Cushy number for dumb and dumber

13th January 2006 at 00:00
The Scottish Executive has published a series of advertisements designed to attract people into teaching. They appear alongside the Smarter Scotland logo -an image that seems like a light bulb with a saltire placed across it. Judging by the accompanying text, I would estimate the wattage at no more than 40.

The main visual part of the advertisements varies, with some of them aimed at particular groups (for example, mature entrants, mathematics teachers or potential recruits from England), but the text remains the same.

The campaign is likely to cause offence to serving teachers. Of the training course, readers are told: "It's easy." In the case of applicants with a degree in a relevant subject, they learn that "it'll only take a year".

Although many teachers are critical of aspects of their professional education, it is unlikely that they would dismiss any of it as easy. For postgraduates, it is a very intensive year, combining challenging periods of school placement, the academic demands of university studies, and the professional expectations of the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

The advertisements go on to refer to the "good pension" and mention "holidays that give you time to really recharge". Leaving aside the split infinitive - my former life as an English teacher surfaces from time to time - this is likely to raise the blood pressure of those teachers who devote part of their holidays to taking pupils on foreign trips, updating teaching materials and attending courses which help their personal professional development.

It is true that there is some reference in the advertisements to the "rewarding" and "fulfilling" nature of teaching, but the overall emphasis suggests that it's rather a cushy number. Is this the right way to attract the sort of people who are supposed to be able to "inspire the next generation"?

Teaching is a demanding, pressured and sometimes difficult job. There is no point in trying to disguise that, and anyone who enters the profession thinking otherwise is likely to be disillusioned. Some sense of the highs and lows was given in the Teacher Teacher series on BBC television. These programmes traced the progress of six students preparing to be secondary teachers. We saw them experiencing both successes and setbacks and learning to cope with the unpredictable nature of life in the classroom.

At the end of a good day, the sense of achievement that teachers feel convinces them of the worthwhile nature of their vocation. But the very next day, perhaps even with the same classes, things may not work out as planned and the mood can be very different. It's important to be honest to potential recruits about the responsibilities of being a teacher and the very real challenges which it entails.

That is not to say that some of the benefits of a relatively secure job should be ignored. But to place them at the forefront of an advertising campaign is to do a disservice to the dedication of many teachers and to run the risk of attracting applicants who wish to enter teaching for the wrong reasons.

We need energetic, creative, enthusiastic recruits who are open to change and willing to question the depressing mind-set which puts pensions and holidays above commitment to the vital social role which teachers fulfil.

I wonder how much this series of advertisements cost and whether Audit Scotland would judge that it represents good value for money. I also wonder at what level within the Scottish Executive they were approved.

Far from providing a good example of Smarter Scotland, they seem to me to demonstrate not only the shallowness of the advertising industry, but also that dumber policies are gaining ground at official levels.

Walter Humes is professor of education at Aberdeen University.

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