Monday, 18 January 2010

The meddling is going to continue.

When I first read about the Cameroid's intention to make the teaching profession elitist and only allow very clever teachers to join, my first thought was 'Well, that sounds more like a proper Tory policy than most of the guff they've come out with'.

My second thought was 'It's the wrong policy'.

There is no need for a prospective teacher to have to get a 2.1 honours degree in science before starting teacher training. Those who get firsts and 2.1 degrees are those who should be considering going further with their science, taking up PhD courses and getting involved with research. An honours degree does not make someone a teacher, because that's an entirely different skill set and it's not taught during a science degree.

Few university lecturers have had more than a cursory training in teaching, if that, and have risen to the rank of lecturer through academic promotion. Some of them are very good scientists but bloody awful lecturers.

They would be even worse as teachers. When you've absorbed that much education you tend to be somewhat impatient with people who haven't. In the hallowed halls of academia, everyone is there for one reason only. To learn more stuff and see how much you can cram into a brain without bursting it.

Schools have a different makeup entirely. They contain some who will go on to academia, but also many who will go on to be plumbers, builders, electricians, shop managers, and even a few who are unlikely to progress beyond the rank of supermarket trolley collector. That is not meant to be disparaging. People come in a whole range of abilities and let's face it - if nobody wanted the job of trolley collector we'd never be able to find one. It's not an executive position but it's not an unimportant job.

If you put someone with a high level honours degree in the classroom, they will naturally want to concentrate on those pupils who are likely to follow the same course. They will struggle to cope with those pupils who prefer less learning-intensive careers, who plan to go on working on Dad's farm or have ambitions to be lorry drivers or railway engineers.

Why would these graduates take up teaching anyway? After spending three to four years building up a debt and working hard for a high degree, why would they take a job that doesn't pay well, that involves almost nothing they've learned (if you have a 2.1 in molecular biology, you won't be teaching it to 11-year-olds) and that can be terminated on the whim of a spiteful child or a malicious colleague?

Well, Cameron plans to bribe them to do it. If they have an approved degree from an approved university, he'll write off their student loans if they become teachers. Well, now, Cameron, you are dealing with intelligent people here. Do you imagine they won't consider being a teacher for a few years, to get that debt cleared, and then scarper back to the universities? I would have done just that.

The best people to employ as teachers are those who, first of all, want to be teachers. Then you apply an entry requirement to teacher training college and personally I'd set that at A-level/Higher standard, not degree level. They will be teaching up to A level. They will not be teaching up to degree level and if you load them up with degree level information, you risk putting someone in that class who will totally baffle the children and who will soon become bored with the level of the syllabus.

I would require them to have a good result in English at least to O-level or whatever they call it now, and a good A-level in their chosen subject plus a couple of others to show they are smarter than the kids they are to teach because if they're not, well, as I recall we weren't slow to spot the dim ones and take full advantage.

The training college should then bring them up to date in their chosen subject as well as training them in how to use a cattle prod and a tazer. Or whatever approved method is now in use for disciplinary purposes. Oh, wait, we don't have discipline any more, so show them how to put on a stab vest and dodge bullets.

Levity aside, Cameron is right that the schools need a lot of work but he's going at the wrong target. The first thing he needs to do is stop all the PC rubbish - all that 'oh, his bizarre spelling is his way of expressing himself' and asking them how they feel about everything rather than actually teaching them anything.

Stop calling the police to playground fights and name-calling and start calling them when kids are found with drugs and weapons.

Stop the targets - and not just in schools.

Let teachers teach rather than using them as another line of social manipulation.

Cameron says he'll make it easier to fire bad teachers. Good. Replacing them with graduates is not the way to improve the system. Replace them with skilled teachers, not with scientists. He does not consider where the bad teachers are coming from - the same teaching colleges he plans to send those graduates. Those colleges should be assessing whether a teacher can teach but like the schools, they have to show a high pass rate or they're in trouble. So they have to pass the duffers too. The problem percolates down the system and becomes self-sustaining.

At the moment we have teachers who hate the 'teach-to-test' methods imposed by the need to meet targets. Just cram it into them so they pass, don't worry about whether they understand any of it. We also have some who are happy with that method because it's how they were taught in teacher training college.

