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‘Nobody sees teachers' contribution to the economy’

Negative view of teachers often shaped by people’s own school experience, yet 90 per cent of parents will praise their own child’s teacher as ‘fantastic', says union leader

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Negative view of teachers often shaped by people’s own school experience, yet 90 per cent of parents will praise their own child’s teacher as ‘fantastic', says union leader

“You wouldn’t have doctors or nurses or engineers if it wasn’t for teachers – but people don’t see that, nor the contribution teachers make to the economy.”

That’s the view of Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, who has spoken of teachers’ “frustration” at being undervalued.

Speaking exclusively to Tes, the former history and geography teacher said: “People value the health service because you’re very vulnerable when you go into the health service, and people die in there, and people really respect what the staff do.

“But in teaching, because everybody’s been to school, they all think they’re experts, and if you didn’t have a very good experience, you won’t have a lot of sympathy for teachers, and that’s the big barrier.

“If you ask someone what they think of their child’s teacher, nine times out of 10 they’ll say ‘oh, absolutely fantastic’. But ask them what they think of teachers in general and they’ll say ‘oh well, they’re overpaid and they get long holidays’, and it’s a very negative view.”

Ms Keates, whose union has about 285,000 paying members from across the UK, said the education system was facing the worst teacher recruitment and retention crisis since the Second World War because of negative perceptions of the profession.

She said: “If you look at the history of recession in this country, the one area that has thrived in recession has tended to be teaching. When the private sector was making cuts, or some of the industries were closing down, people would retrain to be teachers. But in the last recession and through all the recent times of austerity, we weren’t seeing any sort of buoyancy in teacher recruitment.

"It’s not following the [previous] trend because people are recognising the job has become so awful.” 

The positive effect that teachers have on their pupils is illustrated perfectly by the Tes My Best Teacher feature, in which celebrities talk about a teacher who has influenced them. Stars featured in the past year include physicist Professor Brian Cox, BBC TV presenter Naga Munchetty, and former England and Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand. 

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