Tag Archives: unqualified teachers

Fads Army

One of the things to which I’m looking forward this year is Dad’s Army. Toby Jones as Cpt Mainwaring – aka Mr Bump(tious) – will, I hope, help to fill the space left by The Detectorists although his, surprisingly, is not the character to whom I’m most frequently likened. That dubious honour goes to Pvt Frazer, Walmington-on-Sea’s own memento mori, because looking on the dim side’s a hard habit to break. If you hear someone intoning “You see? YOU SEE?”, as Cassandra’s unheeded predictions of carnage are realised, it’s probably me. The template for my default facial expression was set by Munch. I have a hitherto unadmitted soft spot for The Audience’s ‘A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed’ – a title that is now the motto on my fantasy coat of arms (gules a chevron sable between three Eeyores rampant). So, with 2016 having, just about, emerged from its drunken New Year fug, now is the time to look through the bottom of a one-tenth-empty glass at what else it threatens.

First up is the possibility that more erstwhile acquaintances will receive Honours from ministers hiding in Big Lizzie’s skirt pleats. This is neither idle boast, nor daydream: only last year, a former colleague, who has spent more syllables than sense propping up the academisation programme, was ennobled for her efforts. A quick glance down the latest list of recipients reveals a disproportionate number of similar pedigree being ushered through the door marked ‘For Services To Education’, which looks not at all like the one whose plaque reads ‘For Services To Ideology/Party Coffers/ My Bank Balance’. Yes, Mr Cameron, rewarding their complicity altruism asserts – again – academies’ inherent superiority; but, when you’re considering a private education for your son, are you sure that’s wise, sir?

Next, the new Year 6 Maths tests, which will focus specifically on multiplication tables. As we know, prescriptivism is often inversely proportional to potential rigour: mark schemes, for instance, tend to be carved into stone tablets when those with little subject or teaching knowledge – and, by the by, attractively low price tags – are contracted to adjudicate on others’ exam performance. The evident assumption underlying the tests is that primary school staff do not, or cannot be trusted to, check understanding of basic concepts. And so it may be, if they have been delivered by a redeployed passer-by (“Vacancy…Milkman? Never mind.. .Aaand…Action!”), paid on the ‘unqualified’ scale, trained to follow another’s script and summarily hurled in front of a class. All those minutely detailed lesson plans, uploaded at 23.59 every Sunday by teachers “for monitoring”, were petards by which staff retention was hoist.

Retention? Ah yes…I knew the word many years ago though, if it were to walk into the DfE now, it would almost certainly find itself being eyeballed like a Hun in a seaside town. Thanks to an increasingly unsustainable work-capability balance, supported by impossible targets and predetermined judgements, educators are jumping off every rung of the ladder and running for the exit like fugitives from mustard gas. Until recently, this may not have been an especially pressing cause for concern: a reasonable supply of student teachers, treated more as the latter than the former from the off, seemed guaranteed by the proliferation of on-the-job training routes. However, with many ITT providers failing to recruit in sufficient numbers (including the highly publicised but little-bothered-with Troops to Teachers scheme) we may yet be subjected to more emetic advertising campaigns starring future Dames and Sirs.

Still, every cloud has a colourful lining, even if it does consist largely of carcinogens: just think of the savings to be made. And so, to a final enticing prospect, as Nicky Morgan urges the STRB to endorse salary scale demotion. Already a reality for job-changers, thanks to the abolition of pay portability, this development would enable head teachers to cut, unilaterally and unaccountably, the salaries of existing staff – something that will, I suspect, become not uncommon, what with one person’s misery-monger being another’s soothsayer. A number of schools have even tried to convince retired ex-staff that teaching for no remuneration at all, under the guise of volunteering, may be a viable way to spend their twilight years: “Unpaid? Goodness, no; we call it ‘funpaid’ here.” Thankfully, responses so far have tended towards the sort that they really wouldn’t like up ‘em.

As education policy is driven almost entirely by the kind of cutbacks the Grim Reaper might undertake if paid by results, I have an idea. Let’s do away with salaries altogether and remodel teaching as a form of compulsory National Service. No more expensive recruitment campaigns or worries about teacher shortages. Less of that pesky red tape and workforce arsiness. Yes, staff would be unqualified, but don’t panic about that: it’s a difference of degree rather than of kind these days. Best of all, imagine the hours that could be spent playing with martial imagery. Oh, you’ve done that already.