Next, some of the kids from those schools will go to teacher training college and they won't question the teach-to-test approach because it's how they were taught.

Eventually there'll be no teachers left who use any other methods or who care at all whether any of the kids understand the work. They won't even consider 'understanding' to be a necessary part of learning because for them, it never has been.

You won't fix that by increasing the qualification requirements for teacher training. You fix it by changing the training methods and not penalising colleges who throw out the duffers, no matter how many they have to dump in any one year.

We are regaled with 'more kids getting higher marks' year on year. It's fake, and obviously so because real life isn't like that. In real life the proportion of passes and the proportion of high marks would fluctuate year on year. It would produce a graph like the stock market, not a graph like the hockey stick. The same applies to the teacher training colleges. Some years they'll get a load of excellent students and some years they'll get a load of duffers. But they aren't allowed to let us see that. They have to show consistent or rising numbers of qualified teachers or Labour will cut their funding.

Labour are obsessed with producing the impression they have improved things whether those things are improving or not. Meanwhile they bog every system down with targets and paperwork so it can only get worse. Instead of accepting that it doesn't work and changing it, they fudge the figures to make it look like it does. Now we have Ed Balls, who is supposed to be running education, wanting to teach fathers how to breastfeed. Has the standard of biology teaching dropped that low already? Just how far can you push the equality agenda? Mind you, perhaps Ed's moobs have reached sufficient size to become functional.

Mr. Cameron, if you want to improve the education system, get the targets and the rest of the crap out of it, find yourself an experienced teacher with a good reputation and make him or her your schools minister - with the remit that they are to deal with teaching matters only and no meddling in anything else.

Forget about filling the system with bribed graduates. That is a disaster in the making. Get teachers who want to teach and show them how to do it. Then get out of the way and let them do it.

Anything else is just tinkering at the edges. There's been more than enough of that already.


TheFatBigot said...

Cameron's announcement seems to be another "look we're doing something sexy and different" policy rather than a practical measure.

Good teaching involves explanation. Nothing more. It's all about explaining things in terms the pupils or students can comprehend. And it's far from easy.

It doesn't require vast technical knowledge of the subject, not at school level anyway, but it does require the teacher to understand what he or she is teaching because they have no chance of explaining it if they don't understand it themselves.

The ability to explain is what should be tested at teacher training colleges. Those who can't do it should be refused the qualification no matter how brilliant their academic record.

And all teachers must be at risk of the sack if they don't do their job properly. The pressures that keep people in the private sector on their toes must operate in the public sector too if we are to have any chance of both value for money and the maintenance of proper standards of work. It's not a difficult concept, I just wish Cameron and his chums had the guts to say it.

subrosa said...

You've been listening to a phone conversation I had earlier with a retired teaching pal! She was livid and is seriously considering voting SNP this time round, because she's now convinced Cameron is a fool.

Well said though. He's way on the wrong track right enough. The crux of it is the colleges won't throw out the useless because they want the money. They're only paid for bums on seats and results.

Time that changed too of course.

Stewart Cowan said...

Agreed, LI. A degree doesn't mean you can enthuse children to learn - unless your degree is in enthusing children, which I don't think exists (yet).

Excellent point about exam results improving year-on-year. If it was above board, it wouldn't be like this.

Cranmer tweeted a brilliant point yesterday:

"Why are we selecting teachers by academic ability, but politicians by gender, skin colour, sexuality and disability?"


Leg-iron said...

FB - exactly. Teachers need to be trained to be teachers. Scientists can't deal with school level teaching. I am one - I think I was a fair to middling lecturer but I've no idea how to be a teacher and probably never will.

Leg-iron said...

Subrosa - Cameron is the main reason I'd never vote Tory. He's looking like another Gorgon, do as I say because I'm leader, even though most of his own party disagree with his stance on the EU and on climate change, among other things.

I don't think it's safe for them to change leader at this point. They should have done it a year ago.

So they have to batter some sense into the man, somehow. I'll loan them my crowbar if they want.

Leg-iron said...

Stewart- Cranmer makes a good point there. Worth following up on - but not tonight. It's getting late.

Sir Henry Morgan said...

Best teacher I ever encountered in my whole life wasn't, strictly speaking, "a teacher" ... he was an RAF engineering officer who had moved over into the RAF education department (so I suppose he must have had a degree or he wouldn't have been an engineering officer in the first place).

