Without all due respect

20th April 2012 at 01:00
Teachers are more qualified and better paid than ever before, and a TES survey reveals that they hold their own profession and skills in high regard. Despite this, they are viewed as low-status by the public and politicians alike

When Gwen Smith started teaching in 1958, the only qualifications she needed were A levels - and the tutors who gave her a place on a prestigious training course were equally interested in her hobbies. "They weren't after just brains, they wanted something more," Smith says. "They didn't want bluestockings. I think they wanted to know how well I would relate to children."

Fast-forward more than half a century and every teacher has to be a graduate - many even hold master's degrees. But while the pay would be almost unrecognisably high to teachers of a generation ago, and the introduction of teaching assistants would seem something of a luxury, the status of the profession is vastly diminished.

"Teachers were held in more regard in those days," says Smith, who retired four years ago at the age of 70 after having a triple heart bypass. "Everyone knew less about teaching than they do now. But we were held in more awe," she says. "The job was more private. There wasn't the situation of school vying against school. We were all held in the same esteem - unless you really messed it up, of course."

What Smith and her fellow veteran teachers notice now is that, despite the leaps and bounds made in teachers' working conditions, together with bigger financial rewards, they are almost universally derided, with slanderous aphorisms such as "those who can, do; those who can't, teach" making an unwelcome return.

So it is surprising to find that, despite the barrage of constant criticism, today's teachers are extremely positive about their profession and confident in their own abilities.

A new survey by TES has found that a conclusive 92 per cent of teachers believe that their job is more difficult than those of their friends or relatives. And they feel positive enough about their role to promote it - perhaps surprisingly, 63 per cent of the 1,041 people questioned said that they would recommend teaching to others. A total of 84 per cent said that they felt skilled enough to do something other than teaching and 61 per cent said that they were confident enough in their skills to switch careers.

You can read the full version of this article in the April 20 issue of TES.

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