Self-interest is not a teacher's trait

24th April 2009 at 01:00

Warwick Mansell ("New Labour has learnt well from Thatcher", April 17) rightly points out that the "teachers as producers, parents and pupils as consumers" divide is absurd. It is also economically illiterate. The consumers of any service, from education to train travel, are the people who pay for it. Taxpayers pay for the publicly funded education service, so taxpayers are the principal consumers of education.

What taxpayers want for their money is reflected in legislation passed by Parliament. That legislation, among other things, requires schools to remain open for certain periods in the year and that teachers should teach certain subjects and teach them well. It further requires parents to cause their children to attend school regularly. Taxpayers want that, even if some parents do not.

In carrying out their obligations to those who pay for their services, teachers share a common interest with parents. Both want children to succeed. But teachers are not just accountable to persons outside the school. Among their other accountabilities, teachers are professionally accountable for the welfare and success of the children they teach. That this has almost nothing to do with teacher self-interest is obvious to anyone who has had substantial experience of the classroom or has engaged directly, over a period of years, with the day-to-day work of schools.

That category does not seem to include the "influential thinkers" who believe teacher self-interest is pervasive.

Sir Peter Newsam, Former chief education officer, ILEA, director of the Institute of Education, and first chief schools adjudicator, Pickering, North Yorkshire.

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