New Schools Minister Coaker looks complacent or badly briefed


 We all learn throughout our lives. But learning as part of the formal educational enterprise—takes place mainly in school classrooms, as a result of the daily, minute-to-minute interactions that take place between teachers and pupils and the subjects they study.

 This is stating the blindingly obvious, perhaps, but surely too little attention is paid to what actually happens in the classroom and the quality of teaching. After all the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.

 Professor Dylan Wiliam has found that pupils taught by the best teachers learn four times as much as those taught by the worst.

So, in short, teacher quality is the most important determinant of how much pupils learn in school and the effect is much greater than is commonly supposed. Recent Research too, by Professor Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol, seems to confirm the effects of bad teaching on academic achievement. He found that children taught by the worst teachers get at least a grade lower pass mark at GCSE than those taught by the best. In addition, Peter Tymms, professor of education at Durham University, led a study, published in the journal Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability that found that having a bad teacher in the first year at primary school can blight a child’s entire education. The research discovered that the effect of having an exceptionally poor – or an unusually good – teacher in the reception year was still detectable six years later. The findings suggest that many pupils are being betrayed by schools that, in an effort to rise up national league tables, concentrate their best teachers on pupils about to take their Sats tests at the age of 11.

Enter, Vernon Coaker MP, the new schools Minister and card carrying NUT member.

Hitting the ground running, he has already spoken out against any new measures that would make it easier to sack under- performing teachers. Speaking to the Commons Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families, which is carrying out an inquiry into teacher training, Coaker argued that organisations such as the General Teaching Council already dealt with those not up to the job. It doesn’t actually.

The General Teaching Council in the first the two years it was responsible for maintaining professional standards, banned just seven teachers from teaching on the grounds of competence . Bearing in mind that 429,300 staff are currently working in schools in England, this suggests a dysfunctional system.

The GTC shifts the blame for this,and to be fair they have a point, complaining that local authorities do very little to identify poor teachers so that the GTC can then take action. But Local authoritties will tell you that actually Heads and Governors have the powers to remove poor teachers, but rarely use them. The means are there they are just not being used, a point also put by civil servant Jon Coles in the hearings.

Whoever is to blame it is unaccptable that poor teachers are allowed to remain in their posts pretty much unchallenged.

 There has to be acultual change, in schools, local authorities, the unions and the GTC. Coaker intoned “The most important thing is that we first support these teachers in school, as it’s clear even those who are excellent have struggled in the first instance; and there is no need for them to leave the profession.” He completely and spectacularly misses the point. He said his aim was to help today’s “high-quality” workforce to become even more skilled. This speaks complacency.

The MPs claimed that inadequate teachers were being moved between schools aound the system rather than being removed from the profession altogether.  It is clear where Coakers priorities lie, and they are not with young people blighted by poor teaching. In short, he is following the NUT line. Protect teachers jobs, even the incompetent ones, at all costs.

The Interests of young people and the possible damage being done to them and their futures by poor teachers is simply  it seems just not an issue  that concerns our  education establishment.  Three out of four teachers recently told the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that they lacked incentives to improve their teaching or to be more innovative. And, significantly, a similar number said their schools would not sack teachers with long records of underperformance. So this not a problem confined to the UK. Nor is it an excuse to ignore it.

 We are a lot more concerned, for instance, about what doctors do in their surgeries and medical research than we are to what teachers do in the classroom or to the research that tells what is best practice in the classroom . Yes, what doctors get up to is a matter of life and death but what happens in the classroom can determine whether a child makes a success of their lives or fails to meet their potential. It seems logical that if we are going to improve the outcomes of the educational enterprise—that is, improve learning— we have to intervene directly in daily classroom instruction. And we also have to find out how best to up scale this, if we are at all serious about improving the educational outcomes of all students, especially students now stuck in chronically low performing schools.

 Professor Wiliam has found, perhaps counter-intuitively, in his research that it isn’t knowledge of the subject, nor for that matter the quality of initial teacher training, that really makes a good teacher. Instead, it is professional development throughout a teacher’s career particularly the early years, the first five to ten,that is most important and has the most significant effect on outcomes. Professor Wiliams research found that subject Knowledge accounts for just 15% of the difference in teacher quality Where teachers receive their initial teacher training, Professor Wiliam has found, is almost irrelevant. Instead, the most important variable is teaching skill and what matters most in this respect is that teachers acquire a commitment to sound professional development throughout their careers.

What is clear is that the quality of good and bad teaching has a very significant effect on outcomes and the life opportunities of our children and deserves much more attention from policy makers. What also remains clear is that poor teachers, should either be re-trained, if they have the potential to improve that is, or removed from the profession because of the damage they can do to young people .

However, union leaders and more generally the education establishment including, it seems, the new schools minister Coaker, consistently fail to do this and therefore fail to ensure that the interests of our young are paramount, and the key driver in the system. It is hard to see how our system can ever improve given this reluctance to intervene. Bad teachers should be removed, and the rest supported and rewarded for excellence -it really is as simple as that.


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