Leading article: A sound way to put teaching first

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The Independent Online

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is right to put improving the quality of teaching in state schools at the heart of the Government White Paper he is due to publish shortly. And the indications are that Mr Gove has his finger on the pulse of some important innovations that will help him to do that.

For a start, he is looking at an expansion of the Teach First scheme under which graduates are sent straight into schools and do their training on the job. The results of the first few years of Teach First's operations are encouraging, showing that GCSE results in schools which employ Teach First staff are considerably better. In addition, though the graduates only sign up for a minimum of two years in the profession, the majority decide to stay on in the classroom.

Mr Gove also wants more schools-based staff training. The Teach First experiment would appear to support this idea but there should be some caution. Schools that employ Teach First graduates, although they are in disadvantaged inner-city areas, have heads who are confident in their ability to organise training for their staff. That is not necessarily the case in every school. There will have to be mechanisms to support heads who may struggle to deliver training.

Mr Gove's plans to give head teachers more power to set their own pay scales for their staff deserve a cautious welcome. It should end up with talented staff being given better rewards. But there are dangers inherent in the proposal. For instance, teachers' leaders have pointed out that it could see the introduction of cronyism and favouritism in schools rather than rewards for the most talented teacher. They also say that previous attempts by Labour to introduce performance-related pay have not been linked with raising standards of teaching. In addition, talented teachers need to be judged not just by exam results but by how much they have helped struggling pupils perform.

Yet despite these caveats, we await the White Paper with interest. There is a real chance it could make a significant contribution to improving the quality of teaching in our state schools.