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Young staff refuse to give up on status

Teachers blame Thatcher for their battered image, but her influence may at last be on the wane. William Stewart reports

Teachers believe there has been a significant, continuous decline in their status over the past 37 years and that the public now rates them below police officers and web designers.

However, school staff think that they should be ranked higher than everyone except doctors and nurses, a survey of nearly 2,400 teachers reveals.

But the Cambridge university study shows that younger teachers are more positive, and researchers suggest this may represent the "beginning of a period of improved status".

They conclude that teachers appreciate the need for external regulation but feel deprived of professional autonomy, reward and respect.

Teachers were asked to rank their status on a five-point scale from "very low" (one) to "very high" (five), following five landmark dates (see box).

They believe their status has plummeted since 1967 when the Plowden report on primary education brought about a revolution in English schools with its emphasis on child-centred active learning.

But things may be getting better under Labour. The survey shows a slight reduction in the perceived rate of decline in status since 1997, suggesting a "cautious optimism".

Teachers were asked how they thought the public viewed them. They believe that secondary heads have slightly higher status than web designers, who in turn finished a place above primary heads in a league table of 16 occupations. The police came next, just above secondary teachers who were followed by nurses and primary teachers, with only social workers and librarians below.

For Kerry Shipley, head of Thames View junior, east London, problems started with the Conservative Education Reform Act in 1988. "The message that came through from the Government to teachers from then onwards was, 'You are not doing a very good job, you don't know how to do a very good job and you are just on the skive'. But I think it is beginning to get better."

The Cambridge study shows that teachers believe that England's General Teaching Council, set up under Labour in 2000 and intended to improve the public standing of teachers, has had little impact on their status.

When they were asked what could be done to improve their status, increased pay, public appreciation and time for planning and training on new initiatives topped the list. More work, testing and administration were seen as making it worse.

The research comes as a Mori poll of 921 teachers for the GTC shows that only 22 per cent of teachers have a positive opinion of the council, with 40 per cent non-committal and 33 per cent hostile.

Carol Adams, GTC chief executive, said the council had not made the impact it had hoped for. "We are working on this," she said.

The Cambridge research also included a survey of nearly 2,000 people carried out by the Office for National Statistics in March 2003. It revealed a 5050 split between those who thought teaching was an "attractive career" and those who did not. Generally, the very young were the most negative and the very old the most positive.

Those of Indian heritage were significantly more likely to view teaching as attractive - 85 per cent - compared with 48 per cent of white British respondents and 53 per cent of all other ethnic groups. Those in higher managerial or professional occupations were less positive - 43 per cent - compared with 54 per cent for routine occupations.

Dr Linda Hargreaves, Dr Mandy Maddock and Penny Turner of Cambridge university reported on their four-year, government-commissioned research on teacher status at the British Educational Research Association conference last week.

Bera reports 17

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