Tinker, tailor, doctor, lawyer... teacher

6th February 1998 at 00:00
The Government needs to do still more to raise the status of teaching - and so do teachers. Josephine Gardiner reports on a new survey of informed opinion on education policy.

The Government's drive to rejuvenate and glamorise the image of teaching will not be enough to put the profession on a par with doctors, lawyers or even the police, according to an unpublished survey obtained by The TES.

The findings offer an insight into informed opinion on education policy since the election.

Thirty people - MPs, councillors, government officials, "opinion formers" from industry, the media, schools, teacher unions, plus some university students - were interviewed for two hours by the Centre for British Teaching, a leading educational services company.

They were asked to assess teachers' status and how this is affected by government policy, and to examine the scope for "re-branding" the profession in the national consciousness.

The report will be discussed at a dinner on February 25 to which key players in education have been invited (guest list, right), and could influence the Government's future recruitment strategy.

The CFBT is a non-profit-making organisation providing inspectors, supply teachers and training services. Neil McIntosh, its chief executive, said he hoped the report and dinner would result in government-approved projects on recruitment, though how this would fit with the official Teacher Training Agency's campaign is unclear.

A TTA spokesman stressed that its recent cinema adverts were only one part of its strategy to re-professionalise teaching, "although the response to the ads has been tremendous".

Most interviewees approved of the TTA's "nobody forgets a good teacher" campaign, but several said it relied too much on the traditional appeal to altruism. There should be more emphasis on the practical benefits for the teacher - the skills that can be acquired and transferred to other fields. "The message must challenge the perception that education is advantaging others more than yourself," the report concludes.

The TTA's efforts to enhance the career structure of the profession and drive up its status were, however, approved by all.

All interviewees agreed that status was low; teachers are still seen as resistant to change and as having "drifted" into the job, with the classroom seen as a "safe haven for the risk-averse". Politicians, the media and teachers themselves were blamed for this.

Politicians were seen as the chief "teacher knockers". The new Government was considered even more macho than the last and most thought newspapers took their cue from the politicians.

Interviewees also said teachers talked themselves down and pointed out that there was a glaring need for a united professional voice - a gap they hoped the General Teaching Council would fill.

The teacher unions suffer from an even greater negative image - one government interviewee even suggested the best thing for the profession would be to abolish the Easter conferences. Unions were seen as good at defending pay and conditions, but their contribution to the education debate was condemned as reactionary.

The report also identifies a "reputation gap" between the public's perception of the profession and their views of teachers they knew personally. Most interviewees criticised the relentless political and press emphasis on failure and the "snapshot" approach of the Office for Standards in Education to measuring standards.

However, teachers must be accessible and accountable, with bad apples removed quickly. They "need a kick up the backside for not opening their doors to industry and the media", said one government interviewee crudely.

All 30 interviewees believed that standards were rising, but thought that the public was getting the opposite message. All said that the true description of education in Britian was "patchy" rather than deplorable. Those with most praise for teachers were those with the most recent experience of them - undergraduates - although none of these said they would go into teaching.

The increasing emphasis on league tables, benchmarking and testing was approved in theory but there was criticism of the way it is being handled - this view is shared, significantly, by Government interviewees.

Recruitment was seen as a problem rather than a crisis, and, surprisingly, the quality of new teachers was not seen as a worry. But teacher-trainers were seen to be facing a dilemma - they need to attract high-calibre students but have to recruit enough students to make courses viable.

In conclusion the report suggests that teachers need to develop self-promotion skills and become much more media-friendly; otherwise the public view of teachers will continue to be distorted by negative media stories.


Guess who's coming to dinner?

Those invited to discuss the future of teaching with the CFBT include Anthea Millett

TTA chief executive

David Hart

NAHT general secretary

Nigel de Gruchy

NASUWT general secretary

Margaret Hodge

MP chair of Commons education select committee

Don Foster

Lib Dem education spokesman

John Howson

Teacher supply specialist

Alec Reed

Chair of Reed Employment already working on teacher supply issues

Alan Smithers,

Director of centre for education and employment, Brunel University

Peter Smith

ATL general secretary

Stephen Andrews

Senior adviser, DFEE

Heather du Quesnay

Chief education officer, Lambeth

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