Give good teachers a bigger incentive to stay

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The government deserves congratulations for the fact that recruitment to teacher training courses is at its highest level for seven years. There is no doubt that its introduction of a £6,000 training salary for students on a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education course and a £4,000 top-up for trainee teachers in shortage subjects has a lot to do with the upward trend shown in the recruitment figures.

The government deserves congratulations for the fact that recruitment to teacher training courses is at its highest level for seven years. There is no doubt that its introduction of a £6,000 training salary for students on a Post-Graduate Certificate of Education course and a £4,000 top-up for trainee teachers in shortage subjects has a lot to do with the upward trend shown in the recruitment figures.

Even these promising figures fail to meet the Government's own targets for recruitment to secondary schools, however, while independent research commissioned by the National Union of Teachers shows that as many as four out of every 10 teachers who sign on for a training course do not end up in the classroom. That research also shows the ticking time-bomb of an ageing teaching profession, because 59 per cent of teachers are over 40 and therefore likely to retire in the next decade.

With trainees spending more college time in teaching practice rather than behind a desk, it can be deduced that a key reason for large numbers deciding to opt out could be the conditions they see in the classroom. This new research, therefore, adds urgency to the negotiations between ministers and the teachers' unions over workload and the prospect of a new contract for the profession. Again, the Government is moving in the right direction with the employment of more classroom assistants to give teachers more time to devote to teaching. But a piecemeal approach does not match up to the scale of the problem.

One radical step would be to beef up the scheme for performance-related pay. At present, good teachers qualify for a £2,000 rise once they reach the top of their pay spine, but this takes several years to achieve – years during which many able teachers decide to seek a job elsewhere. A bigger incentive for good classroom teachers earlier on in their career is needed. Headteachers should be given more freedom to pay the teachers that they want the salaries they need to get them and keep them.

Other reasons for leaving cited by former teachers, such as unruly pupils, are more difficult to solve and involve broader issues of social responsibility. But a lot can be achieved without looking over the school wall, and, for once, resources are not a problem: the only difficulty is finding ways to spend the money that Gordon Brown has allocated. A Prime Minister who has insisted for so many years that "education, education and education" are his top three priorities should have, and still could, put our money where his mouth is.

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