More attention should be paid to the recruitment, training and diversity of teachers, and the much-publicised Academies are not as seen to be as successful as they may first appear, a report by YouGov’s Public Sector Consulting team has found.
The report provides an insight into the current state of education in the UK and considers what it should look like in the future, and comes as the new Liberal Democrat-Conservative government has outlined its education policies. Most controversially, concessions to ‘academy style freedoms’ are to be introduced, with parents, teachers and charities being allowed to set up schools, which would increase their freedom about the curricula they teach. Other policies include a return to ‘old fashioned discipline’, and recognition for the international, Cambridge-based qualification, the IGCSE. But it seems teachers feel more focus needs to be placed on teacher recruitment and teaching standards, as opposed to the overarching structure of a school.
Suited to the job?
Of the 685 teachers surveyed, the majority (60%) feels that most people who enter the teaching profession are well-suited to the job, but a sizeable 30% feel that this is not the case. It was felt that teachers need to be more ethnically diverse, in order to reflect the ethnic makeup of their pupils, and redress the gender imbalance that has resulted from the prevailing idea that teaching is a ‘women’s profession’, more often seen in state schools than in their independent counterparts. The added perception that men working with children may attract more suspicion or accusations of inappropriate behaviour was also flagged as needing to be addressed. When we invited a selected group of senior figures from the education sector, including a current government MP, they claimed that increased recruitment should start with the direction of more resources into attracting suitable undergraduates, who are currently more likely to go into academia or sixth-form lecturing than they are secondary teaching.
But having said this, teachers do not need to be overly-academically minded to be successful, the panel believe. While teachers of specialist subjects like History will need a good undergraduate degree in the subject, a non-specialist role will not need to be so stringent. In fact, the panel agree that although “there is an equation of academic excellence with the ability to teach well...(highly qualified graduates) can struggle with the basics.” Instead, good quality training should be emphasised, especially as the ‘vast majority’ of entrants to PGCE courses hold a 2.2 degree or higher anyway.
Quality of teaching paramount
In fact, the quality of teaching above all other factors was held up as the main building block towards successful education. The setting up of schools by parents and charities is broadly unpopular, with 60% saying this was a bad idea compared to only 27% who support it. Equally, the perceived advantages of Academies, introduced under Labour and widely touted as a successful means through which to give parents more freedom and turn around failing schools, are described as largely over-emphasised.
While the ability of some Academies to work collaboratively with local schools was praised, 47% feel that their introduction has been overall a negative development, compared to only nine percent who feel it has been positive. It is felt that the investment required to set up such schools isn’t sustainable in general, and that the ‘success’ many boast via ‘improved GSCE pass results’ is actually due to their focus on ‘easier’, ‘less academic’ subjects, such as BTECs, and that their increased freedom to select pupils and choose excursions, and their often middle-class focus on children with interested and articulate parents, in comparison to those of other state schools, means that often their ‘success’ does not constitute genuine improvement. The freedom afforded to the curriculum and to the examinations taken (such as the International Baccalaureate) by Academies is seen as a positive idea which could work in schools generally, but the structure of schools and the extent of government interference are seen as less important than the quality of the teaching given within them. The panel agree that “nothing else matters”.