Monday, 18 January 2010

Getting Behind Cameron on Education, Education, Education

In the late 1980’s I was part of a small group planning some research work into remedies for school truancy. We made a pitch for publishing our output to the Centre for Policy Studies and were interviewed by a couple of plummy types, who rejected our proposal on the crackpot grounds that truancy was a good thing.

Aside from nutters like that (neo-liberal ? anarcho-libertarian ? gated-community plutocrats ?), most politicians of goodwill and humanity (e.g. DK, see here) would agree that education is the primary vehicle for social mobility and general emancipation.

Conservatives would also surely say that we want children to be schooled in the middle-class virtues of hard work, discipline, fair competition, personal and team endeavour, and general all-round decency.

In order for this to happen, we need teachers who themselves embody the professional, middle-class life. Yet for decades, this has not been the case in much of the state sector:

- the sector is stuffed full of doctrinaire leftists, many of them with malign intentions;
- for a long time the pay wasn’t adequate for a teacher to live a middle-class lifestyle;
- teaching is not a profession at all in the recognised sense: its unions are producerist lobbies that have no regard for maintaining the standards of their members or the quality of their work (DK again);
- successive governments, particularly since 1997, have loaded social-work and social-engineering objectives onto teaching.

In consequence the percentage of ‘top graduates’ going into teaching has plummeted from the levels of 30-40 years ago - just one of many symptoms of Something Badly Wrong.

David Cameron is right to seek to turn around this horribly off-course supertanker. It will be seriously difficult. The eternal shame of NuLab is that they wasted 13 years in which they had the resources and parliamentary elbow-room to do whatever was right, however difficult. Cameron is likely to have neither: but he should still set out to do important things like this. If the turnaround on teaching is not to start in 2010, then when ?

Good luck, mate. This really matters.



bella gerens said...

He's right to seek to turn it around, but restricting entry to top grad is not the way. If he wants more top grads to become teachers, then teaching needs to be a more attractive profession.

At the moment, compared to other jobs top grads might be doing, teaching is crap. No freedom to create, to innovate, to take part in the development of curricula or the exam-writing process - poor pay relative to other jobs requiring post-graduate training, poor disciplinary support, and the risk of being branded a paedophile for life for even false accusations of misconduct.

Only fools and idealists will do it, and Cameron's plan will restrict that to idealists only, of whom there are far fewer than fools.

And he was doing so well on school policy, too... Shame, really.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher for the last 34 years, I joined a highly respected profession until it was so pilloried by Mrs Thatcher's government, till it became nearly impossible to recruit anyone let alone a 'good graduate'. Then all the clever 'good graduates' went into the city, why work for 25k per year when you can get that in a month.

Blue Eyes said...

Have to agree with Bella. Also, what degree you have is not always a good indicator of how productive, motivated, enthusiastic, etc. you are. What we need is a better choice of career paths for teachers, probably more pay for the better teachers (not just for super heads). Those things will come with competition between schools which is why the voucher scheme is so vital.

hatfield girl said...

Might it be better if formal study started a little later - say at six or seven - but socialisation and preparation for study (which is after all quite disciplined) were to begin sooner, and was free? Say three to six. Most of Europe is organised like this and there do not seem to be the poor outcomes experienced in England. Many whose children have experienced state schools in England and in continental Europe will agree that the learning environment in the latter is much more formal and seems to be more effective. I wondered if the children learned how to be at school during their kindergarten years.
Though something must be done about teachers in England who cannot spell 'biscuit' or 'surprise' as one of our children's teachers could not.

anon@9.30 said...

Sorry, but market forces apply here too.

If the teachers at a nice school like the one my stepdaughter goes to cannot afford to live in the catchment area - and so send their own children there on a teachers salary, a fair number of them will do something that does pay enough.
Market forces.

Our (your) child's loss.

Gaining a sense of involvement and control over the work you do becomes important after you have a roof over your head. (i think this is Maslows triangle?).

As individuals we do not suffer the direct costs of bad education - the costs are hidden and externalised in crime and lack of skilled labor.

Providing a good education (imho) is one of the things a government is for.

The trouble is that we are not willing to pay for it. So we get what we have.
Market forces.

El-Kevo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
El-Kevo said...

I dunno.

The teachers at all of my boys' schools have been fair to very good if I'm honest. None of them seemed to have a political agenda - if anything their views on societal decay align with my own. What seems to be lacking is male teachers.

The female teachers are not generally the primary earners in their households. That's how they afford to live in the catchment area whilst doing the job on ordinary pay. Many of them are very good graduates indeed - not all choose to work in the high pressured city.

I suspect that - in bog standard comps - rather than there being a push to indoctrinate pupils there is just the desire to keep them all in the classroom. ANY form of education is out of the window ... we're talking glorified child minding here.

What a thankless and unedifying task. And a sometimes dangerous one at that !

The indoctrinators have had their day already and are probably in early retirement - this is the result. They're too stupid to see that they helped to cause it.

El-Kevo said...

A dedication for ya.

Letters From A Tory said...

I can see why Cameron has done this, but it seems rather odd to suggest that there is a direct link between educational attainment and teaching ability. He seems to be imposing elitism rather than letting it shine through on its own by teaching becoming a respected profession.

Nick Drew said...

thanks for commenting, all: not a topic we usually cover so we may be out of our depth

John East said...

Cameron is a grade 1 five star fool.

His idea that restricting teacher recruitment to graduates with honours degrees will correct previous ills is as stupid as his other notion that artificially supporting marriage will improve society.

There is a basic fallacy with his simplistic.

Teaching has lost the most able teachers for many reasons. These include the effects of the pernicious left wing ideological framework in which schools operate, the loss of teacher status, the loss of teacher authority in the classroom, the "rights" enjoyed by pupils etc., etc.

The resulting stampede of good teachers from schools is merely a symptom of the collapse of state education. You cannot fix the system by addressing the symptoms and forcing the good teachers back. Unless the root causes that caused this collapse are addressed Cameron will be wasting his time pretending that teacher qualifications is the answer. In fact all we will end up with is a teacher shortage.

Going back to marriage, Cameron uses exactly the same backwards logic. Yes, outcomes for children, and societal well being were maximised when marriage was the backbone of society, but artificially supporting marriage with measures such as tax breaks does nothing to address the degeneration of society that the lefties have wrought. Yet again, Cameron is obsessed by a symptom and not the cause. How on earth can a piece of paper, for gods sake, a marriage certificate, suddenly transform peoples behaviour.

/rant over. I’ll go and have a lie down now.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

Some of the best teachers I ever had were in tertiary education teaching specific skills in engineering (I did my bachelor's degree in Mech Eng). They weren't graduates but they had done apprenticeships followed by B.Tecs, ONCs, HNCs & HNDs with many years of professional experience - in short they seriously knew their stuff and we respected them greatly. I would sooner be taught by someone like that than some (no doubt very bright) first class honours graduate straight out of uni. I'm not decrying the first class honours guy, simply trying to make the point that being restrictive about qualifications simply closes the door to some excellent people who could make very good teachers. The ability to communicate, enthuse and inspire is not limited to top graduates. Indeed, it very often isn't even found there either.