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Michael Gove defending teachers from their unions

By Harry Phibbs
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Last week Michael Gove gave a speech which, among other things, differentiated between opposing trade union leaders and trade union members.

In another speech this morning he praised teachers while attacking the teaching unions.

Mr Gove told his audience at Policy Exchange:

It is because the teaching profession is so crucial that our programme of education reform has been designed to empower teachers; to give them more freedom, more power and more prestige.

Indeed he presented the case that it was the teaching unions who were the ones insulting their own profession.

There were four attacks on the profession:

The first attack holds that teaching is a depressing and demotivating activity - and that the profession is suffering reputational decline.

The second attack is a denial that teaching can make any real difference.

The third attack is the sidelining of the teacher from the activity of learning.

And the fourth attack comes from those who believe teachers can't be trusted – that they need outsiders at every turn to monitor, police and approve their activities.

So far as the first attack on the profession is concerned, Mr Gove responded, that the freedom to innovate had never been greater. In an echo of Harold Macmillan, that "there's never been a better time to be a teacher."

He added:

Teaching has a far better retention rate than many other careers for highly-qualified people. Overall, teachers are only half as likely to leave their chosen profession as graduates in popular non-teaching roles (44 per cent of graduates in non-teaching roles switched career within their first 3.5 years, compared to just 21 per cent of teachers).

The numbers who would recommend the profession are up.

98 per cent of school leaders surveyed by the National College for Teaching and Leadership this year say that overall “it’s a great job”; and 91 per cent say they would “recommend their job to other staff”.

The numbers who think that the profession is rewarding are up.

The Teaching Agency’s annual survey of final year undergraduates at leading universities found that 86 per cent thought that teaching is a rewarding career; 66 per cent think teaching involves “demanding work that has real status and kudos”; 61 per cent think teaching is a “great career option for the long term”. When asked to choose an adjective that best described a teaching career, the largest number of respondents said “rewarding”.

Last year’s survey found that 71 per cent of undergraduates thought the image of teaching was improving, while 72 per cent thought their friends and family would react positively to them becoming a teacher – up 6 per cent since 2010.

The numbers of highly qualified people entering teaching are up.

More than seven out of ten new teachers now have a first or upper-second class degree, the highest proportion ever recorded and an increase of 9 percentage points since 2010/11. Teach First has moved up to 3rd place in the rankings of the Times “Top 100 Employers 2013”, its highest ever position; 1st place in High Fliers research of 100 major graduate recruiters.

According to the OECD, teachers in England are comparatively well-paid – with annual salaries in England higher than the OECD average, and higher than those in progressive Scandinavian nations such as Finland, Norway or Sweden.

Teachers in England already progress up the pay scales twice as quickly as the OECD average, and our reforms to pay progression will mean that, from this year, the best teachers will have the opportunity to access greater rewards even earlier in their careers.

And school leaders are now free to reward their best teachers more than ever before – with more autonomy to attract, retain and reward those teachers who have the greatest impact on their pupils' performance.

And research from March this year found that 69 per cent of career changers thought that teaching was a career for them to consider, a rise of 5 per cent in just 4 months; 71 per cent of students felt that teaching was a career for them to consider, a rise of 10 per cent in just 4 months.

There was a further intriguing point:

More classroom teachers than ever before are being honoured for their work – in the 2013 honours alone, Ann Hambly of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Ashbourne; Paul Hughes of Queensbury Upper School, Bedfordshire; Peter Latham, a former PE teacher from Otley, West Yorkshire; Maggie Morgan from St Paul’s Nursery and Primary School, Brighton and Hove; Linda Wainwright from Slade Green Infants School.

In fact, around 10 per cent of all 2013 honours were awarded to people from the world of education.

How curious that the agitprop brigade in the NUT have not welcomed this.

Then there was the second attack on teaching - that it can't make a difference - against it is the teaching unions pushing the defeatist notion that "socio-economic circumstances of children determine their fate far more than the level of academic expectations at school or the quality of teaching." Yet there are plenty of schools that his disproved this.

The third attack on teaching is this "progressive" idea that children instead be left to work things out for themselves:

Ideologues, however, have long argued against phonics and direct instruction, claiming instead that children should be allowed to discover letters and words for themselves. This mindset – which holds that direct instruction (what you and I would call teaching) is harmful to children’s creativity and curiosity – is not new.

From the Hadow Report of 1933, which stated that “the child should begin to learn the three Rs when he wants to do so”; to the Plowden Report of 1967, which declared that the “skills of reading and writing…can best be taught when the need for them is evident to children” and the Bullock Report of 1975, stating that “we do not suggest that children of any age should be subjected to a rigorous and systematic training programme”…the educational establishment has conspired against teachers.

Again and again, in this country and abroad, educational thinkers who call themselves progressive but who are anything but have converged on the belief that the importance of teaching should be downgraded.

These theorists have consistently argued for ways of organising classrooms and classroom activity which reduce the teacher’s central role in education.

The fourth attack on teaching "the belief that teachers need others to validate the work they do - whether those others are university academics, or inspectors, or examiners - who have never been teachers." For example teacher training:

The evidence shows the best teacher training is led by teachers; that the skills which define great teaching – managing behaviour, constructing compelling narratives, asking the right questions, setting appropriate tasks – are best learnt from great teachers; that the classroom is the best place for teachers to learn as well as to teach.

It is not Mr Gove who favours "educationalists" trumping teachers in that area.

This is a powerful speech. It is not Mr Gove who is undermining teachers. Most prominent among the culprits are their own unions.


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