Reasons to be cheerful, a decade on

6th June 2008 at 01:00
As Confucius once said: "Acquire new knowledge whilst thinking over the old, and you may become a teacher of others
As Confucius once said: "Acquire new knowledge whilst thinking over the old, and you may become a teacher of others."

The words of the Chinese philosopher are worth keeping in mind when perusing the latest secondary school curriculum and staffing survey, carried out for the Government by the National Foundation for Education Research (and reported on page 10). The survey, carried out once every five years, offers a generally positive picture after a decade of Labour government. Secondary pupils are now significantly more likely to be taught by a teacher with a degree or equivalent qualification in the relevant subject. That is very good news.

Of course, statistics are slippery customers. Much of the improvement is down to a big rise in the number of PE and drama teachers with specialist degrees. Less welcome is the fact that the proportion of actual lessons taught by teachers with relevant post A-level qualifications fell, largely because of the rise in citizenship studies and other new subjects.

The picture is especially mixed in maths and science. Although more young teachers are coming into the profession with relevant degrees, more pupils are being taught by non-specialists than five years ago. Fewer than half of maths teachers have a specialist degree. This may explain why England's maths teachers trail behind their counterparts in other countries when it comes to reasoning and logic (see page 7).

But, as Confucius might remind us, teaching is not just about having the right qualifications. Many brilliant teachers ply their classroom skills in subjects other than the ones in which they sat their degrees.

Indeed, the success of the new diplomas will largely rest on the adaptability and untapped skills of teachers. Encouragingly, the survey points out that 70 per cent of schools have at least one teacher with a post A-level qualification in subjects relating to half of the first 14 diplomas. Many are economists, engineers or management studies graduates, while others hold degrees in environmental sciences, zoology or geology, all relevant for the new diplomas.

The survey shows an improving picture, with schools staffed by more specialist teachers than ever before. It also shows how schools are changing, providing growing diversity of subjects and more choice for pupils. A good time to be a teacher.

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