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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 15:24 GMT
Teacher training head Ralph Tabberer

Click here to watch the Forum.

The number of people training to be teachers in England and Wales went up this year for the first time in eight years.

But schools are still finding it hard to get the staff.

Keeping schools supplied with teachers is a hard job. The teacher training system needs to pull in more than one in 10 of all the UK's university graduates each year to do it.

The task falls to Ralph Tabberer, head of the Teacher Training Agency - latest slogan: "Those who can, teach".

He appears to be doing something right, but can he keep it going? Will the UK's children have enough teachers in the future?


Transcript:


David S, Plymouth:

What do you believe the starting salary and the salary at say ten years in needs to be for graduates to be able to even consider looking at teaching as a career?


Ralph Tabberer:

The starting salaries have just gone up again through the STRB announcements last week. We have now got starting salaries in London of 20,000 per year and outside London it is over 17,000 per annum. We are finding at the moment that we are swamped with inquiries about teaching. We have started to get across the message that teaching has made lots of changes. The education sector is growing and now that salaries are above average graduate levels, we are starting to attract people back in. Within teaching the career ladder now allows you to go up to about 30,000 as a classroom teacher and in fact if you become an advanced skills teacher - beyond 40,000. We think that these are now attractive packages which can start to turn the corner on recruitment.


News Host:

But that has been the particular problem - not so much the starting salary - it is the salary say ten years in and when they look at the salary they might have been earning in another career. Do you think at even these sort of levels it is enough compared to many other jobs?


Ralph Tabberer:

Every time there is an improvement in pay and an improvement in the career ladder it helps us with recruitment. There has been this improvement in starting salary - this year starting salaries went up 6 per cent compared with across the profession a rise of 3.7 per cent. There has been the introduction of the threshold payment - 2,000 - 3,000 after a few years in the profession and the extension of the career ladder.

When I talk to new recruits now they say there is a difference from when they were looking at teaching four years ago and they can see now there is much more effort to create better prospects for them as well as a good starting salary.


News Host:

We have had several e-mails from teachers already in the profession regarding the pay deal that has been made in Scotland - this is a three year deal - 21.5 per cent with 10 per cent in the first year. Many of them are saying that they would much rather have that sort of deal than what they are getting in England. How would you comment on that point?


Ralph Tabberer:

Scottish salaries started behind English salaries and in fact with the pay deal in England in this year - and we are doing ours a year at a time - in fact we will still be very competitive with Scotland. It will be interesting then as to what the Schools Teachers Review Body thinks the sentiments should be in the next two years and they will have to take that into account. It is a challenge and it is certainly true that pay is one of the things that matters in recruitment.


Katherine, Ealing, UK:

I am qualified maths and English teacher who has opted for a different profession - a more lucrative one. What could you say to me to convince me to return to the teaching profession?


Ralph Tabberer:

We have got a lot of people who are returning to teaching now. When you move out of teaching you lose that wonderful sense that at the end of every day you feel as though you did something to affect somebody's life. There is a sense in teaching that you don't get anywhere else - it is that sense of making a difference.

Whenever I talk to people coming into the profession - young graduates career changers - they have a very strong sense of the emotional dimension of working with young people. I would also say to people that the last ten years has been very challenging in many parts of teaching. We have had lots of changes - nobody can doubt that - but there has been improvements in standards, there has been improvements in quality of teaching, there has been improvements in leadership as well and I think now prospects are very good. If we can start to do some things about reducing the workloads as well then I think there has never been a better time to be in the profession.


Andy Millward, Broxbourne, UK:

I left teaching and went into the private sector. What would stop me going back is the appalling morale in the teaching profession. What are your comments on this point?


Ralph Tabberer:

The last ten years have been very challenging. Some people have found it very tough going and I understand that while those changes have been taking place it has been very pressurised for a lot of people. But there is a wealth of new people coming into the profession and they are as full of energy and full of the "can do" attitude that teaching has always been about and we have also got the children and the morale amongst children in schools is something on top of the morale that you have got amongst colleagues.


News Host:

Does the agency talk to people who have given up teaching and try to find out why?


Ralph Tabberer:

Yes, we talk to people leaving the profession. There is sometimes a bit of a myth about people leaving the profession. Our retention rates in teaching are quite high - in fact very high - compared with other professions. People, once they start teaching tend to stay with it. There is the emotional impact and also there is lots of other benefits which people get used to. When we talk to people who are leaving, it is very often down to issues like management and actually that is not unlike other jobs.

What I try to get over to people is that sometimes we beat ourselves up as if there is some special things about teaching which are dreadful - actually when we talk to people they are the same qualities that are in other workplaces - there are positive sides and there are negatives sides - fewer people leave teaching so probably we have got the balance better than most jobs.


News Host:

But we seem to hear so much from teachers - so are teachers then a bunch of whingers?


