The great, not just the good, are needed in class

9th October 2009 at 01:00

Everyone remembers a great teacher. I remember dozens. From Mike Duncan, who opened my eyes to the excitement of literature, to Bob Graham, who brought chemistry to life and taught me how science makes sense of this world.

Dr Bob, as he'll always be to me, made me appreciate that any thesis stands or falls on the quality of the evidence. And when it comes to education all the evidence points one way: nothing is more important than teaching.

Getting talented people into the classroom is the best way to improve the education all our children receive. The highest performing education systems - from Europe to Asia - are those with the best teachers. I know that my daughter's state school succeeds because of the commitment and talent of the staff. I want to ensure that every family benefits from great teaching. It's morally unacceptable that so many of our children don't achieve as they should.

That's why this week I put teaching at the centre of the radical measures I laid out to improve our schools. I firmly believe that our current generation of teachers is our best ever. But I also know that we must always strive to improve, in order to compete not with the past but with the best. In teaching, that means Singapore and Finland, the countries who consistently top all international league tables and have only the best graduates going into classrooms.

That's why I've outlined plans to enhance the prestige and esteem in which teachers are held even further - by raising the bar for entry to the profession and making clear we see teachers as central to the intellectual life of the nation.

And we want to do everything to continue to attract many more high achievers into teaching. We've seen how Teach First has attracted more highest-quality graduates into the classroom. We want to go further. We would expand Teach First, and create Teach Now, which would significantly expand the number of highly qualified professionals leaving other jobs for teaching.

Of course, we're operating at a time of economic stringency, and that means we have to be careful with public money. But because I hugely value the commitment shown by teachers I don't want to go down the road Ed Balls believes in, cutting senior posts to make the books balance. I believe its more important to reduce central and local bureaucracy, and exercise restraint on pay overall, to ensure we keep talented professionals in post.

And I want to deepen and reinforce a culture of professionalism among teachers. I believe we should offer better continuous professional development. I want to give teachers the chance to deepen their knowledge of the subjects they love. We will, therefore, make it easier for teachers to pursue higher-level qualifications in their chosen subject.

As well as standing up for professionalism, we have to stand up for individual professionals. We have to provide teachers with the protection they need to deal with behaviour problems in class.

A Conservative government would change the law to make it easier for teachers to deal with violent incidents, remove disruptive pupils and restrain disruptive children without fear of legal action.

We will give heads a general legal power to ban any items they think may cause violence or disruption. Teachers facing a complaint from a pupil would have absolute anonymity until disciplinary hearings were conducted in full. And we would insist that any allegations against teachers are investigated within a specified time period, or dropped.

This concentration on teaching is part of our unrelenting focus on helping the most disadvantaged and making opportunity more equal. In particular I am determined to help the most disadvantaged pupils are in the worst-performing schools. That's why I announced plans this week to ensure the weakest schools are placed in the hands of the strongest leaders - and why I've argued for more spending on the most disadvantaged pupils.

We understand that the new opportunities for the most disadvantaged children must come in a variety of forms. For too long in this country, we have failed to provide high-quality vocational education.

On Monday, alongside Lord Baker, I announced that we would build 12 technical academies in our largest urban areas. These technical academies, with the freedom over the curriculum, timetables and pay and conditions necessary to set their own ethos, will have the characteristics needed to provide young people with the best vocational education.

This week I have tried to celebrate what's best about our education system, and say what we would do to make it even better. School reform will be at the centre of a future Conservative government's mission to make opportunity more equal.

Behind everything we are doing is a belief in the transformative power of good teaching. We want schools where teachers are free to do what they do best - inspire the next generation with a love of learning - liberated from unnecessary bureaucracy and working in partnership with parents to drive up standards for all.

Michael Gove, Shadow schools secretary.

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