From the Editor - Not a long goodbye, but a heartfelt one

30th August 2013 at 01:00

This is my last column as editor of TES. It's largely been an honour and a pleasure, although I won't miss the closely typed reports that arrive in the office every couple of months urging me to expose the worldwide conspiracy that controls UK education from a secret location on the shores of Lake Titicaca. That's nonsense. It's based in Smethwick.

After five years in the editor's chair, I would like to use my 500 words to impart some wisdom on the current educational scene. Unfortunately, as editors deal in shallow impressions unimpeded by facts, wisdom has failed to put in an appearance. Readers will have to make do with well-intentioned prejudice.

Contrary to most reports, teaching in Britain has never been in better health. That may seem an obtuse observation to make as the government overhauls everything, unions press on with their forlorn strikes and teachers everywhere shelve the suncream and dust off the lesson plans, but it's true.

The quality of recruits is phenomenally high, the pay isn't bad, the profession's status is rising, schools have never been better equipped and teachers' pensions remain generous compared with most. Students have never been more motivated and parents rarely so supportive. Most encouraging of all are the widespread acceptance that a "satisfactory" education isn't really good enough and the determination of schools and teachers to take ownership of their profession, sharing ideas and best practice in ways unknown only a few years ago.

For a profession constantly urged to do more by government and counselled to despair by unions, that roll of credits may seem hard to accept. So let me pepper it with a few reassuring problems.

Good leadership is too rare, unthinking resentment of management too widespread. The profession still lacks confidence and retreats too easily into incapacitating defensiveness, especially when confronted with the words "Gove" and "Ofsted". Dependable research is scarce and a reluctance to question accepted wisdom too common. "We know what works," many say. Well, if we do, not everyone has been sharing.

Some things remain a mystery. I've never properly grasped how teachers, with their instinctive distrust of change, have such a boundless capacity to accommodate it once it's arrived. And why on earth is a profession of natural optimists saddled with such miserable representation?

It is entirely fitting that the country's most curmudgeonly union has the world's most unmelodious acronym: NASUWT. The union behaves less like a voice of the profession and more like some vast grumble of janitors, constantly preoccupied with the temperature of rooms but unconcerned by what actually happens in them - this teaching malarkey.

The fact is that teaching, for all its bureaucratic indignities, petty frustrations and ceaseless initiatives, is a more respected profession and a more attractive graduate destination than it has been for many years. The stresses are endlessly cited, less so the equally stratospheric satisfaction levels. It really is the "noblest of professions". So a valedictory plea: don't allow teaching to be misrepresented as a sullen, whingeing, down-at-heel trade. Teachers deserve better than that, and they should expect more.

gerard.kelly@tes.co.uk.

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