Leading Article: We need better trained and better paid teachers

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The Independent Culture
AFTER YEARS of complaint about education standards, politicians have belatedly begun to deal with the nub of the problem - teacher training. The Government has realised that the best way to improve teaching quality is to tackle the issue before, and not after, students enter the classroom. Performance tables produced today by the Teacher Training Agency show dramatic gaps between institutions in entry qualifications and employment rates. Of course, not everyone needs good academic qualifications to be a teacher, but the average should be higher. More worrying is the high proportion of low inspection grades and the waste from courses; a third of final-year secondary students fail to enter the profession.

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, is carrying forward his Conservative predecessor's plans for a national curriculum, and he is introducing tests in literacy and numeracy that all trainees will have to pass before they qualify as teachers. Today's tables may infuriate teacher trainers, but the decision to publish the indicators has already proved to be a spur to higher standards.

The central problem remains that teaching needs more, better-quality applicants. Ministers have not helped their attempts to solve the recruitment crisis by repeated talk of "zero tolerance of failure" among teachers. The Prime Minister's attack on inner-city schools earlier this year was scarcely an incentive to young people contemplating a teaching career with deprived pupils.

Money is the second issue. The Government's Green Paper on performance- related pay aims to make the profession more attractive. If the scheme fails to win the confidence of teachers, or to ensure that the majority receive a substantial pay boost, it will fail and many of the brightest and best students will continue to shun teaching.