Smarter, stronger, more spirited

16th September 2011 at 01:00
TES editor Gerard Kelly explains why we've changed TES

You may have noticed that we have changed a few things. Nicer paper, classier format, lots of spanking new content. Admittedly, the moody, photo-shopped picture of the editor seems to have been replaced by a cartoon homage to Les Dawson, but that aside we think we have made significant improvements. Not everyone will appreciate the changes we've made. And if you're among them, let us know. Others may wonder why we have changed at all - the TES was in the fortunate and rare position for a UK publication of enjoying a rise in circulation last year. So why change?

The short answer is because you have. Whatever the dispiriting economic outlook, however anxious teachers feel about the currents swirling through education, the fact is that the profession is less defensive, more assertive, more questioning, more committed and better qualified than it has been in decades. We had to change to keep pace with a profession that has stepped up a gear.

If you think that view is too Panglossian, look at YouGov's poll of how parents and children rate teachers (pages 8-9). Despite media misinformation about the state of our classrooms, huge majorities of respondents think teachers deserve more support, greater respect and play a vital role in society. Unfortunately, the corrosive impact of years of misleading headlines has led a significant minority to advocate bringing back the cane. The odds on them responding in the same way if their child were thwacked are probably minuscule. But in any case, that proportion is dwarfed by the sizeable number who understand that good teaching is more than crowd control: it is, as they correctly identify, about the ability to inspire pupils.

Increased public support for teachers and teaching will not, however, translate into uncritical backing. In fact, the opposite is likely. The greater the expectations, the less tolerant of disappointment the public will be. Which means that the quality of teachers, always crucial, has never been more visible. This week's report from the Sutton Trust argues that the best way to improve the quality of teachers is to focus on the bottom 10 per cent (pages 34-38). It points out that replacing or improving these teachers would transform UK education beyond recognition.

The most remarkable findings show what a difference a good teacher makes. A child taught by an excellent maths teacher will make 40 per cent more progress in a year than one taught by a poor one. For schools, the difference a great teacher makes to overall performance is equivalent to reducing a Year 6 class by 13. For pupils, a great teacher could boost their lifetime earnings by as much as pound;430,000.

Some will object to the report's narrow focus, arguing that improvement should apply to all teachers, not just the bottom tenth. Others will point out that as 40 per cent of newly qualified teachers leave within five years of joining, the easiest way to improve teacher quality is to be fussier about who gets to be one. Few, however, will argue with the nub of the report. Everyone knows from personal experience how empowering an excellent teacher can be and how debilitating a poor one is.

The question is what do we do about it? Does "dealing" with the bottom 10 per cent mean supporting them or ejecting them? It will, of course, depend on the individual judgments of different heads. Like so much in teaching, there is no right answer. Which is why the TES will always prefer to start a conversation than presume to close down a debate.


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