Reward everyone;Opinion

15th May 1998 at 01:00
Tino Ferri of the NASUWT says the proposal for 'super-teachers' is skimmed milk masquerading as cream

On the surface the decision by Education Secretary David Blunkett to introduce a new career grade of "advanced skills teacher" should merit support. So it is no surprise that north of the border Donald Dewar intends to follow his Cabinet colleague's lead .

The idea is to reward "the very best teachers" and to encourage "the brightest graduates to consider teaching as a career and to stay in the classroom carrying through the job".

Press releases from the Department for Education and Employment and the Scottish Office make grandiose pronouncements that the very best teachers will be able to remain in the classroom and not be forced into management.

I confess to cynical amazement at this sudden conversion to the revolutionary view that teaching children is one of the important functions of a school.

Over the past 20 years many classroom teachers have been brainwashed into the belief that the lowliest and most contemptible function in a school is what a bygone era called the art of teaching.

The hierarchic structures in schools have ensured that classroom teachers are constantly reminded that theirs is the humblest status. They are given the lowest salaries to reflect the trivial nature of their job. They are assigned the least amount of non-class contact time, on the circular argument that the classroom is where they belong.

The very title "classroom teacher" has become a stigma, with all the undertones of being unsuited to the advanced intellectual and personal skills of management. If one applies for a management position, the most damning comment in a headteacher's report is to the effect that MrMs So-and-So is "an excellent classroom teacher".

So why am I not delighted by the Blunkett and Dewar proposals for the new grade of "superteacher"? Because they show no real conversion to the self-evident truth that the most important job in schools is standing before a group of demanding youngsters and teaching them.

If this were so, then Blunkett and Dewar would have proposed a proper salary scale for all classroom teachers. That scale would match what graduates are offered in other professions and guarantee the greatest financial rewards for all who remain classroom teachers.

But no, the Government's proposals will merely place another weapon in managers' armouries, enabling them to off-load more work on to classroom teachers bedazzled by the prospect of hard cheese today and jam tomorrow.

The new grade of superteacher is nothing other than that old divisive device known as "twin-tracking". Indeed, close examination of the proposals reveals a new package of additional "statutory professional duties" as the sine que non for entry into the new grade.

These will include mentoring newly qualified teachers, advising other non-super teachers on methodology, producing high quality materials, appraisal and outreach to other schools. They amount to a job description as extensive as any for a management post and necessitate a great deal of non-class contact time.

In addition, there will be annual performance criteria on which salary progression within their grade will depend - that is, performance related pay.

No information has come from Blunkett and Dewar about the numbers of superteachers. Nor have they indicated the selection criteria or the selectors. What we have, once more, is political window dressing rather than a serious attempt to raise the status of those whose job it is to teach the young.

Ministers do not seem aware of the ironies and contradictions implicit in their claim "that the very best classroom teachers will now have a career option to remain in the classroom teaching rather than having to take up management posts."

First, the statement recognises that classroom teachers are underpaid. Second, the "career option" is not an option unless all can attain it and not merely aspire to it. Third, it implies that management posts are filled with the best classroom teachers. If the last is so, then the quickest solution would be to send all managers back to the classroom with conserved salaries.

The education systems of the continent operate by rewarding professional practitioners rather than administrators. Blunkett and Dewar have indicated that the United Kingdom is not prepared to invest the kind of money needed to remove the straitjacket of an administrative hierarchy - where the few have the invidious task of kicking the many who labour on a treadmill of spurious productivity which must be measured, assessed and appraised in order to produce the illusion of worth.

Tino Ferri is national executive member for the NASUWT in Scotland

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