To teach is honour enough

1st September 2006 at 01:00
Lecturers need goodwill, not ostentatious knighthoods

All lecturers deserve respect and improvements in conditions and pay. But what part do honours and awards play in terms of appeasing lecturers? The problems with honours and awards exist at the different levels.

The honours system, particularly, clearly has different levels. The small band awarded honours - CBE and above, naturally - have the right to submit an entry in Who's Who. Yet, if a local principal or, even, headteacher were to be awarded a knighthood, would that not make you feel just a little bit queasy - not resentful, not pleased that the profession had been recognised, just queasy?

Weaknesses in the honours system exist at exalted levels. Tony Blair has ennobled almost 300 individuals. It is not obvious that "Tony's cronies"

demand our confidence more than the previous hereditary peers.

Both systems have allowed the House of Lords, as the revising chamber, to prevent some government excesses coming into law. More crucially, there are serious concerns with the way individuals are nominated for peerages. In particular, three names proposed by the Labour Party have been refused.

These individuals had provided money to the Labour Party, but in the form of loans not donations. This is invidious because, unlike donations, loans do not have to be disclosed. Yet, individuals would, of course, be free to turn a loan into a donation long after the peerage had been awarded, and so any awkward questions about paying for peerages would be sidestepped.

Moving down a stage, the Queen's birthday honours included a knighthood for Mark Grundy who, in addition to being Head of Shireland language college and an IT expert, has played a leading role in improving the position of another school. So, his works beyond the call of duty make him an honourable candidate.

Similarly, Ruth Silver, who has been made a Dame, is not only a college principal but she too has contributed more widely, in this case to educational debates. She made the call for a national skills curriculum (FE Focus, February 3). This idea may appeal to government, but it is worth questioning the rather odd analysis. We might as well have such a national curriculum as the Government already has too much influence.

Wait a minute. If the Government, or any other stakeholder, has too much influence, let us say so, and agitate for a reduction. The issue is not whether these individual awards are merited. Indeed, as noted, both individuals have worked widely outside their main jobs, and for some considerable time.

In contrast, others seem to want to order awards as if they are a take-away or a phone-in option. Rick Parry, the chief executive of Liverpool Football Club, complained about his team being overlooked for New Year honours.

Further, in light of such lobbying, it is questionable whether they should ever be recognised. An honour can be declined, but it is the height of bad manners to say you should have won one.

If Liverpool players feel so aggrieved, the fact that they are earning such high sums - every member of the first team squad will earn more than almost all teachers each and every week, whether they play or not - gives them a way forward. They could either make a donation (even a loan) to the Labour Party or sponsor an academy or two.

The problem with honours in education is that they are divisive. This applies in a more modest way to the Star awards, which are intended to recognise an outstanding contribution by lecturers, as well as managers.

Initially, this seems like a good idea. However, the benefits are minimal, even for those nominated and successful. Moreover, there is something unappealing about this process too. It is one more way of differentiating between staff.

In reality, though, all teachers make a considerable difference to the lives of their students, and many have an effect beyond the immediate environment. So, why select a few? More significantly, when was the last time you heard a lecturer say something like "Since the introduction of the Star awards, I feel so much more valued as a professional educator"! Is there really a need for such awards in addition to the honours system? I'm far from convinced.

It is true that some do not get their just deserts from the system. Ted Wragg who, after his death, has been consecrated as "the teacher's champion", was given nothing. Yet his contribution to the public domain was obvious over many years. Lecturers, like teachers, are a fairly modest lot, and they work best when working with goodwill, when they are not overly differentiated by status and certainly not by external imposition of "merit".

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