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The fall and rise of a profession

Teachers blame Thatcher for their battered image, but her influence may at last be on the wane. William Stewart reports

When Barry Akam began teaching in 1970, his father, a Tyneside businessman, saw his son's new job as an honourable profession, safe from the unemployment then blighting the area.

Since then, Mr Akam, now 56, and head of English at Queen Eleanor community school, Stamford, Lincolnshire, has seen the status of teaching fall and then rise again.

He believes the nadir came in the run-up to the 1988 Education Reform Act.

"There was a huge amount of destructive propaganda about teachers in the right-wing press that was used to create the conditions for change," he said. "Public perceptions of teaching went down at that time."

He believes teachers are now generally getting the credit for improving exam results.

Kate Brine, 24, who has just begun her second year in Mr Akam's department has found that people actually admire teachers.

"When I tell people I am going to teach in a secondary school they tend to say, 'That is very brave, I couldn't do it'.

"I think our status has gone up because people think the behaviour of teenagers has become so much worse."

She believes higher salaries and fewer government initiatives are the key to further rises in teacher status. "There have been so many changes even since I joined teaching," she said. "You are just getting to grips with one thing and then you read in the papers that they are doing something else."

John Wight, 53, deputy head at Thames View junior, Barking, believes teachers' status has remained reasonably constant and positive since he started teaching in 1974. "Some ludicrous things are said about what education does or doesn't cause," he said. "But that is political and I have not had much negative personal feedback."

Neil Oxborrow, 43, acting head at Queen Eleanor, has received more mixed messages in his 20-year career. "A lot of parents will remark that in their day people looked up to teachers and were scared of them," he said. "They appreciate that we have fewer sanctions available these days.

"But there is still a perception among some people that we knock off early and have ridiculously long holidays."

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