Why Gove could end up being our champion

29th July 2011 at 01:00

I have been watching some cracking new staff teach. They bounce out of their training courses into the classroom, and before their NQT year is up they are teaching with a skill and finesse that even in my heyday I could only match in my dreams.

Of course, the bright young things are brilliant with technology. They use it to give lessons pace and pizzazz; they personalise learning with umpteen online resources and tasks and they talk the kids' lingo without making the mistake of trying to be their friend. Call me a cradle-snatcher, but I have made two of them heads of department before they have even finished their NQT year.

Significantly, both had several years' experience in other jobs before entering teaching. Sure, they will make mistakes, but they bring inspiration and potential that excites a sad old man like me.

So why has our favourite secretary of state published a consultation on an improvement strategy for training teachers when universities are turning out gems like these?

Let me rephrase that. Michael Gove, the man who builds an academy in a day, whose idea of consultation is to invent the English Baccalaureate and then use it to measure us retrospectively before we even know it exists, is asking us what we think. He wants to discuss the strategy with us. Allow me to retire to the staffroom for a calming Rich Tea biscuit.

I drew the usual moustache and geeky spectacles on the cherubic Gove mugshot at the top of the document's introduction, and then read on and found myself agreeing with every word.

I have been lucky to find damn good NQTs, but nationally the picture is not so rosy. Ten per cent drop out during their PGCE and a further 10 per cent leave teaching within the first year. That's an inefficient use of resources. Moreover, no one can disagree with the Government's mantra that the most important way to raise standards is to raise the quality of teaching. There is no more sensible place to start than the recruitment and training of teachers.

The Government is building on what is already proven to work. Its favoured models seem to be the graduate teacher programmes, school-based schemes (SCITT) and Teach First. These all have in common a greater emphasis on school-based practice, with universities as partners rather than the leaders of the process.

Given that not only did they all go to university, but that they have also done very well out of the experience, why is the Government so determined to bash academe like a bunch of philistine, woad-wearing yobs? Not content with slashing funding, they now seem to believe the old saying that only those who cannot teach end up teaching teachers.

The answer probably lies in Teach First. This charity recruits 1 per cent of current trainees. It takes graduates with good degrees from top universities, crucially after rigorous evaluation of their personal characteristics. These are top people who do not need water-wings, so they are plunged straight into the job in tough, inner-city schools. The scheme attracts graduates who might not otherwise have thought of teaching by branding itself as an elite scheme for high-fliers only. It is sold as excellent career development by wrapping the experience with leadership training. Clever stuff!

You can see why Big Society Dave likes this. The truly innovative approach has come from a small charity, not a behemoth institution. The highly valued SCITT schemes depend on practitioners in schools for their success, not berobed vice-chancellors. What is more, graduated bursaries extend market forces, with the largest payout of #163;20k going to those in shortage subjects with top degrees.

This is the paradox of Toryism. David Cameron's Eton boater and Oxford blazer make him a natural inhabitant of establishment institutions, but his free-market instincts say they must be opened up to the fresh air of competition. Rather like local authorities, universities must now tout their wares in the marketplace and go to the wall if they fail to attract buyers. The health professionals are beating him into retreat in the NHS, but in education the free marketeers are getting a clear run.

Teaching is not either a craft or a profession: it is both. That is why we are excited by the possibility of becoming a teaching school, and clear that we need a university as our partner. So it's "Huzzah!" for a minister who wants to raise the quality of our teachers and status of our profession. Thaw the pay freeze, protect our pensions, and we might even come to love him.

Roger Pope is principal of Kingsbridge Community College, Devon.

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