Best teachers 'should not take classes of less able'

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The Independent Online

Britain's brightest teachers should not have to take classes of struggling pupils, the leader of the country's top independent schools said last night, in remarks condemned as "outrageous" by state school heads.

Britain's brightest teachers should not have to take classes of struggling pupils, the leader of the country's top independent schools said last night, in remarks condemned as "outrageous" by state school heads.

Martin Stephen, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC), which represents top boys' schools including Eton and Harrow, said highly qualified teachers should be given new specialist contracts - specifying they teach exam classes only.

Mr Stephen, who is high master of the £17,500-a-year St Paul's Boys' school in London, one of the country's top- performing private schools, said: "How reasonable is it for us to expect a person with a 2.1 degree in physics to teach not only a bright and aspirational A-level class but also those for whom a C grade at GCSE in combined science is almost an impossible dream?"

But his comments - made at the HMC's annual conference in St Andrews, Scotland - were condemned as "outrageous" by state school heads last night. David Hart, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "That's one of the most outrageous suggestions I've heard for many a long day. The children who are struggling to achieve decent GCSEs are the very children who need the best teachers to give them the attention they deserve."

"It seems to me entirely bizarre to suggest if you're a pupil of average to low ability you get the worse teachers but if you are above average you get the best. I can't believe anyone can possibly be suggesting this as a sensible solution."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, added: "There is no question that the best teachers are able to teach across the full ability and a potential Oxford candidate as well someone who faces difficulty reading. Part of the challenge and reward of teaching is in meeting students of all parts of the ability range."

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Children who have difficulty in learning need excellent support more than those who have had it easy."

In his address, Mr Stephen acknowledged his suggestion was "grossly politically incorrect" but added: "How many of us know the teacher who is brilliant with the Oxbridge class and hopeless with the less able? And the reverse? Why do we damn a top mathematician or physicist when they cannot intuitively relate to a pupil who does not share their passion for the subject? Why do we insist that all teachers should be all things to all pupils? Is this not the worst manifestation of the one-size-fits-all philosophy?"

"Let us create the specialist academic teacher in all schools in the UK and in doing so recognise that the most able are as much a special-needs category as the least able."

In his address, Mr Stephen also called for all children to have the right to go to grammar school at the age of 14: "No dreaded 11-plus, no qualifying examination - quite literally a place for any child."

He added that responsibility for secondary school policy should be taken out of the hands of politicians and handed over to a permanent standing commission made up of employers, universities, parents and teachers.

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