David Cameron has said today that he wants to make teacher training ‘brazenly elitist’. His main proposals are to ban graduates with third class degrees from teacher training and to rebrand the Graduate Teacher Programme – which mainly targets career changers who want to enter teaching – as Teach Now.
Yet, while Cameron may be hoping to provoke some sort of a political row with the education world with these changes, the truth is that they are merely a logical extension of Labour’s teacher training reforms. The Tories’ last schools minister, Eric Forth, memorably bemoaned his party’s failure to reform teacher training, just months before the 1997 election. Labour was determined not to leave the system unreformed as a result.
So, since 1997, the proportion of teachers who train in schools (mainly as mature career changers) has grown from a handful to around a third of all trainees who can earn while they learn. The proportion of trainees with better degrees has risen too (though largely in line with the proportion of graduates awarded those qualifications). Teacher shortages have largely been eliminated with better salaries and golden hellos, though some gaps remain for specialist maths and science teachers. And the Teach First programme – of which the Tories are keen fans – has been placing elite university graduates for two years in inner city secondary schools, with over half of them making a career of teaching as a result.
Cameron’s plans take things further, particularly because of the focus they place on good degrees for all, and the greater focus on degrees from top universities. And there will undoubtedly be more reforms of what is taught in teacher training colleges – though they were shaken up too with the literacy and numeracy hours. All make sense, and also build on proposals by the Sutton Trust and Policy Exchange. But the Tories may be underestimating economic forces: it will be far easier to enforce the tougher recruitment targets in a recession when it is a recruiters’ market than when the graduate employment world becomes competitive again. Elitist this policy may be, but not especially brazen.