When I first read about the Cameroid's intention to make the teaching profession elitist and only allow very clever teachers to join, my first thought was 'Well, that sounds more like a proper Tory policy than most of the guff they've come out with'.
My second thought was 'It's the wrong policy'.
There is no need for a prospective teacher to have to get a 2.1 honours degree in science before starting teacher training. Those who get firsts and 2.1 degrees are those who should be considering going further with their science, taking up PhD courses and getting involved with research. An honours degree does not make someone a teacher, because that's an entirely different skill set and it's not taught during a science degree.
Few university lecturers have had more than a cursory training in teaching, if that, and have risen to the rank of lecturer through academic promotion. Some of them are very good scientists but bloody awful lecturers.
They would be even worse as teachers. When you've absorbed that much education you tend to be somewhat impatient with people who haven't. In the hallowed halls of academia, everyone is there for one reason only. To learn more stuff and see how much you can cram into a brain without bursting it.
Schools have a different makeup entirely. They contain some who will go on to academia, but also many who will go on to be plumbers, builders, electricians, shop managers, and even a few who are unlikely to progress beyond the rank of supermarket trolley collector. That is not meant to be disparaging. People come in a whole range of abilities and let's face it - if nobody wanted the job of trolley collector we'd never be able to find one. It's not an executive position but it's not an unimportant job.
If you put someone with a high level honours degree in the classroom, they will naturally want to concentrate on those pupils who are likely to follow the same course. They will struggle to cope with those pupils who prefer less learning-intensive careers, who plan to go on working on Dad's farm or have ambitions to be lorry drivers or railway engineers.
Why would these graduates take up teaching anyway? After spending three to four years building up a debt and working hard for a high degree, why would they take a job that doesn't pay well, that involves almost nothing they've learned (if you have a 2.1 in molecular biology, you won't be teaching it to 11-year-olds) and that can be terminated on the whim of a spiteful child or a malicious colleague?
Well, Cameron plans to bribe them to do it. If they have an approved degree from an approved university, he'll write off their student loans if they become teachers. Well, now, Cameron, you are dealing with intelligent people here. Do you imagine they won't consider being a teacher for a few years, to get that debt cleared, and then scarper back to the universities? I would have done just that.
The best people to employ as teachers are those who, first of all, want to be teachers. Then you apply an entry requirement to teacher training college and personally I'd set that at A-level/Higher standard, not degree level. They will be teaching up to A level. They will not be teaching up to degree level and if you load them up with degree level information, you risk putting someone in that class who will totally baffle the children and who will soon become bored with the level of the syllabus.
I would require them to have a good result in English at least to O-level or whatever they call it now, and a good A-level in their chosen subject plus a couple of others to show they are smarter than the kids they are to teach because if they're not, well, as I recall we weren't slow to spot the dim ones and take full advantage.
The training college should then bring them up to date in their chosen subject as well as training them in how to use a cattle prod and a tazer. Or whatever approved method is now in use for disciplinary purposes. Oh, wait, we don't have discipline any more, so show them how to put on a stab vest and dodge bullets.
Levity aside, Cameron is right that the schools need a lot of work but he's going at the wrong target. The first thing he needs to do is stop all the PC rubbish - all that 'oh, his bizarre spelling is his way of expressing himself' and asking them how they feel about everything rather than actually teaching them anything.
Stop calling the police to playground fights and name-calling and start calling them when kids are found with drugs and weapons.
Stop the targets - and not just in schools.
Let teachers teach rather than using them as another line of social manipulation.
Cameron says he'll make it easier to fire bad teachers. Good. Replacing them with graduates is not the way to improve the system. Replace them with skilled teachers, not with scientists. He does not consider where the bad teachers are coming from - the same teaching colleges he plans to send those graduates. Those colleges should be assessing whether a teacher can teach but like the schools, they have to show a high pass rate or they're in trouble. So they have to pass the duffers too. The problem percolates down the system and becomes self-sustaining.
At the moment we have teachers who hate the 'teach-to-test' methods imposed by the need to meet targets. Just cram it into them so they pass, don't worry about whether they understand any of it. We also have some who are happy with that method because it's how they were taught in teacher training college.
Next, some of the kids from those schools will go to teacher training college and they won't question the teach-to-test approach because it's how they were taught.
Eventually there'll be no teachers left who use any other methods or who care at all whether any of the kids understand the work. They won't even consider 'understanding' to be a necessary part of learning because for them, it never has been.
You won't fix that by increasing the qualification requirements for teacher training. You fix it by changing the training methods and not penalising colleges who throw out the duffers, no matter how many they have to dump in any one year.
We are regaled with 'more kids getting higher marks' year on year. It's fake, and obviously so because real life isn't like that. In real life the proportion of passes and the proportion of high marks would fluctuate year on year. It would produce a graph like the stock market, not a graph like the hockey stick. The same applies to the teacher training colleges. Some years they'll get a load of excellent students and some years they'll get a load of duffers. But they aren't allowed to let us see that. They have to show consistent or rising numbers of qualified teachers or Labour will cut their funding.
Labour are obsessed with producing the impression they have improved things whether those things are improving or not. Meanwhile they bog every system down with targets and paperwork so it can only get worse. Instead of accepting that it doesn't work and changing it, they fudge the figures to make it look like it does. Now we have Ed Balls, who is supposed to be running education, wanting to teach fathers how to breastfeed. Has the standard of biology teaching dropped that low already? Just how far can you push the equality agenda? Mind you, perhaps Ed's moobs have reached sufficient size to become functional.
Mr. Cameron, if you want to improve the education system, get the targets and the rest of the crap out of it, find yourself an experienced teacher with a good reputation and make him or her your schools minister - with the remit that they are to deal with teaching matters only and no meddling in anything else.
Forget about filling the system with bribed graduates. That is a disaster in the making. Get teachers who want to teach and show them how to do it. Then get out of the way and let them do it.
Anything else is just tinkering at the edges. There's been more than enough of that already.