Bring back the Department for Education
When one has been privately educated and then gone up to Oxford, it may be posited that one lacks real knowledge of state education. Both Michael Gove and David Cameron are men of passion and conviction when it comes to the need to reform the sclerotic, statist, bureaucratic and deficient system of education in this country. But it will not come about by insisting that all teachers must have a 2:2, or a 2:1 from an élite group of universities which will then qualify for having one’s student loan paid off.
First of all, the calibre of teachers’ degrees is not presently an issue: more than 95 per cent of the profession already have a minimum 2:2, and it would be a very fair bet indeed that the remaining 5 per cent are not the worst teachers, for quality teaching is not the result of an élite intellect.
But that may well be the perception of those who have been to Eton and Oxford, for the teachers and dons who inhabit those institutions have never had to control a rowdy classroom of 30 children, or creatively engage recalcitrants who have absolutely no aptitude for learning, or deal simultaneously with a myriad of 'special needs’ children apart from the demands of those who are truly ‘gifted and talented’. These institutions have the luxury of employing educators with First Class degrees because their days are spent imparting subject-specific knowledge to students who are eager to learn in a context of academic rigour. Even if the teacher is socially inept, the student will play the willing disciple, for the educational ethos demands it.
One does not need a 2:2 in any subject to teach in some schools: one needs a strategy for survival. In an hour-long lesson which may have three or four adults in the room to cater for those who do not speak English or have Asperger’s or some other ‘special need’, it is a remarkable achievement if the teacher manages to impart 10 minutes of new knowledge, let alone fulfil the utopian dream of an entire lesson plan.
In such a context, the survival strategy is wholly dependent upon the extent to which the teacher is able to interact with the students and entertain them. And that is not ‘entertainment’ in the popular ‘light’ meaning of the term, but to entertain in the sense of 'to hold the thoughts and attention of'. If a teacher cannot do this, he or she cannot teach, for there is no point even opening one’s mouth to spout the great knowledge which derives from a First if one’s audience is shouting expletives, throwing chairs across the room, blowing smoke in one’s face or beating the living daylights out of the boy who, only yesterday, was his bestest mate.
And there is no degree of any calibre which qualifies one to inspire children to listen.
If you want to read about the most effective teacher ‘types’, please read Francis Gilbert in today’s Guardian. With writers like this on the Left, one has to wonder who is advising the Right.
None of these teacher types depends upon having a 2:2, though it would be a fair bet that all have.
The reality is that education in this country did not start to go wrong when the profession began admitting academically under-qualified teachers: it was when a culture emerged which placed trendy teaching methods above effective learning and the opinions of ‘experts’ above the needs of pupils. It was when the whiff of Marxism entered in the bland uniformity of the comprehensive system which was supposed to ensure ‘excellence for all’; when pupils became empowered with their ‘rights’ to insist that ‘all must have prizes’; when equality of outcome became more important than equality of opportunity; and when all political parties began to adopt the virulent rhetoric of anti-selection in the name of social justice.
These developments were followed by the abolition O-levels, the dumbing down of A-levels and a prohibition of corporal punishment in schools. These were then followed by the state cloning of teachers through repressive training colleges, the enforced ‘closed-shop’ membership of their ‘professional body’ the GTC, and the creation the Stasi-like Ofsted bureaucracy to ensure that the state’s exemplary standards are met and its programme of indoctrination is rolled out.
It is no surprise that the Department for Education was abolished under this Labour Government, for state education had long ceased to be about the sort of inspiration envisaged by Plato: when the DfE became the DCSF, some teachers cynically termed it the Department for Cushions and Soft Furnishings.
They might as well have added breast feeding, nappy changing and child-minding. For the functioning of family had been fused with the business of schools, and the teacher became confused with the social worker.
One final though on the 2:2 stipulation is that implementing it is going to be an overly-bureaucratic task in what is supposed to be the ‘post-bureaucratic’ era.
There are presently thousands of overseas-trained teachers working in England’s schools: the system would collapse without them. It is frequently a hard task for the TDA to work out which of their qualifications is equivalent to a UK degree, let alone what might equate to a First, a 2:1 or a 2:2.
And since Mr Cameron's new policy can apply only to teachers in England (education in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland having been devolved), might we not see some inspirational but under-qualified teachers popping over the border to fulfil their vocation?
One cannot help but feel that this is another policy which may well be kicked into the long grass (along with cutting the number of MPs and the subsidiarity demands from the EU) as the Conservative Party focuses its efforts on the need to cut the budget deficit.
It will soon be forgotten.
Or they will realise that 95 per cent of teachers already possess at least a 2:2, and the 5 per cent who do not will go on being employed by schools because the Party has promised to give headteachers the freedom to employ whomsoever they wish and pay them whatever they wish.