An academic own goal

10th July 2015 at 01:00

It is a truism that the best footballers rarely make the most successful managers (as I'm sure any Rangers fans still grimacing at Ally McCoist's tenure will agree). Yet there is a widespread belief that the best teachers are the ones who have been most academically successful.

This idea is unfortunately supported by the UK government, which has recently been trumpeting its success in recruiting more student teachers with first-class degrees than ever before. But why should these high-fliers be any better at explaining the intricacies of the Treaty of Union 1689-1715 to an S4 class than a talented teacher whose only flaw is to have a lower-second degree? After all, it seems to be OK to have an ex-translator like Jose Mourinho in charge of hundreds of millions of pounds of football talent at Chelsea.

In Finland, the go-to for educational excellence, primary teaching is a well-respected profession that is incredibly difficult to enter; only 10 per cent of applicants are selected. Despite the competition, this select group does not just comprise people with the best exam passes. In fact, student teachers are deliberately selected from a range of ability levels, a quarter of them from the bottom half of school results as measured by academic achievement. The theory is that teaching ability is hidden across a range of people.

As someone who didn't excel academically and who is teaching a subject that is not the major focus of my degree, I find this state of affairs quite gratifying.

Not being a success in school gives me a different perspective from many of my fellow professionals, who may only recognise the feeling of being at the top of the class and therefore see school as a place of achievement and success.

I, on the other hand, know how it feels not to "get" something as quickly as the others. I know the embarrassment of public failure when you can't give the correct answer to a question.

Unfortunately, these experiences can often be quickly followed by the development of a self-protection mechanism along the lines of "I don't care anyway". It is very difficult for any learning to take place if this state of mind becomes entrenched. Unless, that is, the teacher has had experience of the same nihilistic emotion.

It is not only in education that we could follow the Finnish example. Demanding that would-be students of medicine gain five straight-A Higher passes may thin out the field of applicants but it also means people who mature intellectually at a slower pace are lost to the medical profession.

The lesson from Finland seems to have been taken on board in football management already. So rather than fast-tracking graduates or offering golden hellos in teaching, let's look to the character of the applicant - not their previous performance on a different pitch altogether.

Gordon Cairns is an English and forest school teacher in Glasgow

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