'Mum's army' idea for non-graduates likely to be dropped or watered down: Ministers to back down over infant teacher plan

MINISTERS are expected to climb down from a controversial plan to turn non-graduates into infant teachers after one year's training.

The proposal, known as the 'mum's army' scheme because it aims to attract women who have spent time raising children, seems likely either to be watered down or quietly allowed to die.

Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, has privately told opponents of the plan that the Government will not press on unless it has parents' support.

She has invited the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations - described as 'Neanderthal' earlier this year by John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education - to meet her to talk over the issue.

Lady Blatch, who is standing in for Mr Patten until he returns from sickness leave and holiday later this month, has taken charge of the Government's plans to reform the training of primary school teachers.

The plan to launch a one-year course for mature entrants who want to teach nursery or infant classes was promoted by Mr Patten shortly before he fell ill, and is thought to have had the Prime Minister's strong support.

But the proposal has met with intense opposition from teachers and headteachers, as well as parent and school governor campaigners, who say there is no shortage of graduate infant teachers and that the plans would create a two-tier profession.

The three main classroom teaching unions are all likely to advise members not to co-operate, and the National Association of Head Teachers has advised school governing bodies that they would be 'most unwise' to recruit non-graduates.

The university vice-chancellors' response to the proposal said that such teachers would be inadequately prepared, and the principals of 27 colleges whose main job is teacher-training rejected the plans as a 'retrograde' step.

A final decision on the future of teacher-training is expected next month. If the Government does press ahead with the one-year course in its present form it seems certain to fail, because very few schools will agree to take part. The controversy is unlikely to develop into a battle like the one that occurred over testing, however, because schools would not be forced to take on the new trainees.