Money can't buy love

12th January 2001 at 00:00
Cash prizes aren't the way to restore pride in the profession, says Dennis Richards.

How on earth have we come to this? Ten registered teachers will each win pound;5,000 if they sign for a particular supply teacher agency, according to a recent ad in The TES. "Guaranteed work in 'pleasant' schools only," said another. Where will it all end? Sponsored cars? Holidays in Barbados?

In the Sixties, bright children, often the ambitious offspring of manual workers, revelled in their upwardly mobile status as teachers. Public service was an honourable concept. Not so long ago it appeared that every other Labour MP was either an ex-teacher or an ex-polytechnic lecturer. Thirty years on and teacher recruitment is in an appalling mess.

The chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency has admitted that a shortage of male teachers may be contributing to boys falling behind girls in exams. London boroughs had to scour the world to recruit enough teachers for the beginning of this academic year. Some schools are on four-day weeks because they have no teachers. All this when education, education, education is supposedly the order of the day.

The numerous wheezes used by this Government - including financial inducements and millions spent on a farcical cinema advertising campaign - have failed to enhance the status of teaching.

The latest bright idea is for mature graduates to be trained on the job while earning the salary of an unqualified teacher. It appears the Government has given up trying to excite young students and is concentrating instead on remoulds.

It does not seem to have occurred to the advocates of this latest scheme that the culture shock might just be too great - on both sides. It didn't occur to me either when a redundant and disillusioned Mamp;S store manager inquired about teaching at my school. Good degree in a shortage subject, lively personality and excellent inter-personal skills. The interview went well and our time-consuming bid for the funding was successful. But her early enthusiasm wobbled when the workload implications became clear, and collapsed when Asda came in with an offer at double the salary.

welcome any initiative to improve the quality and quantity of graduates recruited into teaching. But the real problem lies at a far deeper level than eventhis reforming Government can afford to reach. The status to which our students now aspire is that of a lawyer or an accountant. Even medicine no longer has the prestige it once had. As for nursing, well it's dropped off the end of the scale.

Every reference to Cherie Blair's pound;250,000 salary, to the golden hellos offered by accountants KPMG and to the concept of "chargeable time" puts another nail in the status of teaching. New Labour MPs are typically no longer ex-teachers but ex-lawyers or ex-management consultants - whatever that may mean. Lucrative careers await should the voters ever tire of them.

But this is not just about money. The Eighties mentality of market forces has seeped so deeply into our national culture that the concepts of public service and vocation have become alien. Our schools have been encouraged to clamber to the top of the league tables, to extol the virtues of a "good" (well-paid) job and to place as many of their students as possible in "top" universities on prestigious courses. We appear to be doing little to resist.

Sure, we've raised lots of money for charity, and supported lots of good causes. But how often have we said that teaching, nursing and community service in general are the noblest professions to which our students can aspire? How about establishing public service as a fundamental part of the ethos of our schools? Why not make it an essential part of the new citizenship initiative? Let's recruit well-motivated enthusiasts, not clapped-out executives escaping the business rat race.

To my astonishment, one of my daughters has just embarked on a teaching career, and in a disadvantaged secondary school at that. She is the only one from her Cambridge circle of friends who even considered teaching. I cannot honestly say that my heart swells with pride. I am too apprehensive about the trials and tribulations she will face. But at least I didn't put her off.

Dennis Richards is head of St Aidan's C of E high school, Harrogate


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