Non-graduate teaching plan: Patten proposes one-year college courses to train mature students as infant teachers

THE teaching profession should open itself up to non-graduates, allowing parents and mature students with three A-levels to train to teach infants, John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, said yesterday.

Launching his much-vaunted proposals for primary teacher training reform, Mr Patten said that colleges should set up new one-year courses for older students without degrees who wanted to teach nursery and infant pupils only.

Applicants should be over 26, with experience of working with young children, and they should have the academic qualifications - just below three grade Cs at A-level is the current average - required for university education.

Mr Patten rejected the 'too easy parody' of his new recruits by some critics as 'a Mums' Army', and denied that the new training course would mean lower standards. He acknowledged that the teaching profession was not suffering from a shortage of applicants, but said he wanted 'to introduce a wider range of people from diverse backgrounds'.

Primary schools will be invited to comment on the proposals, but the main teacher unions were hostile. Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the proposals were 'underpinned by a false and offensive assumption that teaching young children is easy, requiring fewer professional skills and less personal education'.

Peter Smith, general secretary of the moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the one-year qualification was a 'spurious qualification, introduced for no convincing reason', and accused the Government of trying to get teachers 'on the cheap'.

'I find it hard to accept that the difficult task of teaching very young children can be done as well by semi-qualified teachers as by qualified ones,' he said.

Other key proposals in Mr Patten's draft circular are that schools should play a more influential role in training courses, and that students should spend more time in the class, although the document does not advocate 100 per cent school-based training which Mr Patten was considering a year ago.

Students on four-year courses should spend at least 32 weeks in the classroom instead of 20 at present, and those on three-year courses 24 weeks instead of 15. One-year postgraduate certificate in education courses, as well as the new non-graduate courses, should include a minimum of 18 weeks in school.

Primary schools wishing to run their own training courses can apply for direct funding. Mr Patten said they would receive about pounds 4,000 a year per student teacher, which would be diverted from training colleges.

Many teachers agree in principle that more emphasis could be put on training in school, but union leaders said they did not believe this would be adequately financed.

Mr Patten said primary training courses should concentrate more on the core subjects of English, maths and science, and should ensure that teachers could maintain order and discipline in their classrooms.

He also proposed new courses to prepare specialists to teach their own subject to older primary pupils.