Would-be teachers deterred by fear of debt

8th August 1997 at 01:00
Pay review body raises new worries about staff shortages, reports Frances Rafferty.

The prospect of rising student debt poses a further threat to the supply of teachers, according to a report by the Government's pay review body.

It shows that the extra year of study needed for the postgraduate certificate in education was a deterrent, even before the Government decided to charge students Pounds 1,000 a year in tuition fees and abolish the maintenance grant.

The estimated Pounds 10,000 debt students will incur will be raised to Pounds 14,000 for would-be teachers without special measures.

The School Teachers Review Body is already concerned that the existing student loans are deterring would-be teachers. It faces calls for substantial pay rises to offset the debt and knows that many trainee teachers believe they should be paid, at least when they are working in schools.

"Some commented that this (PGCE) compared unfavourably with other career options, where in-service training was provided while on full salary," said the study.

The review body will present this evidence to ministers when it makes its final recommendations early next year.

A probationary police constable can expect to be paid Pounds 17,325 while at the Metropolitan Police Training School and Pounds 19,098 on leaving.

Students will now have to pay Pounds 1,000 a year toward tuition fees and loans for living costs will be means-tested.

The Government has said it recognises teachers and medical students as special cases and is considering bursaries. Paying the PGCE tuition fees would cost the Department for Education and Employment Pounds 20 million. If students taking four-year BEd courses were included the cost would be Pounds 30-40m.

Jeff Holman from the National Association of Head Teachers said: "If students are left with greater debts by studying an extra year, then teachers' pay should reflect this accordingly."

Professor Alan Smithers from Brunel University said: "In the private sector employers can choose to take care of empoyees' debts. One wonders what's going to happen with the training of teachers. It would encourage people to enter training if these fees were waived. Or it may be that public-sector pay needs raising to take account."

Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, has asked to meet David Blunkett, Education and Employment Secretary, because of protests by doctors who fear that crippling debts will lead to a shortage of medical graduates.

The TTA has also proposed that student teachers should be given "golden hellos" - helping them pay off their debts if they remain in teaching for two to three years.

BMRB International, authors of the report, Undergraduates' Attitudes Towards Teaching as a Career, asked 82 students from "old" and "new" universities what they thought about the profession. It discovered that the status of teachers is also a major deterrent.

One interviewee said: "Teaching? No money, poor facilities, no appreciation by the Government, low status, lots of useless administration and poor students and just frustration."

The report says students blamed the media for creating and reinforcing the negative stereotype: "Some students talked of the negative stance taken by teachers when interviewed on the media and the teaching unions were mentioned as adding to an adverse impression."

The lack of status was seen as more important than pay. There was still a widely-held view that teaching was a vocation and not a highly paid job.

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