Teaching honey pot reduced to toffs' tuck shop

29th January 2010 at 00:00

Thank God for David Cameron and his "brazenly elitist" approach to education. It takes a party with balls to recognise what's wrong with our country's education system. Mr Cameron's right: there are simply too many working-class teachers ruining our classrooms.

Is it any wonder that our pupils leave schools without the mandatory five A*-Cs including English and maths when all their English teacher could achieve was a dismal Desmond from a Newtown Polytechnic? No wonder the country is going to the dogs when all these people with regional accents and amalgam fillings are taking all of the top teaching jobs.

I mean, why on earth should we value charismatic leadership, inter-personal skills, and inspirational teaching and learning strategies over an academic result spawned by a postcode lottery biased towards class and wealth?

No, what we really need to sort out our schools in special measures is a bunch of middle-class professionals on the fast-track Teach Now programme who, having already failed in one career, can now fail in another. While these ex-lawyers and bankers model effective learning by showing the kids how to join a tennis club, pass the port and employ a gardener, you have to wonder whether it might not have been more appropriate to fast-track a graduate from a call centre to demonstrate the more useful skill of closing a telesales deal.

This may be sour grapes from someone born on a council estate, but it is informed by first-hand experience. The very worst teacher I have ever come across - and by a country mile - also happened to be the most qualified. Four years ago, I had the misfortune to work alongside Dr X, a PGCE student with a doctorate from Durham University and the emotional intelligence of a Curly Wurly. It was a lively school, full of working-class kids, and only slightly less working-class teachers, but Dr X insisted that all the pupils, and the staff, acknowledged his PhD status by referring to him at all times using his full academic soubriquet. He survived less than two weeks. His subject knowledge, of course, was nonpareil. On paper, he was David Cameron's dreamboat; in the flesh his stunted social skills made him as employable as a dalek.

Brazenly elite qualifications do not necessarily make good teachers. Empathy, humour, passion and compassion are all as important as good subject knowledge. A first in physics will not necessarily inspire a thirst for physics - it needs a "spoonful of sugar" to help the lesson slip down, and that's what all good teachers provide in their enthusiastic, warm and lively approach to their curriculum areas.

But you do have to admire Mr Cameron's pluck. The country is in recession, the old boy's career infrastructure is collapsing under the strain, and so he commandeers the one remaining honey pot job-spot and reinvents it for the nobs and toffs. How else do you interpret the Teach Now programme, except as a career lifeline for floundering home counties bankers and lawyers in danger of defaulting on their mortgages and little Pippa's first pony's livery fees? When Mr Cameron announced recently that he wanted to make teaching a "noble" profession, let's hope he was referring to moral excellence and not to social class.

Beverley Briggs, Secondary English teacher, Gateshead.

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