TEACHERS BELIEVE their status has begun to improve after four decades of steep decline, government-funded research has found.
Surveys by Cambridge and Leicester universities also found that parents, governors and teaching assistants had an even more positive view of teachers than those in the profession.
The media was helping, the study said, contradicting teachers' common misperception of a hostile press. Instead newspapers were portraying them as "dedicated and committed professionals."
The findings came as a poll of 113,000 parents for the Association of School and College Leaders revealed that the vast majority were happy with their child's secondary school.
The Cambridge and Leicester researchers suggested that the turnaround in morale may be caused by the Government's financial commitment to public services. Workload reduction, more time for collaboration between schools and teachers, and giving teachers an expanded role in the community could accelerate the upturn.
But the researchers warned that it may be another 20 years before teaching becomes a genuinely "high status" job. "In general, the teaching profession sees itself as lacking in reward and respect, but highly characterised by external control and regulation," they said.
Parents, governors and teaching assistants (classed as associated groups) shared this perception. Along with teachers, they were asked to rank the profession's status on a five-point scale, from very low (one) to very high (five). The ratings have plummeted since 1967, when the ratings were 4.3 for teachers and 4.4 for associated groups and the Plowden report on primary education prompted the child-centred learning revolution.
The perceived drop continued after Margaret Thatcher's election in 1979, the Conservatives' education reform act in 1988, and Labour's election in 1997.
The teachers interviewed for the surveys said they believed their status had declined from that of doctors to service-sector professionals, such as managers of chain hotels, because of a "demystification of the profession".
They attributed this to greater transparency over national tests and a better-informed public.
By 2003, the perception of the profession's status among teachers and associated groups had fallen to 2.2 and 2.7 respectively. But surveys last year finally showed fractional improvements, to 2.5 and 2.9. Teachers working in specialist, leading schools or academies had a high sense of professional status. The opposite was true of those in schools rated poorly by Ofsted inspectors.
Ethnic minority, early years, special educational needs, pupil referral units and supply teachers felt marginalised. But those involved in training and research had a higher sense of esteem.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "It is very pleasing that teachers are starting to feel that things are getting better, and significant it has happened since the introduction of planning, preparation and assessment time. But progress is still too slow."
* http:www.dfes.gov.ukresearchdatauploadfilesRR831A.pdf Further reports, pages 4 19 Leader, page 26