Jan 182010

People of Britain, do you want fewer teachers? Do you wish to have teacher:pupil ratios of 1:45 across the land? Do you wish for huge schools operated by huge education authorities and staffed by teachers in huge teachers’ unions who can command ever higher and higher salaries and perks for their members as there is more and more work to go round and not enough teachers to do it?

If you answered yes to all of those questions, then good for you: because that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Earlier this year, the General Teaching Council expressed its wish that all teachers, whether in state or independent schools, be required to have a teaching certificate. This would entail a year of post-graduate education for all teachers, creating further cost to the taxpayer and further debt for the teacher-in-training. Further costs are a barrier to entry to the profession, and will result in fewer teachers.

Now David Cameron has said he would deny state funds to teachers-in-training whose undergraduate degrees were ranked third-class or below:

Under a Conservative government, according to Mr Cameron, no one with less than a 2:2 degree would be granted taxpayer’s money for postgraduate teacher training. It builds on a Tory plan announced last year to raise the entry qualifications for primary teachers.

Look, Camerhoon: the reason we have state funds for teacher training at all, and the reason for golden hellos, student loan discounts, and easier immigration requirements for teachers of certain subjects is because there are not enough teachers, good, bad, or otherwise. The financial incentives exist to attract people to what the government officially classes as a shortage occupation. Teaching is no easier than any other job. The salary it commands, in general, is lower than other professions that require a post-graduate degree. It is a job that few people are prepared to do, for one reason or another, and it is a sad fact that in this country the perception of teachers is that they went into teaching because they could not do anything else useful. (In some cases, that may be true, of course, and there are certainly a fair few teachers out there who are crap at their jobs.)

But the main point is that the vast majority of people do not choose to be teachers. The government’s policy is therefore to bribe the ones who can be bribed with financial perks. The message, so far, has been clear: ‘Please be a teacher! We will give you money!’

Now, suddenly, we are getting this incredibly stupid message: restrict the supply further! Only this will give the teaching profession status!

Britain can learn from Finland, Singapore and South Korea, who “have 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.”

I’ve got news for you, dude. Teaching is a high-status profession in other countries for two primary reasons: first, lots of people want to be teachers. They are over-supplied. When lots of people want a particular job, employers naturally take only the best. Teachers have a high status in these places because their populations place tremendous value on the quality of education. Here in Britain, where there aren’t enough teachers to fill the positions that exist, we can’t really afford to be so picky. And, plainly, the value people place on quality of education here is minimal. Why do I say this? Because in Britain, a politician can be credibly attacked for having attended a top-quality school. Because in Britain, universities are encouraged to deny places to applicants from top-quality schools. Because in Britain, the ‘professions’ are told to deny entry to pupils from top-quality schools. Because in Britain, clearly, quality of education takes a serious backseat to social justice and equality.

The other reason for the popularity of teaching in many other countries is that teachers are seriously protected from market forces. In Spain, for example, it is virtually impossible to sack a teacher. Many teachers never leave the profession, and young people who want to teach are often obliged to wait years for a position to open up (years which many of them spend, according to my anecdata, working in tapas bars and living with their parents). Teachers are paid an enormous amount of money relative to most other jobs in these places; they have excellent working conditions, a great deal of disciplinary freedom, and good facilities available for their use. In short, these other places spend a huge amount of money on education, and they are willing to pay top dollar for top-quality educators.

Britain… does not. Education is, by comparison, underfunded; teachers’ pay scales are not linked to quality, but to seniority and certificates; facilities are poor, discipline is lax, and graduates with good degrees can earn far more money in other jobs. National pay scales mean that teachers in parts of the country where cost of living is high are short-changed compared to teachers in other places. And the state sets a maximum salary for teachers who do not have a teaching qualification (£25,000 pa full-time, for the curious), meaning that pay is not even related to the amount of work one does or time one spends on the job, much less the quality of that work.

So: in a country where people don’t want to be teachers, quality of education is not a priority, and historically the government’s stance on the profession is to bribe people to enter it, the solution is to make it even harder to become a teacher?

Good luck with that, Dave.

UPDATE: Iain Dale has posted a hefty extract from Camerhoon’s speech:

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.

That’s right – you’ve made teaching a very unattractive profession. People with the ‘best brains’ look at this litany of woes and think, why in the name of sweet Jesus would I want to do this job? And then they go do something else.

If we’re only going to let the best brains teach, and most of the best brains don’t want to because

people with a good degree who would make great teachers think instead about the civil service, the BBC, maybe the Bar

then we’re not going to have very many teachers at all, are we?

Now. How do we make teaching more attractive than the civil service, the BBC, and the law? For a start, the state could stop undermining teachers, telling them what to do and how to do it, protect them from abuse, support them on matters of discipline – pay them according to effectiveness and skill whilst leaving them free to find the best path to effective teaching.

If you want the best brains to teach, make teaching attractive to people with good brains. What do people with good brains find attractive? Freedom to find the best way to do their jobs, opportunities to be creative, fair rewards for outstanding job performance, and the ability to be a mover and shaker in their profession.

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.

And not just that. Most of them would be taking a drastic pay cut and surrendering all personal autonomy on the job, not to mention running the gauntlet of the CRB system to prove they’ve never so much as looked at a child cross-eyed. Anyone who’s been successful in a non-teaching career and wants to become a teacher should be hired on the spot, qualification or no, because nobody who wasn’t passionately dedicated to the art of pedagogy would do such a personally disadvantageous thing. Who cares what kind of degree they received?

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.

No, no, a thousand times no! Waive the qualification requirement entirely.

In fact, do that across the board. Far more people would go into teaching as a result, and there’d be so many that schools might actually be able to sack and replace the crappy ones.

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.

This is good, actually.

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.

