Man walks into a column, no.26: Teachers

Let’s talk about teachers. I’m married to one. I mention this not to demonstrate any privileged insight, but in the interests of ‘full disclosure’ (a silly phrase if ever there was one: I’m not ‘fully’ disclosing at all, because I’m also friends with many teachers, had a generally good experience of being taught etc. etc.).

I’m particularly interested in discussing Michael Gove’s recent comments about teachers. Gove was first reported in the Independent on Sunday as having written to headteachers asking them to use the ‘wider school community’ to help keep schools open during tomorrow’s strike which, when asked by the BBC, he agreed should include parents ‘going in to help’.

Leaving aside the arguments against encouraging strike-breaking as a matter of principle, about CRB checks and the complex debate about public sector pensions, I think these comments display the most appalling lack of respect on behalf of the Coalition for the teaching profession. Ministers will, at the drop of a hat, trot out bland statements about the formative impact that their own teachers had on them, and how they think teachers are doing a wonderful job, but it’s only really in the white heat of confrontation that a politician’s true opinion seeps out, as here.

Can you imagine a minister suggesting that users of any other service take – even for a day – the place of a public service professional? Not doctors or nurses, for sure, but then again not bin men or postal workers, either. What is it about teaching that makes Gove think completely untrained members of the public could step in? In the course of conversation a colleague said ‘well I guess there’s the babysitting aspect’, which probably gets to the heart of it: the inference being that if you can raise a child, you can control a class of children. A class of hormonal, rebellious, disinterested, prickly, feisty children, who are treating the strike as a day off. Right.

But that’s what I think, what do the rest of the public think? There’s been widespread suspicion that Gove is simply playing to the gallery, but that assumes that there’s a chunk of voters out there who think teaching is such a sub-standard profession that any bugger can do it, given the chance. Does the vast majority essentially, when it comes down to it, still cleave to the idea that ‘those who can’t, teach’?

It isn’t as easy to tell as I thought it might be. There’s obviously the recent Ipsos MORI survey results which suggest that teachers are the second most trusted profession in the UK (81% of those surveyed said they trusted teachers to tell the truth, with only doctors scoring higher, at 88%). And then there’s been the reaction of parents themselves to MG’s statements – I’m not sure how representative it is, but the stream of vitriol and amazement on Mumsnet is wonderful. But apart from that I couldn’t find any recent data about public attitudes towards teachers (if someone out there can point me in the right direction that would be fab).

The only vaguely relevant research I came across was this Department for Education funded study from 2003 (PDF), which included a public opinion poll, but focused pretty heavily on people’s views of teaching as a career choice (the research was funded to help understand pre-recession low levels of entrance). The findings from the poll show that, in 2003 at least, the public was split down the middle, with half saying that teaching was an attractive career, the other half disagreeing with this statement. The reason most frequently given by those who didn’t fancy teaching? Having to control a class. Fat chance then, Govey.

Anyway, look at how disciplined I’ve been in leaving this to the end of the post and not making too much of a song and dance about it: I’ve reached the halfway point in Phil’s Big Blogging Challenge 2011! I realise that for those of you who post on a daily basis a consistent weekly column probably isn’t that impressive, but for me it represents a significant increase in my blogging ‘work rate’ and I’m pleased to have made it to the halfway point. Just… 26 more… to go. And can I just sign off by saying how thoroughly pleased I am to see Rich back and blogging again with a vengeance? Brilliant.

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2 thoughts on “Man walks into a column, no.26: Teachers”

  1. Excellent post, Phil. I’d had a similar reaction to you: can you imagine a Minister suggesting that members of the public take the place of social workers for the day?! (In the interests of full disclosure, I should also highlight that I’m married to a teacher.)

    Thanks also for your kind words at the end!

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