Teaching has not been so attractive for 30 years

The success of recent initiatives to draw teachers back into the profession is beginning to show. Wendy Berliner reports on how teaching has become financially lucrative
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The Independent Online

State schools have just started the long summer holidays but many head teachers will already be looking ahead with dread to the autumn when they won't have enough qualified staff to cover all classes. Part-time education for some pupils is a distinct possibility in the early days of the new term.

Teacher shortages are a long way from being solved although successive initiatives by the Government to increase the flow of people into teacher training are now bearing fruit.

So the good news is that, in cash terms at least, teaching is now a good career option. Training bursaries, child care allowances, golden hellos, and performance-related pay make teaching an attractive financial proposition in a way it hasn't been for 30 years.

Earlier this month the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) announced that this September more than 1,100 people will take up places on the Graduate Teacher Programme, working as unqualified teachers in schools while they follow an individual training programme. This is an 85 per cent increase on the numbers joining the programme last year when 548 places were allocated.

The sharpest rise in successful applicants has been in the key secondary school shortage subjects of maths, science, technology, modern languages and English, with 510 places allocated for September compared with 213 last year. Places for primary teachers in shortage subjects have risen by more than 90 per cent. As well as these confirmed places, provisional offers for September are being made to another 130 applicants, subject to their qualifications being confirmed. There were more than 1,400 applications, nearly twice as many as last year. Unsuccessful applicants will be able to apply again for January and April, when more places are expected to become available.

On the Graduate Teacher Programme, trainees work as unqualified teachers while following an individual programme leading to Qualified Teacher Status. The programme normally takes a year but can be shortened for people with teaching experience. The TTA pays schools a grant of up to £13,000 a year towards the salary of the trainee and up to £4,000 to the school or its training provider for training costs.

Ralph Tabberer, the Chief Executive of the Teacher Training Agency, feels the programme is particularly attractive to people who want to change careers, because they earn a salary while they are training in school. Almost half the inquiries are from people of 31 and over.

"I am delighted that we have been able to allocate the highest number of places in a single tranche, to help meet the rising demand," he says. "The marked increase in applications for secondary shortage subjects is particularly welcome.

"The number of applications enables us to give priority to the best trainees. Top quality trainees deserve to work in a top quality school, and I welcome the growth of good schools keen to play a fuller part in teacher training through the employment-based route."

Priority categories for graduate teacher programme places are: secondary shortage subjects (mathematics, science, information technology, design and technology, modern foreign languages and English); primary teachers specialising in mathematics, science or technology; under-represented groups ­ men into primary schools, minority ethnic teachers, teachers with disabilities; other good quality applications in any subject or phase (primary or secondary); and people working as teaching assistants.

As well as the graduate teacher programme, new courses are beginning for former teachers to ease their return into the classroom. Courses offering bursaries and help with child-care costs will be available for the first time. And local course providers may receive incentives to place participants in permanent teaching posts.

About 1,800 places will be available on more than 80 courses funded by the TTA as part of its "Those who can, teach" recruitment campaign. Former teachers will be able to claim a bursary of up to £150 per week and up to £150 per week towards the cost of child care.

Most of the courses last between six and 12 weeks, and cover areas such as information and communications technology, the National Numeracy and Literacy Strategies, classroom management, and an update on the national curriculum.

Those returning to the classroom may also benefit from Government plans to offer bonuses of up to £4,000 to qualified teachers who decide to return to the classroom by February next year.

Mary Doherty TTA Head of Teacher Recruitment and Supply says: "With improved pay and career structures, more classroom assistance, increased use of technology, and improved standards, teaching today is a competitive, rewarding and purposeful profession. There really has never been a better time to be a teacher."

Trainee teachers do have to pass tests in numeracy, literacy and ICT and about 10 per cent of teacher trainees have been failing them. However, even here the TTA has been bending over backwards to ensure they are not an insuperable barrier. Originally, a candidate could only have four attempts to pass the tests ­ now they can take them as often as they need to pass. Support for trainees to prepare for the tests includes workshops and additional opportunities to take the tests during the summer break.

For more information on teacher training programmes: Teacher Training Agency website: www.canteach.gov.uk Teaching Information Line (0845 6000 991)