Monday, January 18, 2010

Teacher Training: When Elitism Is Good

When I went to university I had fully intended to then take a PGCE and train to be a secondary school teacher. As it turned out, my life took a different path. But I often wonder what would have happened if I had stuck with my original plans. Indeed, there are still times when I think fleetingly about going back to teaching at some point. And then to cure me of the thought I watch a DVD of Waterloo Road :).

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.


Stepney said...

Every now and then I doubt whether Dave and the crew really know what they're doing. Today however has reaffirmed my faith that they do.

Not only is this a good policy it is a dog-whistle which goes straight to the heart of middle Britain. The 50,000 immigration limit is another one - that's good for another 2% on the lead.


Giles Marshall said...

Waterloo Road???? About as accurate a protrayal of schools as The Thick of It is of pol....

Lola said...

Graduates with good degree results do not and never have automatically make good teachers.

MrW said...

Dammit - it's always the Maths and Science teachers they want to throw money at. Plus they get the pick of the jobs. It's tough being yet another History teacher... Stupid supply and demand...

Lola said...

Working for a monopoly guarantees that one way or another you'll be exploited.

The quickest and most ceratin way to attract good people who will make good teachers into teaching is to change the way it is funded. Let the money follow the student and privatise all the providers. Freedom, markets and competition will work its magic. Standards will rise and with it teachers pay and status. With that of course the right of schools to decide disciplinary action.

For the avoidance of doubt Mrs Lola is a teacher and I have sat and observed all the abslute crap she has had to put up with, especially under New Labour. On top of that in every school she has worked in their has always been at least one colleague in her immediate circle that is just simply taking the piss out of the system. In any other private sector outfit they would have bene got rid of. But not in teaching. Invariably it is the likes of Mrs Lola that do all the work these lazy and evasive, barrack rome lawyering gits should be doing but don't.

JohnRS said...

Archbishop Cranmer makes the point that if elitism is good for teachers why is it also not good for pupils?

He has a good point and one that won't be lost on the supporters of grammar schools.

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want to be a teacher when you are deprived the possibility of planning your own lessons and going away from the national curriculum when the class is ready for it? Unless the Tories promise to scrap the dead hand of central curriculum planning this is just pushing up the wages bill with no prospect of better results.

The best teaching is where teachers and students are actively engaged and excited about the subject.I don't see any mention here that Whitehall doesn't always know what's best for Simpkins Minor in the third row.

R Mutt said...

This seems to me a bad idea.

1. Cameron's talked a lot in general about decentralizing and empowering. But now he wants a big top-down decree about who can be hired. It's not consistent.

2. It doesn't take into account different degrees. Someone with a Third in Astrophysics might be a better candidate than someone with a Lower Second in Media Studies.

3. It gives students an even greater incentive to aim for easy or even Mickey Mouse degrees. Why take the risk of doing a tough degree if the government's going to shut you out of a big chunk of the workforce if you succeed by too narrow a margin?

Cath said...

I agree with you Iain. Equally interesting was John Bangs' response when interviewed about this on Five Live this morning: distinctly lukewarm. The fact that he failed to understand, or deliberately misunderstood, what Cameron means by elitist in this context shows exactly where the unions' priorities are.

Archbishop Cranmer said...

"This may not appear to be the biggest political issue of our time..."

O, but it is.

With each generation of schoolchildren sinking in a mire of unmitigated mediocrity under the Marxist guise of 'excellence for all', we are condemning the nation's entire future to mediocre oblivion.

Steve Tierney said...

I think you're wrong, Iain - and the party policy is wrong too.

Which is sad as I generally agree with Gove.

The problem with education will not be solved by higher class degrees - but by better teachers. A skill which has nothing to do with anything they teach at university.

Anybody with a degree knows enough to teach teenagers. But the ability to enthuse a class full of kids and gain their respect, control and enforce displine and make lessons interesting and engaging doesn't come from years and years at Uni. It comes from personality and sometimes from life experience.

This policy is moving in the wrong direction in my opinion. We should be trying to bring LESS academic people into teaching - the sort of intelligent people who didn't want to spend years with their heads buried in books but can hold a class spellbound - not bore them to tears with their technical prowess but lack of any character or struggle to make the kids pay any attention at all.

OldSlaughter said...

De-unionise the whining jobsworths.

Out of the 30-40 teachers I had I would be happy if one or perhaps two got to teach my children.

Make education a market, pay teachers a decent wage and allow the Headmaster to bin them with little difficulty and the problem is solved. Our schools would be world class.

Opps, I just described our private system. Can't have that can we.

Anonymous said...

I thought the most important factor in whether a child would succeed was having a married, heterosexual mummy and daddy?

Isn't that what.....but you said......oh, forget it.

Is Dave really suggesting that people can be placed in a teaching post without having any teacher training?

