Leading article: Teaching the teachers

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The Independent Online

Where would political debate be without hyperbole? The teaching unions have reacted with outrage to a report by a right-of-centre think tank which claims that primary school teachers in England are the least educated in the developed world. They should all be required to have A-levels in English and maths, it claims. Even the Government is nettled, with an official spokesman describing the report as simply nonsense masquerading as serious comment.

As so often the truth lies somewhere in between. It is true that teaching is now mainly a graduate profession with official figures showing that 95 per cent of primary school trainee teachers have a 2:2 degree or better. But it is also true that it is possible for a newly-qualified teacher to begin work not having done any maths since they scraped through their GSCE with a grade C six years earlier. Anyone with direct knowledge of a primary school knows that in some there are qualified teachers who the head could not move above Year 2 because their maths is not up to it.

A-level maths, of course, is not the answer. That requires a degree of aptitude and inclination which it is quite possible to lack and still be a competent teacher. Nor is it a sensible suggestion that we should scrap the general B.Ed and require all putative teachers to take a subject-based degree.

Primary school teachers have to teach a broad range of subjects across the curriculum and a general degree is good preparation for that. But there is a clear need for maths and English to be made a key component of any B.Ed.

One of the problems with the report is that its authors, one of whom is the former Oftsed chief Chris Woodhead, have succumbed to purple prose with claims that few really good candidates would nowadays want to join a profession "more interested in the 'challenges of social diversity' than the excitement of teaching an academic subject". He might more profitably wonder what role he and countless government education initiatives and inspections have had in making teaching such an unattractive profession where the stress is enormous, the pay mediocre and the status so low. The quality of teaching might also improve if something was done about all that.