Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Cameron's 2:1 teachers

What's does a 2:1 guarantee these days? That the holder can probably write in cursive script (or joined-up writing as modern academics term it) and may even know that Rimbaud wasn't a US film character. No, these days one needs to insists on a master's at least to have a hope that the holder possesses some measure of academic nous. But need this be compulsory?

I am just old enough to have had masters who wore their 'stuff' gown to class, and one or two carried a cane. These were the brains. Then we had the characters - an ex submarine commander who taught maths in an idiosyncratic but highly effective way, a bluff ex-ICI research chemist who preferred to teach, a French master mentioned in dispatches for his counter-insurgency fighting in Malaya. Teaching to 'O' level needs a mix of the academic and the charismatic, and if the two aren't to be found in the same person then they should be present in the mix of the Senior Common Room. And I recall a large degree of collegiality amongst the masters; collegiality and tenure I think were the key to the way in which our teaching staff worked together as a finely honed machine.

Much of Labour's mismanagement of everything comes down to a socialist culture of managerialism, under which everything becomes a 'career' and nowhere is there room for a vocation. The best teachers are not those with double firsts, but those with a genuine vocation, who may even have eschewed careers elsewhere in order to teach.

The future success of all our schools is dependent on wresting interfering micromanagement from the hands of incompetent idiots such as Balls and giving headteachers, and their governing bodies, real independent control over their schools; recruiting teachers whose sense of responsibility towards their charges exceeds their career ambitions, allowing independent external exam boards to determine standards and curricula and giving parents real choice, through a voucher system, of school for their children.

The family, the first of those 'little platoons', is one of the bedrocks of a healthy society; the authority of local institutions, including schools, is another. Both have been grievously injured by Labour. I'm not sure that a 2:1 bar is the answer, but at least it demonstrates that Cameron's thinking is in the right direction.

4 comments:

BrianSJ said...

"thinking in the right direction" is nothing like enough. It is all down to execution. I had rather hoped that giving schools more autonomy meant that there would be no more central edicts of this kind.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Your recipes for improving schools are all fine, but they miss one vital ingredient - discipline.

If teachers are required to have the stamina, standing, and personality of an RSM - but without the sanctions that worthy has at his disposal - then you will never achieve anything.

English Pensioner said...

At grammar school, all our masters had good qualifications (some up to doctorates) from the best universities, but not all could teach and the odd one was hopeless.
My sister only had "A" levels, taught children up to 11 plus standard and was apparently considered to be one of the school's best teachers until bureaucracy made her decide it was time to retire. She just had the knack with children.
You need teaching skills, not formal qualifications.

Mike said...

I had a retired Royal Navy Commander as my maths teacher at school. The irascable Mr Wright was in charge of the remedial class and would visibly recoil if the figure "0" was expressed as anything other than "zero."

We all knew he had our best interests at heart and few left his class without a Grade C at O-level. Twenty five years later I, who scraped a C at my third attempt, regularly surprise my younger colleagues with my grasp of mental arithmatics. They shock me with their ignorance of it.

No doubt Cdr Wright would be hounded out of school for bullying these days. We didn't feel bullied. We felt that we were being educated.

For chemistry we had Fizzy Forsyth, an indoor demolition expert, so-named for his infamous pronouncement before igniting a highly flammable substance "this may give off a slight fizz." Once the smoke had cleared and our ears had stopped ringing we understood that fucking around with hydrogen was not a good idea.

I can't even begin to imagine the look on the faces of the risk assessors when asked to assess Fizzy's classes.

As for English language and literature..... well, Mr Walker's style was distinctly idiosyncratic. Half the fun of going to his lessons was listening to his anecdotes. God alone knows what the authorities would make of his aside to a class of fifteen year olds that his eldest son was conceived on the kitchen table.

That said, the average mark at O-level that his students scored was envied by other teachers. It seems that more than just his stories sank in during class.

I think that, to a man and woman, teaching at my school was very much a vocation and not a career. I don't think they were particularly well paid but I got the distinct impression that they wouldn't have changed jobs for the world.