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Thursday, 12 April, 2001, 22:02 GMT 23:02 UK
Student teachers grade Blair
student teachers
Student teachers say friends are dropping out
By Angela Harrison at the ATL conference in Torquay

Student members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers had coffee and a chat with Tony Blair after he had faced their annual conference - and told him of their concerns about workload and the dropout rate on their courses.

They had been chosen by the other delegates to meet the prime minister because of their importance to the future of the profession.

If Mr Blair did not get the kind of grilling he might have expected from other delegates, he was certainly given a flavour of the issues which concern teaching's newest recruits.

They spoke to him in the café of the Riviera Centre in Torquay, where the conference was held, as the general public milled around them.

Ruksana Hussain
He gave us encouragement, said Ruksana Hussain
Afterwards, they said they gave his performance eight out of 10.

Andy Magee, a 28-year-old student teacher at Huddersfield University, said he had been impressed with Mr Blair's speech.

"You can never do enough, but it's a start," he said.

Ruksana Hussain said the prime minister gave them words of encouragement: "He said for us to stick with it."

She said Mr Blair had told her how he still helped his children with their homework.

One issue which they raised was the discrepancy between trainee teachers who are studying for Bachelor of Education exams rather than following the PGCE route - post-graduate certificate of education.

Andy Magee
"It's a good start," says Andy Magee
People on four year BEd courses are not entitled to the £6,000 training salaries given to post-graduates studying for PGCEs.

Ruksana Hussain had raised the issue of starting salaries for teachers with Mr Blair during questions on the conference floor. But she received no pledges.

Tony Blair told delegates: "New teachers now receive £17,000 out of London and £20,000 in London.

"We've made a start of trying to tackle what is a chronic shortage of teachers and have made a start trying to improve graduate salaries."

Another student who met the prime minister was Nick Brown, who spoke from the platform during the week about teacher shortages.

Working conditions

A PGCE student at the University of Nottingham, he said his course was excellent but many of his friends had dropped out - because of the working conditions they had found during their teaching practice in schools.

"The dropout rate among student teachers is phenomenal at the moment. Is it the pay? No: It is the conditions."

He said some students were spending most of their time on administrative chores like photocopying.

He said the workload could be hard, even as a student teacher: "I don't think I did less than 60 hours a week and then you have essays to write on top. Some just decide it's too much.

Nick Brown
It's the conditions which cause drop outs according to Nick Brown
Inge Tait, at 51 a relative late-comer to teaching, said that of the 23 people who had started her course at De Montfort University in Bedford, only 15 were left.

She said a big factor was classroom discipline - even at schools which were recognised as being very good.

"You are prepared for bad behaviour but it can be very difficult when one or two children take up a lot of your time, stopping the others working," she said."

On Andy Magee's course at Huddersfield, his class had fallen from 23 students to 17.

"Most dropped out due to financial pressures like problems with student loans."

Despite the difficulties they have faced, all of the students at the conference insisted they were determined to become teachers and were looking forward to starting work once they have passed their exams.

All have job offers.

See also:

02 Feb 01 | Education
02 Feb 01 | Education
31 Jan 01 | Education
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