Heading to Mediocrity for the Many

Adnan Al-Daini

Would Einstein and Newton have made good teachers of physics and mathematics in a school? I very much doubt it.  Being an expert in a particular subject does not necessarily mean you are able to teach it to a class of teenagers; obvious really, but not to Britain’s Education Secretary apparently.

The decision by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, that Academies - semi-independent state schools that receive funding directly from the government rather than through a local authority - can appoint teachers without formal teaching qualifications - “qualified teacher status” (QTS) - was characterized by the Department of Education as no big deal, and that most teachers will continue to have QTS qualifications.  

But how long will this remain the case?  Presumably, the Education Secretary believes that formal teaching qualifications make no difference to the quality of teaching in the classroom. That being the case why, then, should anyone bother with it in the future?

Academies currently form the majority of secondary schools in England, and with this change the number of qualified teachers will surely dwindle, and before long the majority will be unqualified.  School governing bodies and heads will come under increasing pressure to appoint unqualified teachers to save money.

Professional engineers, scientists, mathematicians and linguists are not exactly queuing up to join the teaching profession; applicants will be from the pool of graduates unable to find a job immediately after graduation in the current economic depression. They will use teaching as a stopgap until they find the job they want.  Schools will end up being staffed by people who have no real desire or ability to teach, and will leave as soon as they are able.  The resulting disruption can only be bad for teaching and pupil behaviour in the school.

Training as a teacher, at least, shows a commitment to the profession. What about the dynamics in the staffroom?  The qualified group will feel resentment at the trashing of their qualification, and the unqualified group will feel aggrieved that they are being paid less for doing the same job.  

Having taught mathematics in a comprehensive school in the early seventies, I found the collaboration, the sharing of teaching material, and the support teachers gave one another invaluable in doing a very demanding job. Antagonism between the two groups will destroy all of that. 

Breaking the power of the teaching unions, and fragmenting education is the likely reason behind this move.  It will smooth the way to outsourcing chunks of education provision to the private sector.  Slowly but surely the education of the many will become disjointed, where responsibility and accountability become harder to pin on politicians to the detriment of the education of the many.

Our education system is underperforming as evidenced by the 2009 PISA tests[.pdf] (OECD Programme for International Study Assessment) in which 65 countries were assessed. UK scored 25th in reading, 28th in mathematics, and 15th in science.  The corresponding scores for the US are: 17th, 31st and 23rd. Contrast these with Finland’s scores of 3rd, 6th and 2nd respectively.  Finland has performed consistently well in these tests over the years to become one of the leading nations educationally in the world.

How did Finland transform an underperforming education system in the seventies to one of the best?  First they raised the professionalism of teachers, and now every teacher has to have a masters degree in education (covering developmental psychology, classroom management and subject didactics) as a minimum, and they have a rigorous selection process with only the best candidates selected. They have made teaching a prestigious profession for children to aspire to, on a par with doctors, scientists and lawyers.

Another feature of the Finnish system is that teachers are rarely evaluated, and formal testing of children is reduced to one mandatory examination at the age of 17-19.  They trust their highly professional teachers to do a good job. Harvard Professor Tony Wagner explains:

“Their motto is “Trust Through Professionalism.” The difference between the highest performing school in Finland and the lowest performing school in Finland is less than four percent, and that’s without any testing at all”.

The emphasis successive governments, Labour and Conservative, have placed on testing of children and inspection regimes in schools has done nothing to improve standards.  It has lowered the morale of our teachers, and has raised the levels of stress and anxiety of our children.   

This wheeze[*] by the education secretary is taking teaching in the opposite direction.  It will almost certainly lead to a lowering of standards, with our comparative performance slipping even further down the league tables.

[*] wheeze - Brit slang: a trick, idea, or plan (esp in the phrase 'good wheeze') 

Dr Adnan Al-Daini took early retirement in 2005 as a principal lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at a British University. His PhD in Mechanical Engineering is from Birmingham University, UK. He has published numerous applied scientific research papers covering heat transfer, fluid flow and energy utilization in many industrial applications. He is a British citizen born in Iraq. Since retirement he has devoted his time and energy to building bridges and understanding between minority communities, particularly the Muslim community and the wider community in the South West of England. He was Chair of Devon Racial Equality Council between 2007/8. Adnan is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post.

Drawing: George Cruikshank (© N/A) (Google samples) - One of the greatest illustrators of his time, Cruikshank came from a family of artists. Dickens met Cruikshank through John Macrone, publisher for successful writer William Harrison Ainsworth, Macrone suggested that Dickens' sketches should be put together in a book, illustrated by Cruikshank. The result was Sketches by Boz published in 1836. Cruikshank would later illustrate Dickens' Oliver Twist and was an actor in some of the plays done by Dickens' amateur company. (More info here) Photo: masterclasstuition.com. URL: http://www.a-w-i-p.com/index.php/2012/08/06/heading-to-mediocrity-for-the-many


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