I was an aircraft engineering apprentice, along with a few hundred other boys (no girls) of various ages between 15-19. Different years, different classes.

Attended his classes about two hours a day, four days a week for over two years.

Within two minutes of entering his classroom you were thinking ... HARD. At the end of the two years we knew every single thing he (and the Air Force) wanted us to know. In other words, we really did know our stuff. I still do to this day over 40 years later. Better - we UNDERSTOOD it (or at least I did). And it was high-level engineering science he taught.

In two years he never actually told (or "explained", FatBigot) a single damned thing. WE had to tell HIM. That was his method and explains the constant hard thinking. He understood his subject, and he understood our young minds, so well that he spent all that time asking us questions; every question a slight progression from the previous answer he had extracted from us, and POSSIBLE to answer from what we previously knew, provided we put hard thought into it.

Occasionally we couldn't get an answer out - he still never told us - just went back to the end of the previous question and started again with a different way of putting the question - always ended with us telling him the answer he was looking for.

Worked for me anyway. I really looked forward to his classes and thoroughly enjoyed them. There are probably thousands of men in their forties, fifties, sixties who, if any of them read this will immediately come up with a rank and name. They will undoubtedly be correct - there's just no forgetting the man.

He did have an added advantage - we were all under military-standard discipline - and military discipline at Halton was savage when necessary. No messing about in classes there. But my impression still is that the teachers at that place actually liked us and enjoyed seeing us grow in knowledge day by day.

Best real teacher I ever knew - Flt.Lt M.G.Ralph. Died a Sqn.Ldr. Fine man and first class teacher.

I've been (as an older student) to two good universities and am educated to postgrad level - what he taught was far more difficult than any of that - and much more enjoyable to learn.

Same methods don't work for all kids. And understanding is infinitely better than mere remembering. If you understand, then you can work out the stuff you don't remember. By the time I left that man's classes I could LITERALLY derive Maxwell's equations from first principles without any help. Wiki that and see what it's possible to learn just from being asked the right questions in the right order, but TOLD nothing. In my case that was by 17 - I was one of the younger boys to start there - only 15.

banned said...

I gather that grade inflation is now standard within Universities, more than twice as many firsts and 2-1s awarded capmpared to 10 years ago so that's them screwed.

The most sensible idea about teaching recruitment that I have heard recently is that they should do what financial services recruiters do. Try anyone who fancies it.
They don't know what makes a successful finance salesperson so they take almost anyone on board, give them an intense short term training and let them loose to sink or swim. Most fail and leave, some don't.
Those who make it recieve huge rewards. Same should be true of teachers though I recall being able to spot a good teacher within minutes of him (always a 'him') entering the room.

mister_choos said...

Sir Henry,

I was an apprentice as well, although at Cosford not Halton. We had some really good instructors, many of them with no degree whatsoever. They all had to an instructors course which wasn't particularly long. What many of them did bring, was alot of real life knowledge on how to do the job. This is something that a degree can never teach.

Sir Henry Morgan said...

Mr choos

We had those too - school in the morning, workshops in the afternoons. Except Wednesday afternoon was compulsory sports, and Sat mornings was gdt/drill/exercise(sadistic twats), and general lectures etc. and all that stuff. Anyway, being a Cosford brat you'll know what I mean One Sunday morning a month was church parade.

I know two former brats in the BNP - defence spokesman in the party was one of us (moved on to become Vulcan crew. We call him the "Squadron Leader". And another who we call "Mr. Mannering" because he looks exactly like him and wears the uniform at our RWB get-togethers. He was a Hereford brat.

Nice to meet former brats - they are people we know are definitely not quitters. Of course, we at Halton considered ourselv es the elite - no doubt you all n the other three schools thought you were too. That's normal. But we WERE the No.1 S. of T.T., and the originals. 1918-1983. Approx 36,000 in all, maybe 20,000 still alive worldwide. I have been known to get good jobs just by uttering the magic word Halton. We are in senior Technical/Engineering positions all over the place. I'm not, of course - I'm just a twat who wont quit.

