A rose by any other name

One of the interesting things about language is that it has the ability to be both precise and vague at the same time. As a wordsmith, the Secretary of State, who always seems more comfortable within the literacy domain than the numeracy world, has made two interesting statements this week. As already reported in an earlier post on this blog, he told the House of Commons on Monday that Osfted inspected Academy Chains. This fact was news to many who thought that Ofsted inspected only the schools in such chains, and that although the Funding Agency could look at the books of academy chains, Ofsted didn’t have the power to inspect their overall performance as they can with local authority support for school improvement orChildren’s Services.

And then, yesterday, the Secretary of State was interviewed by pupils experiencing the life of reporters as part of the BBC’s annual School Report exercise. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schoolreport/26768138

During the interview the BBC reported that Mr Gove said:

“Teachers should definitely be paid more than they are at the moment,” But he added that his department paid off the debts of some teachers at the start of their careers in the form of bursaries or additional support – particularly those teaching key subjects such as maths, physics or chemistry.

Now the idea of using bursaries to pay off student debt – at the same time as requiring the trainee teachers to take on further student debt as part of their PGCE or Tuition Fee School Direct course – is a curious one. In fact they could only voluntarily pay off existing student debt using the bursary if they were allowed to: it seems pretty unlikely that the Student Loans organisation would be able to offer a new loan with one hand will taking payment on an earlier one with the other. Perhaps the Secretary of State meant that the bursary allowed those trainees not to take out further loans (and thereby increasing their debt) to study to become a teacher.

He may, of course, have been mixing up what happens on Teach First with the situation faced by the much greater number of trainees on the other routes into teaching. In my view, working towards a salary for all trainees, to encourage the best in all subjects to become teachers, would be a positive policy development. After all, graduates that enter most private sector training programmes are now normally paid a salary and don’t have to pay for their training. Most employers recognise that making possible entrants pay for training puts off some applicants.

So, using the phrase ‘paid off the debts of some teachers’, if indeed the transcript shows that those were the words used by the Secretary of State, seems like a somewhat loose use of language. Perhaps Mr Gove could explain both what he actually meant about paying of the student debt of teachers and the inspection of academy chains, so we can all be clear.

He might also like to elucidate on the statement about ‘paying teachers more’, perhaps in his next remit letter to the Pay Review Body.