Monday, 18 January 2010

Elitist perhaps, but not brazen

I've written for the Public Finance blog on David Cameron's proposed teacher training reforms.

David Cameron has said today that he wants to make teacher training ‘brazenly elitist’. His main proposals are to ban graduates with third class degrees from teacher training and to rebrand the Graduate Teacher Programme – which mainly targets career changers who want to enter teaching – as Teach Now.

Yet, while Cameron may be hoping to provoke some sort of a political row with the education world with these changes, the truth is that they are merely a logical extension of Labour’s teacher training reforms. The Tories’ last schools minister, Eric Forth, memorably bemoaned his party’s failure to reform teacher training, just months before the 1997 election. Labour was determined not to leave the system unreformed as a result.

So, since 1997, the proportion of teachers who train in schools (mainly as mature career changers) has grown from a handful to around a third of all trainees who can earn while they learn. The proportion of trainees with better degrees has risen too (though largely in line with the proportion of graduates awarded those qualifications). Teacher shortages have largely been eliminated with better salaries and golden hellos, though some gaps remain for specialist maths and science teachers. And the Teach First programme – of which the Tories are keen fans – has been placing elite university graduates for two years in inner city secondary schools, with over half of them making a career of teaching as a result.

Cameron’s plans take things further, particularly because of the focus they place on good degrees for all, and the greater focus on degrees from top universities. And there will undoubtedly be more reforms of what is taught in teacher training colleges – though they were shaken up too with the literacy and numeracy hours. All make sense, and also build on proposals by the Sutton Trust and Policy Exchange. But the Tories may be underestimating economic forces: it will be far easier to enforce the tougher recruitment targets in a recession when it is a recruiters’ market than when the graduate employment world becomes competitive again. Elitist this policy may be, but not especially brazen.


Sarah Ebner said...

Conor, I'm interested to know what you think actually makes a good teacher, especially in a primary school. I'm not convinced that it's a first class degree or even a 2.1.
It sounds as if you think they Tories are along the right lines with this. Is that right?

Conor Ryan said...

Sarah, insofar as they want to develop Teach Now and improve in-school teacher training, I think they are right - not least because they are developing what we did. I don't think a 1st or 2:1 always equals a good teacher, but the idea of making it a higher status profession is what lies behind Teach First, and is basically right. Teach First has pretty rigorous recruitment, with many not being accepted, and it is crucial that if you set a minimum standard it is not the only criterion used. Moreover, it is much less relevant for the career changers. I personally would like to see far more primary teachers training in the classroom and their training focused on practical skills of engaging children, teaching the basics and other subjects, and discipline.

Sarah Ebner said...

Thanks Conor. I don't think we really disagree, but I do think a good teacher is much more than a degree classification, particularly with younger kids.

oldandrew said...

Gove seems to have the knack for identifying problems but then coming up with a policy that won't solve it.

There is a real problem with the anti-academic ethos in schools. There is no reward in teaching for being well qualified. No extra pay; no extra status; no increased chance of promotion. In many schools it can be a positive disadvantage with the well-qualified seen as know-it-all "subject specialists" more interested in their A-level classes than advancing bottom sets.

At the very least it's not surprising that schools can't convince their students to study hard and achieve when they don't reward their staff for the same thing.

So what does Gove suggest? Extension of a non-academic route into teaching, and measures to rule out the tiny minority of teachers with thirds.

This is not going to change the culture. It is not going to attract the academically able into to teaching and keep them there, and it sure isn't going to raise the status of the profession.

The only way to get better qualified teachers to join and stay in the profession is to reward them, and not with one-offs when they start, but with a better deal for the whole of their careers.