Prime Minister Tony Blair and Secretary of State for Education and Employment David Blunkett have taken the wraps of the secondary education strategy they will pursue if Labour is successful in securing a second term. The main issues addressed by the strategy are how to get a system that responds better to the individual needs of pupils and how to ensure that teaching posts are filled by high caliber staff.The implications of the strategy are that the comprehensive school has been consigned to history. Although the National Curriculum will remain, diversity amongst schools will be promoted so that every school will have its own mission and ethos. By 2006 nearly half of all secondary schools will be able to specialize. New specialisms include engineering, science, and business and enterprise. Advanced Specialist Schools will also be
introduced. All children will be given access to sports, the arts and citizenship programmes. In a move to give choices to children there are plans to accelerate pupil achievement through express sets, with pilots for youngsters taking tests at 13 rather than 14 and ensuring more early entries for GCSE. The new Centre for Gifted and Talented Youth will expand opportunities for gifted children in the state sector. There will also be more vocational opportunities with choices in work-based as well as in full-time practical GCSEs leading to apprenticeships for those who want them.
Failure to recruit and retain teachers is the greatest threat to the implementation of the strategy and a range of measures to provide incentives for recruitment and retention are proposed. Teachers in the shortage subjects of maths, science, languages, technology and English, who stay in the maintained sector, will have their student loans paid off. The next three years’ intake of such teachers will also have their student loan debt repaid over a period of 10 years, provided they remain teaching in the state sector. This will be worth around 10,000 pounds to a typical graduate.
A new route into the profession will allow undergraduates on traditional academic degrees to take education modules as part of their degree and so gain part of the qualification while still an undergraduate. The trainees could be paid a training bursary in installments whilst still an undergraduate. All undergraduates could be given the chance to take placements as teaching assistants during their degree.
Three alternative proposals have been put forward for existing undergraduate courses. Students in their fourth year may not have to pay tuition fees and could receive a training bursary, or a salary could be paid in the fourth year of training as it is on the Graduate Teacher Programme. Alternatively fourth year students could be awarded Qualified Teacher Status and be paid as teachers before completion of their degree. There will also be a dedicated recruitment and retention service, additional targeted funding, on the job training schemes in high cost areas, incentives for those with teaching qualifications to return to teaching and assistance with the costs of housing. All schools could have the option of paying recruitment and retention bonuses of up to Â£5000 a year.