Ralph Tabberer:

I have heard that expression used sometimes. Again I get to see maybe a lot of people who are more positive. The press presentation always picks up the bad news stories - it is bound to happen. Most people who know their local school are proud of their school, they like the teachers, they like the environment and I would ask them to think about that when they are thinking of coming into teaching because that is a better representation of the real status and the real enjoyment that there is within the career.


Jessica Kent, University of Warwick, UK:

Can you describe your plans to reduce the attrition that takes place on teaching training courses? I believe this comes from the frustration with being treated as free supply teachers and also having to deal with the ludicrous paperwork levels rather than actually learning to teach.


Ralph Tabberer:

I would not like to pretend that teaching training is a soft option. It is a tough professional training and it is demanding. You have a lot to learn in an increasingly short period of time and getting that training right is very important to us. Some people do find that difficult - we have always had a drop-out from those courses but I would say that there is now better support on the courses than there has ever been. The training that the providers are giving is now better than ever and the other piece of good news is that in the training year now there is a training salary which removes a financial barrier for people. There is 6,000 for post-graduates and an additional 4,000 in our priority subjects - maths, technology, science and modern languages and again this is helping to change how training feels - it is hard work but now perhaps some of those other worries are being removed.


James Stevenson, Oxford, UK:

I am particularly concerned about the new literacy, numeracy and ICT tests being introduced for those undertaking PGCE courses. When you are trying to attract people into teaching, why is it that you insist on giving them stress-causing tests which might make their courses - which are already stressful enough - even more difficult?


Ralph Tabberer:

Three years ago, when a Green Paper was produced about various things we needed to do to modernise the teaching profession, the idea of there being entry tests in some subjects was one of the things mooted. In fact, in the public consultation, this was the most popular measure - popular with parents, popular with the general public but less so with potential teachers.

It is important as a profession that we carry public confidence. We work as a public service and people want the teachers in their classrooms to be able to cope with the mathematics of assessment, the literacy of reports etc. and people are very quick to pick up mistakes in these areas. I think it is almost a new driving test for us - we give people a few chances to pass - we have set this at the right level and I think it will help to improve the very status and perception of teachers that sometimes people worry about.


News Host:

James makes a supplementary point. Does it matter if you are poor at spelling for example if you are going to be teaching physics?


Ralph Tabberer:

Yes it does. If you are writing a report, for example, on my child's progress in your school, then it gives me confidence in the education if I feel like I am dealing with people who are fully rounded professionals and fully educated themselves. Also there is a lot of language in physics and if you start making mistakes in your spelling of some of these terms, it is going to make a difference to the education that these children receive.


Peter Jones, Cumbria, UK:

Don't you think that the proposed scheme to pay off student loans would be best offered to all teachers rather than for those few selected subjects?


Ralph Tabberer:

I have seen the proposals set out in the Green Paper - these are consultation proposals and I am sure a lot of views will be put forward about the subjects that ought to be covered. At the moment we are having very special difficulty in recruiting in certain subjects and certain parts of the country. In some subjects in other parts of the country we are not having this problem.


News Host:

It is quite a lot of subjects now isn't it?


Ralph Tabberer:

The key subjects that have been talked about yesterday are maths, science, modern languages, English and technology. The proposals at the moment are to look at these areas and see if we can do more, both to recruit in those areas, and also the important aspect of retaining people through the first years.


Samantha Locke, Manchester, UK:

I went into teaching just over a year ago and it is particularly frustrating that I just missed out on this "golden hello".


News Host:

So it looks as though you are going to encourage some people to go into the profession but won't you disappoint and demoralise those who have just started?


Ralph Tabberer:

I hope we haven't demoralised them. It is always true that when you introduce a change that is needed then those who came in a couple years before feel they should benefit from the changes and I can understand people's frustration. I would say though that there is a lot more changes within the profession than the training salaries or these new loans. The pay scales are being improved and extended. There are more opportunities for progression for everybody now - the top salaries in classrooms are now 30,000 - advanced skills teachers' salaries going up beyond 40,000 and leadership in schools now having salary scales beyond 75,000. This is a whole range of measures that have been introduced - not just one and if you have missed one there is still plenty of reasons to stay in the profession and take the opportunities that there are for going up the career ladder.


V.C., Italy:

Why don't you recruit teachers in the EU? In Italy there are a lot of teachers, for example maths teachers, who are unemployed.


Ralph Tabberer:

We are recruiting in the European Community and more widely. We are particularly good at the moment at recruiting from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. We have schemes running with most other countries in the EU - not so much Italy but more France and Germany. We would encourage your correspondent to get in touch with us. We have our telephone information line and a web site www.canteach.gov.uk and you will find details there about what we expect of teachers in this country.


News Host:

So if you are qualified as a teacher within the EU, are you automatically qualified to teach in the UK or is there also a language test that you have to pass?


