The past few weeks have seen a fresh outbreak of teacher-bashing in the UK. This time it’s focussed on those deemed ‘incompetent’, and the apparently impossible task of trying to fire them. I caught a phone-in discussion recently where there wasn’t a single caller who had a good word to say about teachers, following the Panorama documentary.
Thankfully, the new education secretary and his colleagues declined to join the pitch-fork brigade – seeming to be less anxious to ameliorate Melanie Phillips and Daily Mail readers than the previous administration.
Meanwhile, returning England footballers, following their incompetent display in South Africa, are consoled by negotiating weekly salaries four or five times that of a teacher’s annual salary. As the school year draws to a close, there’s nothing quite so affirming as media vilification.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave a speech to Teach First graduates. Here are young recruits to the profession, who are placed in tough schools in tough neighbourhoods. They’d be forgiven for a degree of disenchantment after a couple of years. But no, I was struck by their enthusiasm, and their desire to be challenged to go the extra mile, for the students whose expectations they are trying to change . It was inspiring just talking to them.
I saw the same kind of youthful commitment and passion while revisiting some of the Learning Futures schools since then. In just one session of staff development, one school was sharing recent innovations: a student radio station; enabling parents to support learning at home; using IT and serious gaming to support learning; developing students as leaders in language learning – the list went on. Just one school among many.
And the Headteachers I’ve spoken to said they that, whilst they did everything to help those who weren’t up to the job, most of those struggling to cope had already realised that teaching wasn’t for them, and left voluntarily . The others were let go, without too much difficulty.
As the new football season approaches no doubt we’ll hear more bleating about the pressures involved in football, where every pre-season friendlies become ‘massive’. At the end of the day, Brian, you’re just kicking a ball around. Now teaching – holding future life prospects by the thread of exam results – that’s a massive job. Each and every teacher in the country, yes, even the ones who are struggling, deserve their summer break. I wish them a restful few weeks and feel privileged to be working with them.