Teachers must be a class apart

Conservatives plan to make teaching a ‘brazenly elitist’ profession. Melanie Newman

January 18, 2010

Trainee teachers will need at least a lower second-class degree under plans announced by the Conservatives to make teaching a “brazenly elitist” profession.

David Cameron, the Tory leader, said today that he would “end the current system where people with third-class degrees can get taxpayers’ money to enter postgraduate teacher training. With our plans, if you want to become a teacher – and get funding for it – you need a 2:2 or higher.”

Launching the education section of his draft manifesto, Mr Cameron also said the Conservatives would repay the student loans of applicants with a first or upper second-class degree in “maths or a rigorous science subject from a good university”.

The party is reportedly planning to form a panel to define a “good university”, which it believes will describe a number in the “low dozens”.

The plans were inspired by efforts in Finland, Singapore and South Korea that have made teaching a “high-prestige profession”, Mr Cameron said. “They are brazenly elitist – making sure only the top graduates can apply. They have turned it into the career path if you’ve got a good degree.”

Les Ebdon, chair of the Million+ group of newer universities and vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, said the scheme showed “an amazing ignorance” of the role of post-92 universities in teaching science and in training teachers.

Professor Ebdon said: “These proposals show an amazing ignorance of the role of the Quality Assurance Agency, which assures standards in all UK universities. They also ignore the fact that the largest science departments are in post-92 universities… post-92 universities also train the majority of teachers.”

Any scheme that excluded graduates of post-92 universities would lead to a recruitment crisis in schools, he added.

In a report published in September, the think-tank Demos argued that it was too easy to become a teacher. Leading from the Front, which was published by the group’s “Progressive Conservatism” arm, called for higher entry hurdles to teacher training and pointed to links between entry requirements and the status of teaching in countries such as Finland. It later emerged that one of the report’s authors, Jonty Olliff-Cooper, had taught history at Eton College – where Mr Cameron was educated – for two years after his graduation from the University of Oxford, despite not having studied for a PGCE.

• Ministers have told universities to pay more attention to “contextual information” such as an applicant’s economic background or schooling when making offers to students.

The instruction announced today was part of the Government’s response to a review of social mobility conducted by Alan Milburn last year. Ministers accepted most of the review’s 80 recommendations.

Pat McFadden, the Minister for Skills, pointed to an extended medical degree programme at King’s College London, which has opened up the medical profession to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.


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