I’ve been reading the paper “More Good Teachers” by Policy Exchange which seems to be guiding a lot of the government’s thinking about teacher recruitment recently (http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/publications/publication.cgi?id=80). It’s certainly got a lot of good ideas. The fundamental premise is that rather than seeking to dramatically raise the status of teaching to that of surgeons and GPs we should look to changing it into a profession which people can move in and out of throughout their careers. This runs counter to the opinions of those who frequently recount anecdotes about doctors in Finland explaining their career choice by the fact that they didn’t do well enough at school to be teachers. Yet the article appears to present the choice as a stark “either/or”. I would agree that there is still a problem (despite the best attempts of Teachfirst) with training to be a teacher still being seen as a choice for life. I’m sure also that this plays a role in stopping many people from considering it as an option. On top of that I agree that people moving in and out of the profession bring great value with them. Nonetheless, I don’t think we should neglect the value of long term career teachers. Quality of teaching certainly isn’t proportional to years of experience and lengthy service clearly doesn’t always make for outstanding teaching. However, where teachers are committed to professional development and fully supported, great teaching can be the result. Sadly, in practice, this is often not the case. Even so, there are other reasons for wanting to maintain an element of continuity in the mix of teachers within a school.
Firstly, long term teachers are more likely to have experienced a range of different schools and as a result they will be able to contribute to the exchange of ideas and insights. Secondly, their long term reputation often makes for a particular type of relationship with pupils. Even a weaker teacher’s history of having taught someone’s brother, cousin or even parent can be incredibly useful for a school dealing with challenging pupils and their families. Thirdly, where it is properly channelled, the gravitas that length of service often brings can be the perfect symbiotic partner to the freshness of one of the ultra-mobile teachers recommended by “More Good Teachers”.
“More Good Teachers” should be welcomed for its fresh and perhaps irreverent look at teacher recruitment but its recommendations are best interpreted as advocating a move along a continuum rather than an absolute change.
Perhaps most importantly, it gave me a good giggle when I realised that Kerry Jordan-Daus (head of Canterbury Christchurch GRTP program) wasn’t joking when she told me about the appallingly named proposal for a “Teach Last” program!