Wanted: a beter class of graduate

8th November 1996 at 00:00
The Teacher Training Agency launched a determined new offensive this week on one of the most intractable problems in education - how to recruit a better class of graduate into the profession while simultaneously meeting the Government's formidable targets for doubling secondary teacher supply by the turn ofthe century.

The announcement is timely, coming during a week when the image of teaching has been subjected to a very public battering after massive media coverage of the disintegration of order at the Ridings and Manton schools.

A strategy document, which has just been approved by the TTA board, includes detailed proposals on recruitment and follows an impassioned plea by TTA chief executive Anthea Millet for an end to the pervasive climate of "criticism, criticism and more criticism" in which teachers are "caught in a crossfire like civilians in someone else's war".

Her speech last week was widely interpreted as a thinly veiled warning to the chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead, who has been accused in the past of damaging the image of the profession by focusing relentlessly on its more inadequate members.

The new TTA strategy addresses a worsening situation. In 1995-96, recruitment to initial teacher training was below target for maths, science, foreign languages, religious education, technology and music. Indications for 1996-97 are no better, with the exception of RE.

Recruitment is patchy - in London, for example, schools are finding it difficult to recruit maths, science and language teachers, and headteachers. Additional problems include an ageing profession, with 60 per cent of teachers aged 40 or over and only 15 per cent aged under 30.

There is also a chronic shortage of male teachers in primary schools and secondary schools are becoming increasingly female-dominated. "We cannot afford to write off half the human race," Ms Millett said.

All this is despite a vast increase in the number of graduates.

The TTA is calling on the Government, universities, businesses, teacher unions, serving teachers, Training and Enterprise Councils and the careers service to join the campaign to "re-establish teaching as an intellectually challenging profession" whose new career structure, the TTA hopes, will make it competitive with law or medicine.

Large employers worried about recruiting suitably skilled workers are to be asked to back publicly the TTA campaign and offer specialist support. They may also be asked to provide sponsorship.

The document's author, Jane Benham, the TTA's new head of teacher supply, admitted that the TTA faced a massive task in getting the message across that "teaching is not all like The Ridings . . . The over-arching thing is to persuade industry and the Government that if you don't have enough teachers you won't have enough qualified people - it's all interrelated with the economy. "

She also stressed the need for new, national research into why the brightest university students are rejecting teaching as a career.

The last substantial piece of research into this issue was done by the National Commission on Education in 1992, which warned that undergraduates rated teaching poorly on almost all of the criteria they saw as important in a career.

In its submission to the School Teachers' Review Body, the TTA has called for one-off payments of up to Pounds 5,000 to seduce good maths and science graduates into teaching, and it hopes that the new proposals will "persuade those both inside and outside government to make additional finance available".

But the TTA is insisting that the problem is not just a matter of money; rewards must be explicitly related to expertise and talent. "Rewarding longevity, or those administrative responsibilities which could be more appropriately performed by a non-teacher, is, I believe, counter-productive, " said Ms Millett, echoing almost exactly the views of Labour education spokesman David Blunkett.

Proposals for promoting the profession include a national publicity campaign "making use of surveys showing the respect in which teachers are held".

A new TTA information centre, use of the Internet and "a stock of good-teacher stories" will be deployed to counteract the bad news. Potential maths and science teachers are to be attracted via a series of newspaper articles and adverts.

The document is full of broad hints directed at the Education Secretary and the Office for Standards in Education, such as: "We should encourage the Government and other government agencies to praise good teachers and good schools".

The TTA also wants better data on recruitment and retention in order to monitor trends and focus money and attention where it is needed. Research is planned on why men are rejecting teaching.

Employment agencies will be enlisted to entice mature entrants and former teachers into the classroom. But Jane Benham warned that the TTA could not solve the supply problem by itself.

Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, welcomed the campaign and promised support but pointed out that practical questions remained.

The priority recruitment scheme had been "badly handled by the TTA," she said, with universities unclear about how much money they would get, which made them unable to use it as a carrot, while the link between the number of students recruited and TTA funding was not conducive to securing high-quality entrants.

The prospect of another year of penury on a PGCE course after three years of accumulating debt is putting many students off teaching, she said.

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