THE TEACHING PROFESSION
Poor status still
But whose fault is it, and what will help change the status?
Few careers offer the same opportunities, as teaching ,to influence for the better, the lives of young people and where one knows one is making a real difference.
Teachers work alongside other individuals, who generally have high ethical values and are fired by a common sense of the public good and a belief that they can make a real difference. Most teachers are drawn to the profession not because of the money, indeed many graduates are put off by what they see as poor pay and poor career structure, but because they see it as a vocation.
This is even more in evidence now, as more high fliers switch professions, particularly from the City, taking large pay cuts, to become teachers. But Teaching has a lower status in Britain than many other professions, such as medicine, law and accountancy. A 2008 report from the think tank Policy Exchange ‘ More Good Teachers,’ concludes that teaching suffers significantly from being a low status job: 58% of professionals and 52% of undergraduates feel that teachers have the same status as social workers. In The Learning Game (2000), author Jonathan Smith describes the stigma attached to having to confess at a dinner party that one is ‘only a teacher’. In counties such as Finland, Sweden, Singapore and South Korea teachers have a much higher status than they do here.
The poor status and hard realities of the job can have a profound effect on new recruits to the profession. Starved of much practical classroom experience during their training they get a rude shock when they eventually reach the chalk face and some, rather too many find they cant cope. A six year DCSF report Becoming a Teacher found that 46% of BEd students thought their courses “too theoretical” as did 19% of secondary PGCE students.
A report from the think tank Politeia Teachers Matter: Recruitment, Employment and Retention at home and abroad, 2009 found that between a third and a half of teachers drop out either during training or during their first three years of work, over double the rates of France and Germany.
There are many causes for this. We have touched on one, the perception that some teacher training does not seem to prepare teachers for the realities of classroom teaching. Politieia found that the main reasons given for dropping out was as ‘a heavy workload along with too many government reforms, poor pupil behaviour, general stress, and feeling ‘undervalued’’
In terms of being undervalued many seem to feel that they are not allowed to make professional decisions, to use their judgment in the classroom, drawing from their training experience and creativity. They are simply there as conduits for government initiatives. In a sense they have been disempowered and deprofessionalised. Union leaders constantly complain of teachers being overburdened with bureaucracy which seems if anything to be increasing on the back of even more Government initiatives. A recent Select Committee report on Schools Accountability found that ‘For too long, schools have struggled to cope with changing priorities, constant waves of new initiatives from central government, and the stresses and distortions caused by performance tables and targets’
Our system depends on good professional teachers to improve. In 2007 McKinsey published its report How the worlds top performing systems come out on top .It concluded unsurprisingly, perhaps, that the best systems get the right people to become teachers , they develop them into effective instructors and they ensure that the system delivers the best possible instruction to every child. In short, the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers And its corollary-the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction.
The McKinsey report said that ‘the available evidence suggests that the main driver in student variation at school is the quality of the teachers. Seminal 1996 research in Tennessee (Sanders and Rivers) showed that if two average eight year old pupils were given different teachers, one a high performer the other a low performer their performance diverge by more than 50 percentile points in three years. The report concludes that available studies that take into account all the available evidence that pupils placed with high performing teachers will progress three times as fact as those with poor performing teachers.
Other studies from the UK by Professor Dylan Wiliam of the Institute of Education have found that children in the most effective classrooms will learn in six months what students in an average classroom learn in a year – and students in the least effective classrooms will take two years to learn it. The Institute for Public Policy Research concluded in a recent report that a good teacher could improve a child’s academic performance by more than a grade level. Conversely, a poor teacher can have an equally negative effect.
To improve the quality of teaching, so improving outcomes, and to raise the status of the profession we need to do a number of things. First recruit the best graduates to the profession. Second, train them well and continue to do so through high quality CPD throughout their careers. Third, reward them like other professionals including for outstanding performance to help incentivise and retain the best teachers . Fourth, provide a career structure that allows advancement without the need to take a Headship. Fifthly make it easier to move in and out of the profession .Sixth, reduce centrally driven prescriptions and bureaucracy. Seventh, safeguard professional standards by getting rid of those teachers who are not up to the job and who damage the life opportunities of children.
On the latter issue Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, suggested, when Chris Woodhead was Chief Inspector, that 15,000 teachers might not be up to scratch. Although the figure looks large on its own, in percentage terms it represented at the time only around 4.8 % of the total. This of course prompted outrage from Union leaders. But then Sir Cyril Taylor when Chairman of the SSAT, claimed in 2007 that there were about 17,000 “poor” teachers in England, again unions were apoplectic. But The Times tells us this week that some experts believe that there may be as many as 24,000 inadequate teachers. So, it transpires that Woodhead’s estimate could be conservative.
If one suggested that 5% of Accountants, lawyers or Policemen for that matter, were not up to the job nobody would bat an eyelid. But herein lies a paradox. Unions want teachers to be treated as professionals but concurrently feel that their ‘profession’ is somehow different to others and should be judged on different terms to other professions. Failures don’t exist apparently .We know that unions leaders job spec is to promote and protect the interests of their members but when this conflicts with the interests of children they should place the interests of children first. Until they understand that poor performers undermine their profession and this in turn impacts on how others perceive them and therefore their status, this status is unlikely to improve.
Poor teachers are not confined to the state sector by any means but their negative impact is substantially greater there.
There are over 440,000 teachers in England. It is an arresting fact that just 12 teachers have been struck off for incompetence in the past nine years.
Powers to get rid of poor teachers exist but Heads, governors and local authorities are not keen to use them ,probably for fear of legal action and upsetting the unions.
The Tories say they want to get rid of poor teachers. But all stakeholders, given the impact a poor teacher has on a child’s education and life opportunities, should also commit themselves to addressing this issue as it is in everyone’s interests to rid the profession of incompetent teachers and so help raise the professions status.
The Government is legislating for a licence to practise aimed at giving teachers the same professional standing that there is for doctors and lawyers but this will not be sufficient in itself to raise their status.