Teachers allowed to 'drift' into profession

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The Independent Online
Teachers are being let into the classroom with poor skills in English and without any real vocation for the job, a teaching association leader said yesterday.

Peter Jenkins, president of the Professional Association of Teachers, told its annual conference in Cheltenham that too many people were allowed to drift into teaching because they could not get any other job. Many were not much better at spelling than their pupils, he said.

His comments followed an announcement by the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Shephard, that training colleges could be subjected to a national curriculum which would ensure that they taught numeracy and literacy adequately.

Mr Jenkins told the association, the most right-wing of the teachers' groups, that the minimum English qualification for going into teaching, a grade C or above at GCSE, was too low. There was a fear that teacher shortages might lead to it being lowered, he added.

"It seems to me woefully inadequate to have such a low requirement in the language in which teachers are supposed to communicate," he said.

Mr Jenkins went on to express concern about the skills of primary school teachers who, he said, were not trained to deliver the nine-subject national curriculum. Bigger primary schools should be able to appoint subject specialist teachers, he said, particularly in maths, science and design technology. In addition, he said, modern languages could be taught in primary schools if specialist teachers were available.

"It's really rather shameful that the reason it's not feasible at the moment to introduce modern foreign languages to the primary sector is that the subject expertise to deliver it is simply not there," he said.

He applauded Mrs Shephard's announcement, saying that much of the teacher training on offer was "dubious" and had brought the concept of professional development into disrepute. Teacher training institutions which were found by inspectors to be inadequate should have their funding cut, he said. "Never mind all the rhetoric about weeding out incompetent teachers. How about weeding out incompetent trainers?"

Mr Jenkins criticised the Government's Better English Campaign, which is led by the broadcaster Trevor McDonald.

"We should be glad that the Government has recognised there is a problem in this area. But setting up a campaign under the guidance of a media personality isn't really the way to solve it. It would achieve more if students entering teacher training were required to have higher standards of competence ... A C-grade in English GCSE is laughably inadequate," he said.

Above all, he added, teachers should really like children and young people. "How sad it is to listen to the staffroom comments of some colleagues who clearly have no liking for children ... for whom teaching is just a job to be done, with varying degrees of competence for the pay cheque at the end of the month."

Cheryl Gillan, Education and Employment minister, said she was "generally sympathetic" to Mr Jenkins.

"I am sure he and the Professional Association of Teachers will welcome what the Government is doing to address these very issues," she said.

The conference also demanded compulsory lessons in parenting for adults whose children were disruptive. Parents who ignored parents' evenings or failed to send their children to school should have their benefits cut, delegates said, and family holidays during school terms should be illegal.

t The Government got a clear thumbs-down on selection yesterday from the Professional Association of Teachers when delegates voted overwhelmingly against selection at 11. The vote - if approved by its ruling council - means ministers' plans to extend selection will have no official support among teaching unions. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which represents the majority of teachers in selective and independent schools, voted against a return to the 11-plus at its Easter conference.