This all sounds like it will cost a lot of money in higher salaries, more frequent compensation payouts when pupils assault teachers who take upon themselves to search them, as well as any number of redundancy payments to the thousands of sub-standard teachers who just sit back and teach the same thing for 40 years, but who must surely be cut off under this scheme.

I am not in any way opposed to higher spending on education, but where will this money come from?

Wallenstein said...

Iain... perhaps you could remind us which uni you went to, and whether the degree you received should put you out of the running for one of these plum teaching roles?

And if we're applying it to teachers, why should the same not apply to politicians? Surely if we're asking people to run our nation they should be "the best of the best", just like our teachers?

So a first from a Russell Group uni should be a pre-requisite for election to parliament? Shame for anyone who studied at e.g. UEA ;-)

It's all good dog whistle stuff from Dave, but it doesn't really stack up when you look at it closely.

Unsworth said...

I just hope that roll-out of the Conservative Manifesto will last as long as the campaign itself. Seems to me we're in for a very long lead time. Maybe Cameron, Gove etc al should be keeping their powder dry.

Still I'm certainly looking forward to the hustings and the frenetic activity which will descend upon NuLab. In the meantime we should be very vigilant as to the use of our taxes being used to overtly political messages.

Anonymous said...

Bet the teachers unions are going to love this - and particularly their activist members. Why do I suspect so many of those have third rate degrees from third rate universities?

Unsworth said...

@ Steve Tierney

Precisely. But the real question is how to encourage, reward and select those with a real talent to teach. We do not pay by results. Perhaps we should consider that more carefully.

Teachers unions have reluctantly agreed that an element of pay may be used as recognition of ability. But it is still very difficult to fire incompetents, many of whom when challenged will play the 'stress card'. To dismiss a useless teacher it's necessary to follow prolonged 'competence' (or incompetence, if you will) procedures lasting many months. In the meantime the damage is being done to the pupils each and every day. The best that a Headteacher can do in those circumstances is to place the teacher in a position where they can do least damage - usually teaching a class which will not be doing critical exams for two years.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Unusually, His Grace uses the word mediocre and mediocrity in the same short sentence, so he must mean it, and, I believe he is in a position to know.

And so do I, because I did attempt a PGCE and gave up.

I gave up for the following reasons:

Discipline is non-existent.

A male, even a gay male, is sooner or later going to be the subject of a sexual assault charge, due to the ease with which a disgruntled student can exact revenge. The result is that the career is ruined.

Teacher Training establishments are run by Marxists, who are very big on "equality" and very little on pedagogy. Indeed, most of them do not understand Marxist educational theory, as promulgated by Paulo Freire. If they did, they might begin to understand the nature of pedagogy and how it enables all learners to name and shape the world they are in.

The best a teacher can do is not "teach" but facilitate, though if the motivation is not there you are a bit buggered.

Kids are very aware of their "human rights" - except that they are not aware of their responsibilities, and neither are most of them anything other than "children"

As soon as they got called "young people" the writing was on the wall.

Some kids are thick! Yes, horrid as it may seem, some kids are doomed to a life of living on benefits or working in call-centeres. Nobody is able to accept this. Everybody wants to be a star.

Labour is obsessed with targets and tests. I does not work with hospitals, police or teaching.

Anything will be better than the legacy of Mr "Education, Education,Education" Blair.

Misty said...


I think the most concerning thing about this post was not the admission that you watch Waterloo Road, but in fact that you have a DVD of the aforementioned, presumably to facilitate regular viewing.

Wallenstein said...

@Unsworth... performance related pay is more difficult when you have a captive audience. If I am paid by results in a commercial environment, any members of my team who are not pulling their weight can be given the boot to avoid dragging my performance down.

However, if as a teacher I inherit a class containing 3-4 oiks whose background has given them zero interest in education, I cannot (should not?) jettison them simply to ensure I get paid more. But sometimes their performance and achievements would be outside my control as a teacher?

You can lead a chav to culture, but you cannot make her think...

Anonymous said...

So DC says: It’s time we tilted the scales back into the favour of teachers.
and we, naturally, think it is a good idea. But just a few days ago, on this blog, we were told about John Gummer's encounter with the leader of a teacher's union at their conference stand:

...Above them all the keynote claim 'PUTTING TEACHERS FIRST'.

I approached the imposing woman behind the counter. "Shouldn't that read 'putting children first' I ventured. "Certainly not! We're a Trade Union and I'm its General Secretary." Clearly I'd struck lucky and this was the big boss. "We put teachers first so we can get the terms and conditions that allow us to do the best for the children."

Confused? Yes, I am.

Steve Tierney said...


We are in agreement. Head-teachers should be able to fire a bad teacher simply because they *cant teach*. Its amazing how many of these duff teachers there are - unable to make the class even listen let alone learn.

Meanwhile,excellent dynamic teachers should be rewarded and encouraged.

Of course, market forces would do most of that work if they were allowed to....

Unions? I'd be glad to see the back of them. Particularly in teaching.

