Education White Paper: the teacher’s MOT

Submitted by Newcastle on 9 July, 2009 - 2:58 Author: Patrick Murphy, NUT Exec

According to the Teacher Development Agency (a quango overseeing teacher recruitment and training), over 50% of all newly qualified teachers will have left the job within three years.

And this does not reveal the real drop-out rate from teacher-training. Substantial numbers leave before completing their courses, and yet more finish training and then decide against a career in teaching.

How do the government’s latest education proposals propose to deal with this? Bizarrely, they have decided to make it even more difficult to retain teachers and even more likely that people will decide to leave.

A key proposal in the White Paper ‘Building a 21st Century Schools System’ is the introduction of a renewable “licence to teach”. According to the White Paper “this will mean that every teacher will need to keep their skills up to date and demonstrate periodically that their professional practice and development meets the standards required for the profession”.

Teachers in England are already some of the most monitored, checked and inspected workers in the world. We have a rigorous performance management system linked to pay. There is an upper pay spine which can only be accessed by people who demonstrate the up-to-date skills referred to in the government’s proposals. We have Ofsted regularly inspecting schools and grading individual lessons and we have league tables to measure school against school. There has also been an exponential growth in so-called capability cases taken against teachers deemed to be failing.

The plan is to begin by imposing the licence to teach on newly qualified staff and those returning to teach after time out. So, after a three-year degree and a one-year training degree (PCGE), the newly qualified teacher will need to pass an induction year (as now) and then prove that they deserve to continue to teach after five years and then every five years after that.

The absurdity is underlined by the fact that younger teachers become eligible for the threshold to the upper pay spine after about five years and that process assesses the very same skills and experience that this licence appears to test.

So why are they doing this? One major reason for Labour’s education “reforms” is so that they can be seen to be doing something. Government proposals, press releases and White Papers partly aim at sending a message to voters: “we will not accept low standards for your children, we will insist on the best”.

Another factor is blame. If Labour are faced with evidence that standards have not risen sufficiently or that too many children are failing they want to be able to point to a thick pile of initiatives to prove that, whoever else is responsible for this, it cannot be them. It must be failing teachers, or soft Heads and governors who won’t sack failing teachers, or local authorities who fail to challenge schools enough on teaching standards, or, maybe, feckless parents.

Whatever else this initiative is, it is not a recipe for improving education and schools. There is widespread consensus on the measures needed to do that: smaller class sizes, a qualified teacher in every class, secondary teachers in every subject who are qualified in that subject, trained and properly paid support staff, especially for children with special educational needs, well-resourced schools in every area with a balanced comprehensive intake.

These things, however, cost a lot of money and would mean challenging the power and privilege of the rich. They mean taxing the wealthy, restoring the power local councils once had to organise and plan schooling, and no more pandering to the upper middle classes.

The fact that almost everyone who works in education knows that this kind of programme would work counts for nothing when weighed against New Labour’s refusal to put social need and equality before privilege and wealth.

And one last piece of evidence that this is a means of bashing schools and teachers rather than serious education reform. There will be one category of state-funded school in which teachers will be exempt from this MOT idea. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Academies.

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