As MPs call for a radical overhaul of the teaching profession amid fears entry requirements for training courses are too low, Kat Keogh looks as the rising number of applicants for courses in the West Midlands.
It has been seen by some as a recession-proof career, with applications for teacher training places soaring by 40 per cent nationwide last year.
But the teaching profession has come under fire this month amid claims that low entry qualifications were “often linked” to some students’ failure to complete teacher training courses successfully.
The Commons Schools Select Committee has called for the bar to be raised “across the board” on qualifications needed to become a teacher.
In the Training of Teachers report, MPs said graduates applying for post-graduate certificate of education (PGCE) courses should have at least a lower second at degree level, and this should gradually be raised to allow only those with a 2.1 or above to apply.
The report said: “Having examined the level of entry qualifications that trainees bring to both under and post-graduate initial teacher training programmes, we are clear that the bar must be raised across the board. It is of great concern that those with no A-levels, or those with just a pass degree can gain entry to the teaching profession.”
The MPs said funding for undergraduate degree courses for secondary teachers should be scrapped, because of “particularly low” entry qualifications.
They also called for the entry requirements for undergraduate primary programmes to be raised.
Sally Yates, dean of the School of Education at Newman University College, Birmingham, gave evidence to the Select Committee in her role as vice chair of the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers.
She said applicants for initial teacher education courses at Newman were up by a third this year in comparison to 2009 figures, with primary courses proving the most popular with between ten and 20 applicants for every undergraduate place.
She said though she welcomed the report’s recommendations that undergraduate routes for entry into primary teaching should continue, she was disappointed that the committee “misrepresented the entry qualifications for many teaching courses”.
“Where students do not have A-levels they have other equivalent qualifications or are mature entrants, sometimes coming through access routes,” she said.
“Many of these applicants have many years of valuable workplace experience including, for example, roles as teaching assistants.”
Ms Yates added that the college looked for those who have achieved well in outside studies, as well as those with the personality to “inspire and hold the attention of a class”.
She said: “Clearly academic qualifications are important, but so, too, is having the discipline, commitment and personal skills required to be an effective and inspirational teacher.”
The credit crunch has also boosted applications at Birmingham City University. The university reported a 40 per cent rise in the number of applicants for teaching courses in line with the national trend last year. Though the recession may have proved the catalyst for people with a broad range of experience to consider teaching, Select Committee chairman Barry Sheerman said it still must be seen as an option for “high achieving individuals”.
“Recruiting and retaining the best teachers can transform pupil attainment and bring new vision and energy into schools,” he said.
“It is not enough to make-do-and-mend existing policies: radical changes must take place. Teaching must be seen as an attractive career option for high achieving individuals.
“Entry requirements should be raised, and there must be better support for teachers once they are in post. A failure to tackle the pressures faced by new teachers risks not only a dearth of teachers from the profession but also lasting damage to the educational experience of pupils. This must not be allowed to happen.”
n An event to showcase the benefits of teaching will take place in Birmingham next month.
The Train to Teach exhibition, taking place at Thinktank, will give potential recruits an insight into teaching and information on the varied routes into the profession.
Graham Holley, chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), said: “Teaching is becoming the career of choice for some of the best graduates and those seeking a career change and a fresh challenge – and with good reason. Teaching offers a competitive salary and job security, coupled with great opportunities for progression.
“We’re constantly searching for talented people to become teachers and Train to Teach is the ideal opportunity for those interested in teaching to come along to find out more.”
* The Train to Teach Birmingham event at Thinktank, Millennium Point, will be held on March 19 and 20. To register visit www.teach.gov.uk/traintoteach
* Case Study
Don’t believe the hype – teaching is no easy choice
It may be increasingly seen as an attractive career choice, but there is more to teaching than a steady wage and 13 weeks’ holiday, according to trainee teacher Michelle McCarthy.
The 23-year-old from Solihull, who is currently part-way through a PGCE course at Birmingham University, said she feared rising numbers of people applying for places on training courses were “doing it for the wrong reasons”.
“People, including myself at the beginning, do not realise how much work goes into planning every single lesson,” she said.
“It takes hours, as you have to think about every single pupil and what they get out of it.
“It worries me people look at teaching and think ‘steady job, good money and 13 weeks paid holiday’ but there is much more to it than that.”
The media graduate, who will be taking up a post as an English and media studies teacher at a secondary school in the autumn, added she agreed with the report’s recommendations raise the standard of qualifications needed to get onto teaching courses.
“My course was very competitive and you needed a 2.1 or above to get on it, which is how it should be,” she said. “I think we owe it to the pupils and the parents to make sure you have the best quality teachers you can. You wouldn’t want to be treated by a doctor that had been on a short course instead of years studying the subject.
“Your health is important, but a good education is one of the best things you can give your children.”