Cath said...

The point about a good degree not ensuring any talent for teaching is correct of course but we should remember how much more common 2nd class degrees have become in the last few years. In most subjects, those getting less than a Desmond now are either thick or lazy. Neither of which are great qualifications for teaching.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Cath, getting a Desmond is a sign that, either you did not do the work, and were therefore lazy or incredibly popular, or you tried very hard to get your Desmond, in which case, given the amount of inflation in the education system, you should not have gone to University because you are thick, especially if your Desmond is in "wimmins studies" or "horse counselling".

cf Prawn Dimarolo, David Lammy, etc, idiots who were promoted far beyond their academic level for political reasons.

Anonymous said...

This is not directly related to the opiginal post, but it is relevant. I've just seen this:

Since I can't be bothered to go through the registration process, I'll make my comments here.

Isn't part of the problem with NewLabour that they are indeed the party of unrelenting change? By continually tinkering with (to take but two) education and health, they have left people in those two areas bemused, overworked and despondent. This has, perhaps, been in order to make it impossible for both commentators and the opposition parties to verify or disprove their often vacuous and implausible claims.

Couldn't a valuable plank for Conservative policy be a return to a form of stability in society, rather than frenetic change for change's sake?

Anonymous said...

Fund parents, not schools.

Have schools employ teachers, not LEAs.

(Close all LEAs - big savings)

End national pay bargaining.

haddock said...

the most brilliant teachers cannot be brilliant teachers because they are shackled with the National Curriculum, shackled with the fear of saying something that may be deemed to be upsetting to the 'phobe and ist police-' or a piss poor box ticking headteacher.....and there are legions of those.

the elite ?.... only an idealistic fool would enter teaching under the current set-up.

Unknown said...

Having retired at 55 (well thrown out actually, as my contract was up) I thought I might remuster as a teacher in Maths/Science, as I had had quite a bit of experience instructing at work.

I did a lot of research into it but quickly realised you were just cannon fodder for the kids, as you were open to all sorts of abuse with virtually no come back.

Add in the workload and the prescriptive teaching syllabus I decided to do other things.

Shame really:-(

King Athelstan said...

I don't see personally why somebody with a third class degree would neccessarily make a worse teacher, surely what is needed is the ability to communicate and disseminate. There are plenty of people with good degrees from top universities who are incapable of finding their arse with both hands.

Bird said...

There wouldn't be a problem with Heads paying more for difficult- to- fill posts.
There would be a big problem in the staff room if the Head decided which of his teachers were "better" than their colleagues.
I'm worried too about: "We will do what we can" to support head teachers in removing poorly performing teachers...
A bit vague Dave, and the unions will fight it all the way.
By the way, the 2,2 Degree entry will eliminate ex-soldiers, policemen and others who would bring experience and discipline to the profession.
Otherwise, an interesting policy idea.

Unsworth said...

@ Wallenstein

You make the point well. But I'd just observe that senior teachers and Headteachers are (or certainly should be) capable of assessing both pupil and class teacher. It is they who make recommendations to Governing Bodies as to merit - or otherwise - of individual staff. I expect the school management to have their feet on the ground and to spend considerable time observing, assessing and mentoring their colleagues.

I should, in fairness, also point out that assessment of pupils and their progress (now often referred to as 'value added') is pretty sophisticated and reasonably accurate.

Able governing bodies will also be capable of asking penetrating questions and holding these assessors to account. It's a bit rough and ready, but generally it works.

Where everything falls down is in the centralised command and control emanating from successive, largely incompetent, Ministers.

I believe that giving schools greater - and real - autonomy will certainly lead to higher standards. If you take away individual responsibility and authority and replace them with centralised diktat you inevitably end up with the sort of mess we have today.

OldSlaughter said...

Christ, I got a Desmond, I got it because I spend all my time off my trolley by one means or another.

I know every student reckons they cut lose but I know I didn't do more than 100hrs total in three years to get my Desmond. If I had done 5hrs less work I simply would have been kicked out. I would certainly not have considered myself lacking any mental faculties when compared to those in my year leaving with firsts.

Educational grades are a very loose guide. Like everything, this is about people. If Headmaster's are incentivised to get the best people and are able to relieve themselves of the worst, you will see good teachers.

Private schools do not need a degree grade minimum and they seem to do all right.

How many grand plans on grand plans do we need before we can just accept the obvious?

Sam Henshaw said...

I agree with Lola. The best and brightest (especially in the sciences) are often the ones with the least skill in actually teaching the subject. I admit this isn't always the case, but sometimes the greatest minds are the ones who have the most trouble communicating their ideas.

They would also have to offer something a lot more than money - how boring must it be for someone who has the potential to be a leader in their field to teach the same thing over and over and over to new sets of students year in year out?

I still believe that teaching is a vocation, and although investment in the education of our children can only be a good thing - there are some things that just throwing money at will not solve.