Saturday, March 13, 1999 Published at 00:12 GMT
Bursary idea for trainee teachers
Would-be teachers face mounting debts
More students would be attracted to train as teachers if they were given bursaries of up to £3,000, a conference in London has been told.
A scheme similar to that for nurses was proposed by Dr John Cater, Chief Executive of Edge Hill College of Education, at a conference on the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, organised by the Society for Research into Higher Education.
There were also calls for the profession to stop shooting itself in the foot, with complaints that it was counter-productive to say that some teachers were incompetent.
The conference was reminded that there were serious shortages of people wanting to be secondary school teachers in maths, modern foreign languages, design and technology, and information technology, and that the A level qualifications of people training to be primary school teachers were not good.
Dr Cater proposed that a bursary be paid to trainees, similar to the one the NHS uses in nursing and midwifery education, with more 'induction' and professional development funding early in teachers' careers.
He said later that the level of the bursary should be equivalent to the top of the old student maintenance grant - approximately £2,500 to £3,000.
"I think that would be sufficient to make some inroads. People will do a teaching year if they don't increase their debt."
The idea found favour with the Chair of the Teacher Training Agency, Prof Clive Booth, who said money was bound to be a deterrent for graduates contemplating a career in teaching.
"Compare a year as an unpaid trainee teacher with a year starting in employment - often with training thrown in," he said. "Our students still have to support themselves, not getting paid, and their debt goes up."
But he also said research the agency had done suggested that people underestimated the starting salary graduate teachers get - currently about £14,700. They think it is several thousand pounds less than that.
"The starting salary is looked at by nurses with envy," he said.
Michael Heafford of Cambridge University said one of the reasons teaching had a less-than-shining public image was that the profession was always knocking itself. He attacked the Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead, for his now-infamous comment that there were 15,000 incompetent teachers.
"Can you imagine the presidents of the British Medical Association or the Law Society saying there are 15,000 incompetent doctors or lawyers?" he asked. "We need to put across a more positive message."
There were also calls for the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), headed by Mr Woodhead, to discount trainee teachers in its inspections of schools.
Prof Booth said schools which normally worked with teacher training institutions by taking in trainees often pulled out of the partnership once they learned they were to be inspected, fearing that it would have a negative impact.
"I hope Chris Woodhead does take on board the idea of excluding trainees from Ofsted inspections," he said, "and if he doesn't, that David Blunkett tells him to."