This is not. I’m all for schools being able to sack bad teachers, but this is only a useful tactic if you can hire a new one. And there aren’t enough teachers to go round.

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.

How? Are you going to repeal some legislation? If so, what? Are you going to use the criminal justice system to crack down on dangerous students? If so, how will you force the judges to issue harsher penalties? Will you use legislation to ensure that false allegations are expunged from the records? Will you get rid of the ISA, which includes hearsay, rumour, and false allegations as ‘evidence’ in its vetting scheme? Where are the details, dude?

Anyway. This is all just to reiterate my point: restricting teacher training to people with good degrees will simply worsen the teacher shortage, because most academically successful people (‘best brains’) don’t want to become teachers. It’s an unattractive profession to people who value creativity, resourcefulness, and freedom to innovate. And even if the best brains did become teachers, there’s no guarantee they’d be good. Many academically gifted people have trouble communicating the subject of their expertise at a level that is accessible to schoolchildren anyway; and probably the core skill involved in teaching is being able to synthesise patiently, to simplify complex ideas, to keep what you’re saying on a level kids can understand and in a way they can tune into.

Finally, I will say this. I teach Latin. I am not an expert in the subject, nor do I have a degree in it, nor do I have the faintest clue where my American university degree would fall on the degree-class scale used in the UK. I do not have a teaching qualification. And yet every time I apply for a teaching position, the school falls all over itself to hire me and to pay me well above the going rate for my services. I can’t be the only teacher like that. David Cameron’s plans will, by and large, make it harder for people like me to get teaching jobs. And for what? So that a bunch of smarty-pants graduates with 2:2s or better can have a ‘high-prestige’ career.

Camerhoon, school is not about teachers. It’s about children. And anyone who wants to teach, and can demonstrate that they do it well, should be encouraged to do so, whether they have fancy papers to qualify them or not, and whether they have the biggest brain in Britain or just a mediocre brain that happens to be full of passion and love of learning and dedication to showing kids how amazing the world they live in is.

UPDATE 2: Yes, and many more times yes, from the BHS:

For the Conservatives, we need to restrict the pool of applicants to one which is ‘brazenly elitist’, in the hope that by only recruiting the very best graduates, you’ll recruit only the very best teachers. There are two major problems with this. First, we still have a teacher shortage, as evidenced by the fact that there are some substantial rewards for people training to teach subjects like science and maths. Second, quite apart from the fact that there are scores of people with mediocre qualifications who are exceptional teachers, there’s no guarantee that someone who graduated from Oxbridge with a first in Mathematics is going to possess the people skills needed to succeed in a classroom. It’s quite possible that the Tories’ plans would not only lead to fewer teachers, but fewer good teachers as well.

  7 Responses to “Raising the barriers to entry”

  1. Though I don’t normally approve of him, I thought Steve Sailer was quite funny on this “What could be more sanity-inducing than the government conspiracies against conspiracy theorists?”

  2. Every summer, students from the top universities (such as myself) get paid shitloads to help out in schools and (state-funded) summer camps, the aim being to encourage us to apply to teaching. The one I attended was run by Exscitec (exscitec.com), and we worked out that well over a million pounds of taxpayers’ money is going into this per year (the school gets some as well). This is a complete waste although it makes lots of students happy… out of the 14 people who went to my school, 11 were doing it for the money and the other 3 had already got a teaching job. Same with my friends who went to other schools. Half of us aren’t even British/EU. So basically they sponsor 500 students, about 300 of whom will actually stay in the country after studying and about none who will decide to go into teaching.

    In Singapore and South Korea, teaching is not necessarily a high-status profession. The difference is that the school students actually study HARD in those countries, even the dumb ones. Unlike UK state schools they do not do all the touchy feely stuff. Parents pay for extra tuition after school which may take place every day, whether or not the teacher sucks. If you don’t do your homework, then tough, you will fail your exams and have to repeat the year or get relegated to the stupid class. And then of course all the top students get sponsored by their governments to go to Oxbridge. You could say that this is like the British system used to be in the early 1900s, which probably means that in 50 years time all those countries will find themselves in the mess the UK is in… If you want to watch a movie about education in Singapore, try I Not Stupid (look up on Wikipedia).

  3. Good post. I agree with it, but you have missed out the elephant in the room: the parents. Too many parents are now willing to side with their children when it comes to misbehaving (I am thinking of the state sector here), which makes most punishments in school useless. I was put off teaching because of the discipline aspect; I worked in a school before considering this option and even though it was/is a well-run school with good results, there were a few children who you just couldn’t punish because at home there was no sanction.

  4. “Because in Britain, clearly, quality of education takes a serious backseat to social justice and equality.” And in Finland, what? Well, they’re pretty damn keen on social justice and equality there too. In fact, it is part of the hidden curriculum at school.

  5. […] you should go and read it all she sums it up in one nice paragraph at the start and one at the end: People of Britain, do you want fewer teachers? Do you wish to have teacher:pupil ratios of 1:45 across the land? Do […]

  6. As someone who carefully selected a post-grad course that would NOT lead me into a D Phil and lecturing because I knew I am no good at teaching, I wholeheartedly agree that having a top degree does not necessarily make you a good teacher. However I feel that welcoming any volunteer into teaching without giving them any training is an unduly high-risk strategy – we don’t do that for bus or lorry drivers, let alone pilots, so why for teachers?

    • Well, I guess it’s because when a teacher makes a mistake, people don’t usually die a painful and fiery death. I dare say as well that, all of us having gone through school ourselves, we remember what the good teachers were like and are probably identify what they did that make them good – and then we can imitate it. Teachers are best trained on the job; if I could count how many times I’ve heard a teacher say, ‘I learned more in my first three weeks at work than I did in the whole of my training,’ I’d be rich.

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