Aspiring teachers in the 21st century should not be allowed to begin training unless they have "at least" an upper-second class university degree, according to ambitious new targets which universities are being asked to sign up to by the Teacher Training Agency.
The new targets are part of a five-year plan for the improvement of both teacher supply and teacher quality being drawn up by the TTA, due to be announced in October.
The objectives, set out in a letter sent to university teacher-training organisations, are: * to "achieve at least three applications for every initial teacher-training place by 2002";
* to make sure that for BEd courses "at least 80 per cent of those entering (undergraduate courses) ... are drawn from the top 20 per cent (in terms of A-level grade)";
* and that those joining postgraduate courses have "at least an upper-second class degree".
* to "raise the profile and status (of teaching) so that by 2002 it is one of the top three professions that young people wish to join".
The targets look particularly optimistic in the light of the latest recruitment figures for this year, which show that applications are down for all secondary subjects, including English and geography, as well as for shortage subjects such as maths, science and modern languages. As always, the shortages of recruits raise anxieties about the quality of those being recruited.
The TTA's recruitment blitz will stress the importance of getting all the players in the teacher-training field - university education departments, schools, academics, students and teachers as well as the TTA - involved in persuading the public that teaching is a desirable profession, suitable for the cream of the graduate crop. Advertisements will be broadcast on radio and in cinemas, and universities will be asked to collaborate on them.
Education departments will also have to establish better links with other subject departments, so that a trainee science teacher, for example, would be able to keep up to date with the latest research.
They will also have to collaborate on a regional basis to provide "taster courses" for those considering teaching, as well as refresher courses for returners. Another idea is to get the universities and colleges to support SCITT (school-centred initial teacher training) courses. Some universities are likely to object to this on the grounds that SCITT marginalises the role of higher education in teacher education, making it purely training.
In her letter to teacher-trainers, Jane Benham, head of teacher supply at the TTA, said: "The TTA alone cannot change the way teaching as a profession is regarded, and would not stand much chance of success if we were a lone voice talking up teaching."
Mary Russell, secretary of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, said that universities were generally sympathetic to the targets, but added: "They are a bit simplistic - the insistence on a 2:1 degree could make the system too rigid and rule out many potentially good teachers. It's vital to be flexible and exercise professional judgement about what sort of people would make good teachers. Also, I think they're pushing their luck with SCITT; I doubt whether UCET would support that one."
The teacher unions, which have also been sent copies of the TTA targets, are likely to insist that issues such as pay and conditions of service would need to be addressed if teaching is ever to attract Britain's most able young people. One union official also questioned whether the "top three professions that young people wish to join" can ever be established.