Welcome to school - and then goodbye

14th January 2005 at 00:00
Too many trainees are leaving the profession after only a few years. reports Dorothy Lepkowska

For about half of all of you reading this, teaching will be a dim and distant memory within five to ten years. Drop-out rates are too high, the Government has told the Teacher Training Agency. Official figures show teaching is no longer a career for life but a stepping stone to another career.

Fewer than half of those who start their training end up staying for more than five years. Up to 12 per cent will drop out during their courses, while the rest will give it a go only to later decide it is not for them.

The Department for Education and Skills said it wanted to cut this "wastage". In a response to a Commons education select committee report on the figures, the Government said part of the solution was to make sure trainees are aware of the realities of the profession before they start training. "For some, teaching will not be the right career, and it is important that they are counselled out of the profession or fail to gain qualified teacher status," the official response said.

But is it really as simple as weeding out the potential quitters before they waste time and money getting trained, or are young teachers turned off when the reality of a life working in a school sets in?

Jon Davison, dean of initial and continuing professional development at London University's Institute of Education, said the selection procedures were already stringent. "We get three applications for every place, and we trawl through them looking for evidence of dedication to teaching, so we already sift out those who are not suitable candidates early on," he said.

The problem, he believes, lies in changes to the content of courses in recent years. Aspects such as child psychology, sociology and philosophy are no longer taught because of constraints on the time-table.

"The second and third years of a teacher's career are crucial," he said.

"At this stage, they would need to draw on some of these subjects to help them understand their work and maintain that fascination and interest they had in the early days.

"Now they survive their first year or so and think 'That is it'. " Carol Adams, chief executive of the General Teaching Council, agrees that the early years are crucial, and wants to see better support for NQTs.

"New recruits need not only a high-level induction year but in subsequent years, mentoring, coaching and the continued support of a more experienced teacher who can observe their lessons and generally provide support," she said.

"We need to treat them as professionals who are valued. Many of those who have already opted to leave may have stayed if the support had been better."

However, Peter Tymms, professor of education at the University of Durham, believes suitability to the profession could be identified earlier.

He would like to see all undergraduates undergo a brief taster period in school to find out whether teaching is for them. This could carry points towards modules on some degree courses to encourage participation.

"Whilst such as scheme would focus the minds of those who want to teach," he said, "it might open up the possibility for those who had never considered it. What a shame it is that the profession is currently missing out many of these people just because they have never been given the chance to try it."

He also complains of a crowded time-table for trainees . "Issues such as special needs are only touched upon in ITT, so it can come as a real shock to the system when these young teachers start work and see what they are up against," he added.

Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University and a TES columnist, has trained thousands of new teachers. "The rot really set in about 15 years ago when Government began to interfere more and more and bring about reforms and changes," he said.

"Until then we had seen a relatively small number of teachers - what I would call a marginally motivated fringe - leave early because they were not suited to the job.

"Now we have a core of the profession questioning whether to remain. No one signs up saying they don't want to teach. They become disaffected."

He added: "A French teacher told me recently that if the Government had tried to impose the levels of change in France as had taken place here, there would have been riots. The kids would have been out on the streets, never mind the teachers."

tony sewell, page 64

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