dragged out writing my PhD for an extra year like everybody else did, I'd be laughing all the way to the bank. To those training in the future, I say, spare a thought for the forgotten few of 1999-2000. And as for your golden hellos, I hope you choke on every zero."


At Wolverhampton University's Telford campus, third-year students are assembling dissertations and coursework and keeping an eye on the fast approaching finals. Life beyond the degree is coming into focus, but there are mixed feelings about the prospect of teaching as a career - and the incentive payments are given a thumbs down.

"They could make it pound;10,000," says Nick Ralph. "It wouldn't persuade me. Teaching doesn't appeal in any shape or form. I feel that teachers are constantly battling and I don't want to go into that sort of situation. Teachers are being used as tools in political games. Their sense of vocation is being exploited - the Government is stressing the vocation and not the reward."

Sandra Hodson has been persuaded to become a teacher. She's following a BA with QTS, but she's annoyed that her course is excluded from the payments.

"Had it been available before, I would have probably taken a conventional degree followed by a PGCE, purely because being a student is hard going financially. But I think the BEd is a better qualification."

Rebecca Carey enjoyed her education and had considered teaching, but the entry routes didn't appeal.

"I approached Wolverhampton's careers adviser about this last year," she recalls. "I'm a part-time student with a full-time job. I wanted to find out if I could do the teaching course part-time, but it's still not available. I would have to come out of full-time work and even with a pound;6,000 incentive it's a huge drop in income for someone like me to look at."

Eilis Muimneach remembers her school days in Ireland with mixed feelings and wonders whether she'd feel more enthusiastic about the job if she'd had a more positive experience.

"There wasn't any room to express or develop your own ideas - it was 'This is what you learn, write this'. If I did teach, it would be in colleges with older teenagers and definitely not with younger people."

For Andrew Roden the job holds no attractions. "I looked at teaching after my GCSEs. I decided against because, as a society, we don't value learning as much as we should. Twenty years teaching people who don't want to know - that's a waste of time. I can do better, and put more in elsewhere. At my school I got the impression that the older teachers became disillusioned; they realised they couldn't really change things."

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