I have some worries about David Cameron's latest comments on the future of the teaching profession ( see here ) and how he wants to make it “Brazenly Elitist”. While I have no concerns about the concept of ensuring teachers are capable, trained and fit to manage the challenges of today's schools, I do believe that the heavy emphasis on selecting future teachers by academic qualification alone, is a blind alley.
Let me take you back 40 years to my school days in a Secondary Modern school. This was a school in the middle of a large council estate and was generally regarded as a pretty tough example of its genre. With a few exceptions the teachers were qualified with the old Certificate in Education. This was the standard route into teaching in those days.
A large proportion of the teachers at my school had spent their late teens and early twenties dodging bullets and torpedoes during WW2. They were an inspirational group of individuals. I regard the education I received at my Secondary Modern school as absolutely one of the best available. I have never had any regrets about failing the Eleven plus.
There were neglected areas on the syllabus, foreign languages for example. But really, the teaching staff did extremely well. They made the school the success it was.
The school though, had no truck with any fanciful child centric nonsense that did so much damage in the 70's and 80's. For its day, and its type, it had high expectations of its pupils. All pupils irrespective of their various abilities and limitations were driven forward academically, socially, practically and on the sports field. The motivators were the same non-degree teachers who David Cameron would now bar from teaching in our schools.
I appreciate that a teacher must know their subject. But a charismatic teacher who can cover the syllabus, and motivate their pupils, is far more capable than an academic high flyer lacking world experience and social skills.
I would actually like to take things the other way. I would like to see people with real world skills and experience, but not necessarily high academic qualifications, being allowed to train and teach. Of course these would have to be charismatic and outstanding individuals. Like the teachers I was privileged to have.
Tell me. Who would be more likely to gain the instant respect of a class of 15 years olds in an inner city school. An introverted, intellectual new graduate, who had gone straight back into the education machine without ever doing anything else. Or a far less academic but proficient ex Sargent-Major (or plumber, carpenter, nurse or Lab technician for that matter).
Later on, I went on to University. Honestly, the standard of the tuition I received there was appallingly inferior to that in my old Secondary Modern. The disinterested and uncharismatic individuals whose dull rote rendition I endured at Uni were all highly qualified. David Cameron would no doubt, regard them as highly eligible candidates for the teaching profession today (although in my old school they would have lasted about 5 minutes).
We need to get a grip on what we want for our kids. Most will never be academics. They need the skills all sectors of our community can impart not just an academic elite.
I'll repeat one of my arguments.
Who is the best teacher?
The charismatic 35 year old working man with a good knowledge of his subject and extensive life experience.
or a remote young inexperienced intellectual who cannot relate to his pupils?