New Tory Education Policies

Michael Gove, Conservative Party education policy wonk, has an alternative to the government's feeble response to the specialist teacher shortage.

Over the last decade, Labour has solved the Physics teacher shortage by making Biology teachers teach Physics, then declaring that there isn't a science teacher recruitment problem. (see Biologists Shouldn't Teach Physics) The acute shortage of maths trained teachers in primary schools is magically reversed by paying the more numerate teachers to attend a two or three week course in their summer break, returning to their schools as 'maths qualified'. Brilliant, but at the same time pathetic.

The long term answer, or course, is to allow some freedom in the market, and pay more for the teacher who has the shortage skills. Gove suggests that head teachers should be allowed to do just that, although the unions have a strong interest in preventing any local pay agreements - national pay bargaining is their most valued power. Opening more schools that can independently set pay rates could work, and Gove seems to be suggesting that, but the new City Academies have been free of council control for years, and I don't see evidence that pay is varied to ease recruitment difficulties.

It will be hard encouraging Heads to make use of such a power though, as many don't see specialisms as important. Why would a primary head teacher, of a school with respectable maths test results, want to spend more to recruit a maths specialist? Specialists have never been part of the primary scene, and it would be seen as an insult to the existing generalist teachers, especially if paid differently.

Independent schools, however, do take specialist skills seriously, and many vary pay rates — if government really wants to close the education gap between independent and state schools, then they must bite the pay bullet.

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