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Respect for teachers

The following cartoon I think sums up the state of education in the UK at the moment.

Teacher Christmas wish

There are 2 issues identified here, one is the state of funding, which is widely recognised across the state funded sector as having gone down in real terms in recent years (despite the Government pretending that it has gone up!), but the issue I want to mention here, is the general lack of respect for teachers.

Education has always struggled with its position in society in terms of is it professional or non-professional? For someone to teach in a school, they should have passed through the respected rigour of a degree and a post graduate education course or equivalent, and as such they are and should be seen as professional. In FE it is less clear, but all people teaching should be adequately trained, and even if not should be professional in their behaviour, conduct and attitude, so again this should be straight forward.

However (and this is a big however), education itself is very good at behaving professionally when it suits them, but then behaving non-professionally when it suits them. For example if a member of staff is performing badly, and isn’t capable of doing their job properly (and young peoples’ futures are being damaged by this poor performance), then that teacher ought to be supported, given additional training, but if they are still not performing, then the professional thing to do would be to remove them, but in many cases the managers take the unprofessional approach of keeping them on, and ignoring the problem, or worse still promoting them out of the way.

Then to add to this, there are numerous Government driven agendas to standardise and in theory improve education, when really when unpicked they boil down to a lack of trust and respect for the teachers and head teachers, to do what is right, and the damage that this has, is it drives many good teachers out of the classroom, it increases the workloads of the remaining teachers, and ultimately weakens the education our younger generations need and deserve.

I cannot offer any magic solutions to this problem, some of it is rooted historically, and some is too heavily politicised to change – but as an individual, and as a parent, I have a lot of respect for teachers, as I know that teachers will be working flat out until the end of term, and many will be working over the Christmas break with marking, preparation, and many other things – when really a true profession would allow them the time off that they need and deserve to do their jobs effectively.

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4 Responses

  1. You have raised a key issue here, Dave. Three years ago I led a seminar on “Professionalism in Further/Adult Education Teaching in England” for teaching students at the Technical University in Darmstadt in Germany. I started the seminar with a six-point description of what I believed professionalism means:

    1. Having a recognised qualification
    2. Being a member of a recognised occupational body
    3. Working to an accepted standard and code of conduct
    4. Engaging in continuing professional development (CPD)
    5. Receiving reasonably high remuneration
    6. Being trusted to do one’s job

    It is interesting that your post refers to all of these points. (Although you did not specifically mention remuneration, pay is closely tied to funding, to which you did refer). And I would say that in each of these six areas we have seen a significant decline, and therefore a reduction in professionalism, over the last seven to ten years. (In my Darmstadt seminar I analysed a variety of factors to show that the situation had deteriorated between 2009 and 2014.)

    I guess you’re right that there is no magic solution, but I remain of the view that one way forward now would be to for teachers themselves to get together and set up subject-related ‘guilds’ that could work across institutions to set and maintain standards relating to the first four of the above factors. Such guilds might even, in the longer term, lead to better remuneration and better levels of trust. At one time it looked as if the Institute for Learning might fulfil this sort of role, but that was seen off by a combination of government austerity cuts and the ‘turf war’ between UCU and IfL. If there is to be a solution in the future, I believe it will have to be bottom-up (e.g. self-organisation into ‘guilds’) rather than top down (e.g. the failed attempt to get all FE lecturers to join IfL).

  2. As always an excellent reply from you Terry. I hadn’t seen your list of 6 points before.

    I definitely agree with points 3, 4 and 6. Point 5 – shouldn’t be ‘receiving high remuneration’ but ‘being good enough to receive high remuneration’, as it is possible to be professional but unpaid. When I worked as a youth worker, I was paid (although unqualified), my boss was qualified and paid, but I had many volunteers working with me, without whom I couldn’t run my projects. Even though they were unpaid and I was unqualified – we still worked professionally. In main stream education, not many people work voluntarily (but there are some – who shouldn’t be excluded), and I think we can accept that the qualification is required for professionalism in teaching.

    The point that I do disagree with is the membership of an occupational body. I pride myself on my professionalism, yet I don’t feel the need to be part of such a body. I was forced into being part of IfL in its day, which proved to be the biggest waste of time, money and focus for everyone involved (and long-term did far more damage than good to FE education), and I am aware that teachers are not huge fans of their occupational bodies, which are seen as mechanisms to beat them when they err, rather than support them the rest of the time when they do well.

    I wonder if a ground up approach would ever take traction?

  3. Thanks for your feedback, Dave. I wonder if I made the mistake of trying to put too many eggs into one basket in my earlier comment:-)

    You are right, of course, that it is quite possible to be professional yet unpaid. These days I am a volunteer walk leader for my local council’s healthy walking scheme, and I certainly like to think that I approach the responsibility of this role just as professionally as I did in my paid work before I retired. On the other hand, though, it is very difficult to make teachers think of themselves as valued professionals when their pay has been cut in real terms by over 20% in the last nine years, and when the terms and conditions of their employment have been made ever more tenuous. You mention the idea of “being good enough to receive high remuneration”, so what message can we expect teachers to take from the fact that the government seems to regard them as “being bad enough to deserve a 20% pay cut”?

    I also agree with your reservations about how the IfL, and in particular the GTC, worked out in practice – before they were killed off. I am not sure, to answer your final point, what traction there might realistically be at the moment in my idea of bottom-up guilds, but teachers certainly need mutual support and recognition if they are to flourish. And I think they get less and less of this from their institutions, as the relationship between institution and teacher becomes increasingly casualised (part-time, short-term, zero hours etc.) and increasingly based on mutual utility rather than loyalty. Most people doing any valuable job need to have some sense of belonging, and I believe that, for reasons implied already, we have moved beyond the point at which either the teaching institution or a nationally imposed professional body can provide this sense of belonging. So surely some form of inter-institutional peer support and validation is vital if morale and effectiveness are to be maximised. This seems to be taken for granted in most other professional areas, from the British Wheel of Yoga to the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects).

  4. I totally agree that the Government’s failure to pay teachers a proper wage (especially in FE) is not going to help with any notions of professionalism. I see regular job adverts for different levels of jobs within Colleges and Universities, and wonder what quality of person they are expecting to attract with salaries as they are – and how can the profession be professional with an undervalued workforce.

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