Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Fees could be very costly

Sand running through someones fingers

Lawrence Montagu argues that new teacher training fees will begin to reverse the success evident in recent years of recruiting high quality graduates to the profession.

Does the government realise that it is placing in jeopardy the excellence of the quality of trainees who have entered teacher training over the past six or seven years?

Those of us who run major teacher training programmes will testify that the standards for training, the demands of the Teacher Development Agency and, indeed, the inspection regime, have all contributed to new teachers being better trained than ever.

Those of us who run schools as well have, as a consequence, been delighted at the quality of the candidates we have had to choose from for most subjects over recent years. The government should take considerable pride in its part in reaching this happy state of affairs.

So why, therefore, is it now prepared to risk all this by allowing universities to charge aspiring teachers for the privilege of training on a PGCE course?

From September 2006, universities intend to charge between £1,200 and £1,800 for the year-long PGCE course, despite the fact that students will be in schools for at least 25 weeks of the year and, consequently, only in universities for a maximum of ten weeks.

Some students in shortage subjects may receive grants or bursaries to offset their fees, but those in other areas of the curriculum, as well as all primary trainees, will have little alternative other than to pay up.

The reality, therefore, is that we will not only be asking talented young graduates to spend an extra year accumulating debts associated with their living costs but, in addition, obliging them to stump up a further contribution to cover their own training costs.

Last resort

I fear this policy will return us to the days when teacher training was viewed as the final option for graduates when there were no more attractive career alternatives.

We cannot allow the future of the teaching profession to be jeopardised when we have been working so hard to improve our schools for the benefit of the young people we serve. Much improvement has been directly related to the emphasis we have placed on high quality teaching and learning.

This has only been possible because the quality of entrants to the profession has improved and, with so much initial teacher education being school-based, schools have been forced to concentrate on how trainees can deliver high quality teaching from the word go.

How can we get out of this mess before there is lasting damage to teacher training? My view is that schools should do one of two things.

Schools could take over teacher education as school-based in its entirety. The schools may well find that if they can work more closely with each other, as we have, the partnership will not only influence initial teacher education but it will benefit schools in general.

Alternatively, they should demand payment from the universities so that if schools undertake two-thirds of the training, two-thirds of the additional finance goes to the schools, which could pass the money back to the trainees.

Frankly, neither of these options is desirable, because teacher education relies upon the input of higher education as, indeed, it relies on schools to be committed as training partners.

University reform

There is no doubt the universities are in a very difficult financial position and, just as in the schools sector, the health service and the police, they will have to undertake radical reform to meet the demands of the 21st century.

This could be an excellent opportunity for universities to take a serious look at the demands of students and society that they should be meeting in this century. The government wants more people to progress to higher education, yet our talented young people have great difficulty in gaining places at the best universities.

Put all these considerations together and the need for a radical review of how higher education is structured and funded is very apparent. The time has come for higher education to consider, properly, the needs of young people for the rest of this century.

That will certainly not mean depriving the teaching profession of the quality of recruit it will need to provide the best school-based education possible for the direct benefit of all the young people in our country.

Lawrence Montagu is chair of the Gloucestershire Initial Teacher Education Partnership and headteacher of St Peter's RC High School.

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