My only concern is that it might never happen, so let’s suggest it to Nick Gibb who, I’m sure, will love the idea. Stupid boy.




Teach When?

Here’s a thing. Two university graduates I know have just been offered places on PGCE courses. They researched current educational issues; prepared presentations; discussed the effectiveness of teaching they’d observed, and took part in literacy tests, numeracy tests and on-the-spot analyses of recorded lessons. Good. When I applied for the same course at one of the country’s most reputable institutions, I only needed to know when chucking-out time was at the local sink school to be accepted. Neither applicant was eligible for the £20,000 bursary being dangled in front of graduate noses by the TDA, and a fine job it is too. They might become accustomed to earning that much.

Education policy can be a little like one of those magic-eye images that were all the rage a couple of decades ago. You remember them? You squinted at a canvas that looked like it had been spattered with cubist vomit, and if you did so for long enough, an arcing dolphin or a leaping gazelle emerged from the spew. I was crap at decoding magic-eye pictures: boss-eyed for an eternity, I’d have only the mother of all migraines to show for my efforts. With current policy, however, the latent picture is often so clear that a) I don’t need to make like there’s a bee on the end of my nose to see what’s going on and, so, b) it’s not…um…that latent. The barfing artist is plain to see.

However you assemble the mosaic pieces – abolishing national pay scales, favouring in-school training routes (Troops to Teachers, Teach First, Schools Direct) over college-based courses, or academies being able to employ any old cubist as a teacher – the picture seems to be the same: a few, handsomely-paid management positions for fast-track People Like Us; and the cheapest possible body of teaching staff, preferably payable on the unqualified scale and replaceable as soon as they become anything close to expensive, sassily knowledgeable or harder to manipulate. As these labels are acquired pretty quickly, the unacknowledged employment crisis among qualified teachers may be about to get a whole lot worse.

Once upon a time, experience made you employable: you were worth paying for because you’d learned how to do a difficult job well. Then, in the eyes of headteachers, it made you expensive, even though you’d be shortlisted for interviews so that the schools appeared to be complying with equal ops legislation. On the sly, ‘highly experienced’ was redefined to mean ‘survived the first year’ and the jobs were offered to cheap candidates. With schools simply looking for the lowest-cost appointments possible, even shortlisting doesn’t happen now. It would seem that only the newly qualified haven’t priced themselves out of the market. Until now.

Over the past fifteen months, I’ve come across scores of teachers who qualified last year and, having yet to secure jobs, are tiding themselves over with scraps of supply work. Many left successful careers in other fields to retrain, having been led to believe that employment as a teacher would be enjoyable, fulfilling and…likely. I know that my window of employability was banged shut some time ago; and, with first-year teachers now being regarded, in some schools, as legitimate appointees to Head of Department posts, so be it. (Here, at least, the ad campaigns are correct: you can expect to become a manager more quickly than in other professions.) However, not only is the class of 2011 competing with this year’s PGCE graduates; it’s also up against the financial allure of unqualified trainees and, as of next academic year, former soldiers taking on substantial ‘training’ timetables for the princely sum of £15,000 a year. That’s about £12,000 less than a newly-qualified teacher in London commands.

Let’s hope that I’m wrong, and that those embarking on PGCEs find a buoyant employment market, with long-term prospects and decent pensions, awaiting them when they graduate. Let’s hope that the seemingly ingrained habits of headteachers, to prioritise ‘cheap’ over ‘effective’ (or to see the two as synonymous), are broken and that the balance between new blood and experience is restored. Because, with the rise of in-house cover supervisors, payable on the support staff scale, the supply market has dried up and the only way to secure employment may be to offer your services for bottom dollar in a brave and unregulated new world: one in which local pay bargaining is introduced (even though we already have regional salary scales); and in which headteachers are given the freedom to offer higher salaries to recruit the best staff (even though they already possess – rarely exercised – discretionary powers for exactly this purpose). What heads will not have enjoyed until now is the right to ignore the salaries a national scale guarantees. So, will we see the situation posited by policy wonks, in which sought-after teachers shop around in search of the most lucrative deal? Or will teachers be pitted against one other, to undercut their competitors’ salary expectations?

“Work a seventy-hour week for effing buttons”. There’s a slogan you don’t see on the TDA posters which, as ever, testify to a  governmental obsession with incentivising recruitment. Retention, meanwhile, has been carted away in a wooden box.