Ralph Tabberer:

No, broadly the qualifications transfer. You need to check with a government agency and if you get in touch with our website, e-mail us or telephone us on our telephone information line then we can put you in touch with the agency to make sure that the qualifications transfer and this can be done in a straightforward way.

If you are outside the European Community, then you do have to demonstrate that you meet our qualified teacher standards. But again we have information on this available to people and we give special help to schools and people from overseas who are interested in taking this route. In fact we will even give many of them support in going through a programme which will bring them up to the subject knowledge standards that we require.


News Host:

The big question that a lot of people would have is will these people know enough about the national curriculum?


Ralph Tabberer:

We do want to make sure that meet our qualified teacher status. So we do need to do an assessment of them. It may mean there needs to be some training - it might not need to be as long as others and then we need to do a final assessment against our standards. We have now made it easier, so if these people lack the subject knowledge, maybe about English history or aspects of our geography curriculum, then we will build into their programme of customised training, support in those areas. We certainly want to take advantage of people who have trained as teachers in other countries but we also want to make sure that they are up to our knowledge standards too.


Andrew Stanley, Middlesex, UK:

I am teacher, my mother was a teacher, my wife is a teacher - teaching used to be a job that ran in families. My own children are emphatic that they will not be teachers because they see the amount of work we do. What can be done about the overwork issue?


Ralph Tabberer:

The message we get back from people coming into the profession is they don't mind working hard but they just want some space to play hard too and I have every sympathy with this. At the moment there are a lot of initiatives that are focused on trying to improve the workload and the more we do in this area certainly the better it will play on recruitment and retention. Initiatives like the introduction of new technology to take some of the jobs that teachers had to do in the past off them. Also schools are now taking on more classroom assistants and admin assistants.


News Host:

From the e-mails we have had, the main concern about workload seems to be related to government initiatives and the sheer amount of paperwork. Can you, as an agency responsible for recruitment and retention of teachers, give advice to Ministers and tell them it is what they are sending out to teachers that is actually putting them off teaching?


Ralph Tabberer:

We keep on giving the message - if you can give us improvements in pay, improvements in prospects, improvements in lifestyle all those areas will play better on recruitment. In the last four or five years there has been a lot of improvements on all those dimensions but there is plenty more to do. We can't be complacent - it is a very competitive labour market and we have got to make the package of teaching as attractive as possible.


News Host:

Do you think "burn out" is a problem with teaching - it is quite a demanding profession? If it is, are there other things that be done, for example sabbaticals, to help people overcome this problem?


Ralph Tabberer:

Proposals like this are being made. There are now sabbaticals being made available and there will be further opportunities like this in the future. It is a hardworking and challenging job but it is also a very rewarding job. We are now coming to terms with the fact that it is going to be - and needs to be - a very competitive job in a very competitive and knowledge based economy. There is plenty of excitement, plenty of challenges and we think we are starting to get the balances right.


Mr Williams, Durham, UK:

There are thousands of experienced teachers who were forcibly retired in the 1990s when the number of children in schools dropped. I work part-time but if I work full-time my pension is stopped - what can be done about that?


Ralph Tabberer:

Yes, there is whole pool of people out there who are potential returners to teaching - mid career or later in career. We are doing a lot at the moment to work with Government and local authorities to try and create new incentives for these returners to come back into the profession. I think your correspondent has a good idea and there is something we might do about these pension arrangements in order to make it possible for people to come back into the profession.

There are three ways that we can keep up teacher supply; good recruitment, good retention and getting the returners back and at the moment we keen to use every method we can in order to make sure that we have good supply across the country but not just numbers but good quality teachers as well. I think in the future we will probably see more people doing part-time teaching - I think that will be another change within the profession.


News Host:

It seems to be that more and more teachers seem to be opting to do supply work - that perhaps suggests that it is about not having the bureaucracy involved in a full-time job. That does seem to be sending a message out doesn't it?


Ralph Tabberer:

Yes, as I say, the structure of the profession is changing. The education sector is expanding and there is a lot more investment in it. There are 7,000 more teachers in the profession than there were just three years ago. At the same time the profession is diversifying with many more levels within it; more career ladders within teaching, more part-time people, more support workers etc. Consequently, in this restructuring, we are becoming a modern profession where there are lots more opportunities and rewards. That is probably why we have got this boost in inquiries about teaching - last year we had registrations on courses up by 8 per cent. We are not complacent - there is a lot more we have to do - but I do think we are turning a corner.


News Host:

On that optimistic note we have to come to an end. Our thanks to Ralph Tabberer for coming in and taking your questions. If he has inspired you to want to teach then don't write to us but contact the TTA and you can find out more on their web site which is www.canteach.gov.uk.

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See also:

13 Feb 01 | Education
'Myth' that teaching is tough
13 Jan 01 | Correspondents
Truth about teacher shortages
20 Nov 00 | Education
More teachers but shortages remain
30 Oct 00 | Education
New drive for more teachers
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