Infants' staff want more respect

Those who teach younger children feel that they have lower status in the profession, reports Jenny Legg

The older the children teachers work with, the higher their job status is viewed, early-years staff believe.

Cambridge university research shows teachers of young children feel they are perceived to have the "easiest" and lowest-status jobs.

It suggests that the fact that most early years teachers are women (93 per cent) and many do not have a degree (47 per cent), can make them feel less valued.

The report, Early years, low status? Early years teachers' perceptions of their occupational status, by Linda Hargreaves and Bev Hopper of Cambridge's faculty of education uses evidence from the Teacher Status Project 2003. This four-year project surveyed more than 2,300 teachers, including 124 from early years classes.

However, the report, published this month, says early years teachers gain greater respect from parents and people who see them at work and value what they do.

Early years teachers said that they got more positive feedback and support from parents than they did from their primary or secondary peers.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"Whenever you ask people about teachers in the abstract they are not very positive. When you ask them about their children's teacher they always think they are wonderful.

"In primary and early years particularly, there is much greater understanding by parents of the complexities of the teachers' jobs because they are that much more involved. "

The TES talked to staff who teach various age groups to see how they felt their jobs were viewed by the public and other teachers.

Beth Armstrong, 30, is a Year 1 teacher at Broadwater first and middle school in Worthing, West Sussex. She said: "The public perception is that you have to go through more education to teach higher levels but that's not necessarily true. Even some teachers' ideas of what goes on in early years lessons are a bit skewed and they think it's all about playing.

"I've never felt a sense of segregation between colleagues in different year groups, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

"Parents have more respect for us than secondary teachers do because they are much more involved. Our parents always comment on how much we care about the kids."



Laura Wright, 27, is a Year 5 teacher at Blaise primary in Bristol.

She said: "When I started teaching it was with Year 1. When I moved to Year 5 all the children and parents thought it was a massive promotion because I would be teaching older children.

"On my teacher training course there was a sense that secondary was harder because of behaviour problems. More men go into secondary teaching and I think that has something to do with the status people give the job.

"In reality there shouldn't be a difference, you just use different skills depending on the age of pupils."


Sandra Dransfield, 63, is a design and technology teacher at Bishop Barrington secondary school in Bishop Auckland.

She is responsible for overseeing pupils' transition from primary to secondary school.

She said there was a perception, even among teachers, that primary education was less important than secondary.

She said: "I have to get secondary teachers to talk to Year 6 pupils as part of the transfer process. Lots are interested in the idea but when I try and pin them down they always put the secondary pupils first. They expect the primary children to fit in around them.

"It's subtle but there is a sense that secondary education is more important. Primary teaching has increased in status since the national curriculum came in, but there is still a disparity in the public's eyes between primary and secondary."


Ruth Golding, 51, is a sixth form teacher at Hove Park school in East Sussex. She teaches across key stages 3, 4 and 5.

"When I tell people I'm a sixth form teacher they do seem to hold me in higher regard than when I was simply a secondary teacher. When I say I teach A-levels they think I must be the fount of all knowledge.

"I think there's more understanding from teachers' points of view as to what goes on in primary schools now. We have better links to primary education. Since the national curriculum and Sats were introduced, we can see a lot of pressure has been put on primary teachers.

"I am a parent myself and I know you form better relationships with your children's first teachers. When you see how hard they work you do hold them in higher esteem. Parents don't seem as interested in secondary education, which is a real shame."

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