Today's announcement by David Cameron on a new policy to recruit a higher standard of teacher is very welcome. Indeed, it's just the sort of policy I want to see from a new Conservative government. Here's an extract from his speech this morning...
The straightforward truth is that there aren’t enough good schools in our country, and we’re failing far too many of our children. Four in ten children leave primary school unable to read, write and add up properly. Half of pupils do not get five good GCSEs including English and maths. And we’re slipping down the world league tables in maths and science.
When a child steps through those school gates for the very first time, the most important thing that will determine if they succeed is not their background, or the curricula, or the type of school, or the amount of funding, it’s who the teacher is.
We all know this to be true from our own experience. Everyone remembers a teacher that made a difference – who through sheer force of personality and infectious enthusiasm sparked an interest, instilled a love of learning and set a life on its course. And the evidence backs that up.
A series of studies by American academics has revealed that quality of an individual teacher is the single most important factor in a child’s educational progress. Those students taught by the best teachers make three times as much progress as those taught by the least effective. Research here in the UK confirms this – with children in with the best teachers learning four times as fast.
But today, we don’t act on our instincts and this evidence. We’ve made our teachers lives more difficult, undermining their judgement, curbing their freedom, telling them what to do and how to do it. We send them into some chaotic environments with little protection or support, leaving them feeling demoralised and under-valued. And we don’t reach out for the very best talent.
If we want to give our children the best – it’s time we made our teaching the best. That’s why we’re committed to a comprehensive programme of reform to elevate the status of teaching in our country. We want to make it the noble profession – the career path that attracts the best brains, is well-rewarded and commands the most respect. And this is how we propose to do it.
We’re going to begin at source – at recruitment – and make sure we get the best people into the profession. At the moment, not enough of our brightest people consider going into teaching, especially those in the subjects we need – like maths, and in the schools that would benefit most from their knowledge – tough inner-city ones. In some cases, people with a good degree who would make great teachers think instead about the civil service, the BBC, maybe the Bar.
We can get round this problem – we just need to learn from abroad. Finland, Singapore and South Korea have the most highly qualified teachers, and also some of the best education systems in the world, because they have deliberately made teaching a high prestige profession.
They are brazenly elitist – making sure only the top graduates can apply. They have turned it into the career path if you’ve got a good degree. And in America, President Obama is offering financial incentives to attract more science graduates into teaching. We should be equally bold here.
So we will end the current system where people with third class degrees can get taxpayers’ money to enter postgraduate teacher training. With our plans, if you want to become a teacher – and get funding for it – you need a 2:2 or higher.
And we will also make sure we get some of the best graduates into teaching by offering to pay off their student loan. As long as you’ve got a first or 2.1 in maths or a rigorous science subject from a good university – you can apply.
But in attracting the best, we plan to go much, much further... And today, we are announcing a new programme. At the moment, if you’re a twenty-something or thirty-something who has made it in another career but fancy giving teaching a go, the bureaucratic-odds are stacked against you. It’s hard to access what options are available to you, unless you already work in a school. And you have to go through the rigmarole of applying to individual schools.
We’re going to change all that and give high-flying professionals a fast-track into teaching. We will replace the Graduate Teacher Programme with a new one – Teach Now. Modelled on Teach First, it will be a one-stop-shop for people who want to transfer into teaching. Only the best professionals with the best qualifications need apply. And after a rigorous application process, if you’ve made the grade, you’ll be put straight into a school.
This will make a huge difference to our children – they’ll be able to learn from those who’ve made it in business, in the arts, in the creative industries, and it’s a vital part of our plan to elevate the status of teaching in our country.
Once we get the best teachers, we need to make sure they stay teaching, and that means making sure their reward is a fair reflection of how well they’ve done and how hard they’ve worked.
We need much greater flexibility than currently exists - flexibility over rewarding the best and yes, getting rid of the worst. So we will free schools to pay good teachers more. With our plans, head teachers will have the power to use their budgets to pay bonuses to the best teachers.
And because the evidence shows that schools that have the greatest impact in poorer areas are the ones that extend their hours into evenings and weekends, we will also give them the flexibility to reward teachers for longer hours.
But we also give head teachers greater powers in the other direction. Today, it’s far too difficult for them to fire poorly performing teachers. Head teachers aren’t given enough support to navigate their way through the complex procedures and bureaucratic hurdles. When people are not living up to expectations, every organisation needs a mechanism by which you can manage staff out.
Schools are no different. In fact, because of the vital role teachers play in influencing our young, it’s even more important. So we will do what we can to support our head teachers in removing poorly performing teachers as efficiently and quickly as possible.
Of course, quite apart from issues of pay and reward, another big barrier to keeping the most talented people in teaching is discipline and behaviour. It doesn’t matter how bright you are or how much money you get, no one wants to put up with being assaulted or abused – as thousands of teachers are every year – in the workplace.
That’s why any plan to elevate the status of teaching in our country must also include giving them the powers and protections they need to keep order. Over the last decade, these have been slowly stripped away.
Great tomes of ‘Official Guidance’ and a litany of bizarre judgements by independent panels have robbed our teachers of the authority they need to maintain discipline. They are told they shouldn’t search pupils for dangerous weapons if they expect to meet resistance. They are discouraged from physically removing the most badly behaved pupils from their classroom – because they could be investigated. And when head teachers do try and stamp their authority and expel a pupil, they can get over-ruled. In one case, a pupil who was expelled for carrying a knife was sent back to the school by an appeal panel. We can’t go on like this.
It’s time we tilted the scales back into the favour of teachers. That’s what we will do. We’re going to say to our teachers, if you want to search for and confiscate any item you think is dangerous or disruptive- you can. If you want to remove violent children from the classroom – you can. And if you want protection from false allegations of abuse that wreck lives and wreck careers – we’ll make sure you have it.
We will also give our schools the final say over expulsion. No ifs, no buts. With a new Conservative Government, there’ll be no doubt where the authority lies in our schools. Not with the troublemakers. Not with the pupils. One hundred percent with the teachers.
In return for these reforms, we’re going to demand greater transparency so parents can hold teachers to account. We will let every parent know how much their school receives to spend on their child’s education.
We will combine this information with details on the academic performance of local schools and of other schools with similar intakes and levels of funding. We will give parents the accurate information they want to challenge under-performance and the freedom they need take their children elsewhere if they’re not happy.
There is no limit to what a child can achieve with the strong and confident teachers, so there can be no delay to the reforms we have set out.
This is all part of the rolling out of the Conservative draft manifesto. This may not appear to be the biggest political issue of our time, but if the next government gets teacher training right, it could have a lasting effect on the quality of education for the next generation of children.
You can read the full speech and the draft schools manifesto HERE.