Spring in the step of our profession

9th March 2007 at 00:00
Spring is here and teachers are feeling better about themselves. For the first time in four decades, a government survey says, teachers' status is improving. They are even getting a better press.

The news may surprise critics of the workforce deal who argued that the introduction of thousands more support staff into classrooms would poison teachers' professional status. But the research suggests that the opposite is the case. Teachers may feel happier because workload is creeping down and they have been relieved of some mundane tasks. Their standing has not been damaged among other members of the community: teaching assistants, parents and governors have a more positive view of the profession than teachers themselves.

So what is happening? Few teachers are motivated by pay alone but improved salaries have undoubtedly helped. Prospects are better too. Teachers are rewarded for staying in the classroom. The titles they receive - "excellent", "advanced skills" - recognise the difficulty and importance of the job. The days are gone when the only educational avenue out of teaching was to a local authority. Heads in search of a fresh challenge can move on to consultancy.

Teachers may view with scepticism the idea that the media now regards them more kindly, but the headlines are surely less strident and the hostility less frequent. The media takes its cue from politicians. A decade ago, Tony Blair and his ministers spoke of zero tolerance of incompetent teachers and insisted on naming and shaming failing schools. Recently, the tune has changed as ministers realised that without a motivated, confident profession, their education reforms were going nowhere. They began to talk of dedicated teachers, rising standards and the best generation of young teachers ever.

And so they should. Polls suggest that teachers rate themselves less highly than doctors and nurses. Yet, without teachers there would be no doctors and nurses. Last month, the TES magazine described how teachers are in danger of physical assault in many countries precisely because their role in society in shaping the attitudes of young people is so crucial. It is a reminder to teachers in this country of how much they matter.

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