'Only for elite' fear over Tory teaching deal

Only students at a handful of red-brick universities would benefit from a Conservative plan to repay the loans of maths and science graduates if they opted to become teachers, it emerged today.

The Tories are offering to pay off the debts of maths and science graduates who turn to teaching, but will limit it to those who get first or 2.1 degrees from “good” universities. The qualifying institutions would be defined by the party if it came into office as part of an attempt to make entry into the profession more “elite”. One estimate today had the number of universities limited to the “low dozens”.

According to university think tank Million-plus, because the largest science departments and the vast majority of teacher-training courses are in post-1992 universities – former polytechnics – they would likely miss out on the offer.

Critics pointed out that Carol Vorderman, who David Cameron has appointed to lead a Conservative Party Maths Taskforce, got a third-class degree in engineering. When he announced her recruitment last year, Mr Cameron called her “the perfect choice” who “knows maths inside out”.

Professor Les Ebdon, chairman of the think tank Million-plus and vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University, said the scheme showed an “amazing ignorance” of higher education as courses at all universities were vetted for standards by the Quality Assurance Agency, the standards watchdog which could cause a recruitment crisis in schools. “Any scheme which sought to exclude graduates because they had their first degree or trained to become a teacher at a post-1992 university would cause a recruitment crisis in schools,” he said.

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, added: “The message that the Conservatives are sending to the majority of students is that if you didn’t go to a university attended by members of the Shadow Cabinet, they don’t believe you’re worth as much.

In launching his education manifesto yesterday morning, party leader David Cameron praised countries like Singapore and South Korea for their “brazenly elitist” attitude towards recruiting teachers – they only allow those with top degree passes into the profession – and suggested the UK should follow them. Both countries top international league tables for pupil performance.

Mr Cameron suggested raising the bar for entry into primary teaching from a C grade pass in maths and English at GCSE to a B and a ban on entry into the profession for anyone with a lower degree pass than a 2:2.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Being brazenly elitist could mean being brazenly exclusive of those teachers who through no fault of their own have had a tough time in achieving the necessary qualification.”

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, added that the plans were “a solution in search of a problem” as even Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, had said the UK at present had the best quality of teachers ever.

The plans to make teaching more elite were among a range of measures putting more flesh on the bones of Conservative education policy published yesterday in a draft manifesto.

The party’s policy blueprint included a commitment for the first time to paying teachers overtime if they worked extended hours giving extra coaching to pupils or provided extra curricular activities like sports and drama clubs.

Under the Conservatives’ proposals, heads would be free to determine their own teachers’ salaries awarding bonuses to the best and rewarding those who worked longer hours.

On discipline, Mr Cameron said: “No-one wants to put up with being assaulted or abused – as thousands of teachers are every year – in the workplace.”

New powers would allow teachers to search and confiscate items considered dangerous from pupils.

Mr Cameron made it clear that “anyone with a passion for giving children the best” would be allowed to set up a new school with state funding, along the lines of the Swedish free school system.

The Conservatives would allocate enough money for at least 220,000 extra school places in small academies in the country’s most deprived areas. They would be free and non-selective. The document made it clear it was expected they would be run by charities, parent and teacher groups, trusts, voluntary groups and co-operatives.

In addition, the Conservatives would embrace the plans being advocated by one of their former Education Secretaries, Kenneth (now Lord) Baker for a network of university technical colleges giving top-class vocational education to 14 to 19-year-olds, At least 12 would be established in the country’s largest urban areas.

However, teachers’ leaders criticised the draft manifesto for failing to be specific on funding for education after the next election.”