Leading article: The value of a good teacher

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The Independent Online

Education features prominently in the Government's White Paper on social mobility. Included in the measures is a plan to give 6,000 new teachers a £10,000 loyalty payment if they take a job for three years in one of the country's 500 worst performing schools.

Some might argue that this latest proposal is overkill, since the teaching profession is already likely to get an injection of new talent courtesy of the economic downturn. It is certainly true that the existing Teach First scheme, which encourages high-flying graduates to spend a year teaching in challenging inner-city schools, will seem more attractive to university leavers while the job market is shrinking. Over the longer term, too, the severe contraction of the financial services sector, which in recent years has creamed off bright undergraduates, should make the job of state education recruiters easer.

But to regard this new "golden handcuffs" initiative as excessive is surely to underestimate the scale of the problems that afflict our state school sector. Underperforming state schools are acting as a drag on social mobility in Britain. And one of the primary reasons for substandard education is inadequate teaching. The Government is right to strive to attract good teachers to the schools which most need them. And if modified pay incentives are required to help schools in deprived areas then the Government should have no compunction about pulling that lever.

Of course it will take more than new pay incentives to generate the improvements in our state education system that the country so badly needs. Progress will involve considerable investment in school classroom facilities, especially in deprived areas. There needs to be a culture shift, too, giving schools more independence and control over their own affairs. Successful schools should be allowed to expand. Head teachers should be permitted to tailor their curriculum and ethos to get the best academic performance out of their intake.

But we should not forget how vital good individual teachers are in inspiring children born in unpromising circumstances to achieve. The Government is right to make bringing the two groups together a priority.