Editorial - Sitting still won't boost teachers' social standing

24th April 2015 at 01:00

If you ask parents what they think of the education their child receives the answer is usually overwhelmingly positive. Most adults are nostalgic about their own schooling, and almost all have fond memories of a great teacher who changed their life, as is proven every week by "My best teacher" (see footballer Frank Lampard's take on his favourite mentor). However, if you ask the public what they think of education in this country, the answer is often that it's in a terrible state.

At the heart of this huge disconnect between local and national perception is a conflict between personal experience and the message conveyed by politicians and the mainstream media.

For the powers that be, the narrative has to be one of a broken system that can be fixed only by them. For newspapers, all the problems of society are laid at the door of schools and their punishment is to have responsibility for curing these ills added to an already overcrowded curriculum. "There seems to be a default setting within the media of blaming the profession for anything negative that is reported about young people," says Vic Goddard, principal of Passmores Academy in Essex.

Therefore, the results of a TESYouGov survey showing that 81 per cent of teachers and a whopping 91 per cent of headteachers don't feel valued by society will come as no surprise to anyone in education. The findings echo last year's Ipsos Mori poll and the Teaching and Learning International Survey. Two years ago, in the Varkey Gems Foundation Global Teacher Status Index, the UK came halfway down the list, with teachers in China and Greece held in the highest regard and those in Israel and Brazil at the bottom.

Teachers are vital - to children, to parents and to society as a whole; no one will deny that. Without them there are no doctors, no lawyers, no journalists and certainly no politicians. So why do they feel undervalued?

There's no doubt that it's a stressful job with many accountability measures. But so are many others. What makes it different is the lack of control over one's own environment: a restrictive and seemingly ever-changing curriculum imposed by government, unreasonable demands from an uncertain leadership, pressure from parents and problems with pupil behaviour.

For headteachers it's a question of trust and dominion. Any supposed autonomy is flimsy if their authority is constantly called into question. Arguments about the rights and wrongs of school uniform and term-time holidays are irrelevant; it's about who's in charge of a school.

Raising status, however, won't come from abolishing inspection - that's never going to happen and is just a distraction, as is demonstrated by our Ofsted special. It's not about complaining of a heavy workload; it's about finding ways to lighten it. It's not about teaching a growth mindset; it's about using it.

If teachers want a different narrative, then they have to write it themselves. They certainly have enough representative bodies to do that - 97 per cent of teachers belong to a union - and the promise of a new College of Teaching funded to the tune of pound;5 million.

If teachers are valued locally, they can be valued nationally. But a better social standing won't be achieved by sitting around waiting for it to happen.



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