My nickname at Halton (68-70) was JJ Wop. Always had a scalp-skimming haircut (Jailbird Jones) and naturally darkish skin when the sun shone (Wop). Fellow brat Welsh Twat Tilley announced that as my nickname one day out loud when we were marching somewhere one day. Oh my how everyone laughed. I'm Welsh too - which didn't stop him being a Welsh twat. We all are.

mister_choos said...

It seems I started just after what you consider proper apprentices (84-87).
Church parade? Not once thank fuck. We got lessons and PT through the week. Quite alot of weekends were working, especially at the start.

Halton is now shut I believe, and they've let the fucking pongoes into Cosford!!

We never considered ourselves elite, just better than the riggers, sootys and plumbers. It does still niggle that you lot were trade group 1 and we were 2. Still at least that was alot higher than jockeys and growbags.

One of my lot that went on to become an officer was the person I would have marked down as least likely. He regularly held how many 10p pieces can you get behid your foreskin. I remember doing a u-turn when i walked into their roomand saw some of his class sitting on him and pulling his legs down so he could try to give himself a blowjob.

Anonymous said...

My English/French teacher, one Miss Martin, had a trick of dropping little bits of the classics into our lessons, such as: "Now, this was something that happened to poor Jude the Obscure". She would tell us no more. I have no television, and my living room is lined with bookshelves. I have every Hardy novel, and love them all to this day. Now that is what I call teaching.

Besides which, given the way the righteous are taking us, who the hell is going to want any contact with children in the future? Hard-won careers can be destroyed in a matter of seconds by some spiteful brat who doesn't like your hairstyle.

anne riddle said...

Why don't we have more Grammar schools? Is there some reason why this way for children to make something of their lives seems to be completely ignored by todays Tories?Ex High School girl!

Junican said...

My daughter left school with half a dozen bog standard GCSEs. She is now 40 years old. She worked for an insurance company for many years, eventually moving into the training sphere of the company. She became disillusioned, packed the job in, sold her house (she is single) in Exeter and moved back North to live with us for the time being. She decided that she wanted to become a primary school teacher and enrolled, after some preliminary study, at Lancaster University. She worked very hard indeed and, after four years, emerged with a first class degree with honours, coming 9th out of 200 fellow students.

How did a girl with bog standard GCSEs achieve such a remarkable result?


The reasons are: desire, hard work, dedication, enthusiasm and LIFE EXPERIENCE.

She is well qualified to teach both her chosen 'speciality' of science and most other 'basic' subjects such as reading and maths. During her training, she spent many weeks actually teaching (under supervision) in numerous schools.

After obtaining her degree in early summer 2009, she obtained a position in a certain school.

She is now thinking of quiting the profession (although I really so not think she really means it).

Do you know why? I'll be that you can guess.

In this particular school, there is a particular class, class 5, which is totally out of control. Out of 20 children, 6 or so are, for lack of a better word, nutters. They fight and scrap and run about and shout. The authorites in the school, the head and the governors, will do nothing, and yet, ONE child in another class who has 'learning difficulties' receives full support. It is as though this particular group have been abandoned because there are too many children who need special attention and the school budget does not run to taking care of their needs. (Remember that a seriously important subject in the teacher training schedule was "EVERY CHILD IS IMPORTANT") - except, it seems, when there are just too many who are important.

Which brings me to my point.

You can have the best graduates in the world becoming teachers, but if there is not discipline, there will be no learning. Partly because the badly behaved children will not agree to be taught and partly because the sheer weight of having to try to teach them, and them alone, will limit the teaching available to the well behaved.

Discipline is crucial in schools. But what do our politicians do or say which is constructive about the matter? Answer, nothing. What they do say is that you cannot smack them, you cannot punish them, you cannot send them home if their parents are working, you cannot keep them after time and give them 'lines', etc. They never say what you CAN do.

Camaron may be right. I do not know, although my daughter's experience would militate against, but all will come to nothing unless the problem of discipline in schools is sorted out.

Sorry to go on at such length.

Chalcedon said...

What about the vouchers idea? And getting rid of collective bargaining re teachers' pay? I think you are correct about the entry requirements for being a teacher. The national curriculum and targets should be axed too. the exam boards should be set up by the universities, not private companies.

Also reintroduce synthetic phonics and have the little darlings in rows facing the teacher who teaches them. Little kids do not learn subject matter by being allowed to mess about in groups for 45 minutes. They just have a kind of chaotic fun interspersed with mild violence.

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