'Move over Simon Schama, it's time teachers were our intellectual guardians'

9th September 2011 at 01:00
Stephen Hillier, boss of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, reveals plan to make teaching a high-status profession

Turn on the television and it is hard to avoid celebrity academics. From historians Niall Ferguson and Simon Schama to pop-star-turned- physicist Brian Cox, professors are no longer confined to campus.

But according to the man responsible for recruiting England's teachers, it is time for academics to step aside and for school staff to become the nation's intellectual gurus.

Stephen Hillier, the new chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), has called for teachers to become the country's "intellectual guardians". He wants them to be able to become university professors, subject experts and faces in the media in a bid to make teaching a "high-status" profession.

"In the next five to 10 years it would be great if, instead of the Simon Schamas and the David Starkeys doing their TV series, it was a teacher doing that kind of thing because it was just accepted that they have that status, like the intellectual gurus of the nation," Mr Hillier says.

"I would love to see universities have a professorship that a school teacher had a chance of getting. They could be a national expert, still teaching at school, but also doing things in the university wearing their professorial hat."

A total of 62 per cent of the students who finished secondary teacher training during the 2009-10 academic year had a 2:1 degree or better - a 2 per cent rise on 2008-09. Among primary trainees this was 63 per cent, up 1 per cent from the previous year.

Mr Hillier believes there should be radical changes to the job to make better use of these graduates' skills. At the moment, if they want to progress in their career it means leaving the classroom. He thinks this is a waste of their knowledge.

Instead, there should be a new route in the profession so teachers can become subject experts. Just as there are skilled accountants, doctors and lawyers who take on the hardest cases, Mr Hillier wants a new type of teacher who can be renowned "nationally and internationally" for their knowledge.

This would mean two equal career routes for teachers: one where they run schools and another where they can stay in the classroom.

"If you are a doctor in a hospital you can think, `One day I would love to be chief executive' or `I'd love to be a top consultant who is internationally renowned'," Mr Hillier says.

"We won't have the equivalent of that in schools in the next five minutes, but I think it's important we have that idea in mind in terms of how the teaching profession might develop in the next 10 years.

"Newly-qualified teachers often tell us they went into teaching because of the love of their subject. So this would mean they don't have to say goodbye to that."

Kerra Maddern, kerra.maddern@tes.co.uk.


The Teaching Agency will be formed next year from the ashes of the Training and Development Agency, the General Teaching Council for England and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency. About two-thirds of its work will be organising teacher supply and qualifications.

Westminster Education Secretary Michael Gove has promised new teaching schools, which will act as the education sector's equivalent of teaching hospitals, and university training schools - primaries and secondaries run by universities that will be centres of research.

In future, teacher hopefuls will have to demonstrate they have something special to offer. Ministers want to make it harder to get a place on a teacher-training course. Literacy and numeracy skills tests will become more rigorous and lecturers will be expected to use personality tests to make sure applicants are suited to the job.

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