Michael Gove, the new Education Secretary, has announced that the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) is to be abolished in the autumn, and not a moment too soon.
It has cost a small fortune to run and was never going to be a rallying point for teacher professionalism, and has failed even to act as a guarantor of teacher quality by disciplining us.
When the GTCE was created in 1998, it had so few teachers paying their subscriptions, even under the threat of de-registration, that it had to arrange for salary deductions to cover its expenses. I, like many other teachers, saw no benefit in the extra layer of bureaucracy. All teachers were already registered with the government Department for Education (and its heirs and successors), many were also members of unions and teacher subject groupings (such as the ASE) and felt we were already quite well represented and regulated.
For my own part, I did not pay any subs until salary deductions started, I responded to no letters, and was pleased that when I moved to a Sixth Form college which didn’t require my registration, the GTCE was unable to take any further money. I had a letter saying that I would be de-registered (struck off) if I didn’t pay up, so I was surprised that two years later they wrote again to say I owed them two years’ payments. They couldn’t even get that right.
The GTCE is, and always has been, a complete irrelevance to teachers. When it finally goes, few will notice and none will care.
So what did the GTCE say on hearing the good news? Did they respond by apologising for wasting everyone’s time and money? Promise to do better? No, they said that they were “seeking legal advice on (their) position“.
Parliament will surely vote to abolish the GTCE later in the year, and it can be finally buried, unloved and unmissed, in the graveyard of the Quangos.
In 2006, only two hundred out of ten thousand trainee primary teachers had technical, numerate (STEM) degrees, and this number was half the figure from 2004. It is clear that teacher subject knowledge is a key factor in the success of pupils (e.g. here), but it is also plain that specialists are very rare: out over a hundred Initial Teacher Training courses, nearly half offer an emphasis on a modern foreign language, one offers mathematics and none science.
The Williams Review into primary school Maths teaching recommended in 2008 that much of the current malaise in maths education could be solved if every primary school had at least one teacher with a ‘deep understanding’ of mathematics, so we ought be pleased that the government has announced a program to provide maths ‘specialists’.
But, as with many government solutions, the Maths Specialist Teachers Programme (MaST) is more about appearances than solving the shortage of expertise. In service teachers are to be given three autumn-term days of training at a university, two weekend residential and twelve half-days of in-school support over two years, after which they will be described as Maths Specialist teachers.
I don’t know how long it would take to turn a primary school teacher, with perhaps a Fine Arts or English Literature degree, into an expert Maths teacher, but I’m sure it’s more than the ten days offered in the MaST program.
I am up to my neck in coursework, annual appraisals, parents’ evenings and open days, in one of those months that make up for the long lazy holidays. So it is nice to know that teachers are the least bored workers in the country, according to a three year old survey I just found (note to the TDA – your press releases are not getting much attention!).
While researchers are in sixth place in the boredom stakes and engineers only marginally better in eighth, teachers report the lowest amounts of boredom of all graduate professions.
The full list from the Training & Development Agency for Schools’ Boredom Index:
- Administrative/secretarial (10 out of 10)
- Science research/development
- Human resources
- Teaching (4 out of 10)
The press release adds:
When asked why they find their job interesting, 81 per cent of teachers questioned said it is the challenge of the role, 81 per cent because no two days are the same, and 86 per cent said they enjoy the interaction with people. Sixty-four per cent also rate the opportunity to use their creativity.
Employees surveyed say they are mainly bored because of the lack of challenge in their jobs (61 per cent), whilst not using their skills or their knowledge makes life tedious for 60 per cent. And boredom through doing the same things every day (50 per cent) is also to blame.
You might ask yourself how I found myself browsing through three year old press releases when I’m so busy …
Having resisted all manner of education gimmicks and fashions that have been thrust at me by well meaning college managers, it was refreshing to read the latest piece written by renowned undergraduate textbook writer and educator, David Griffiths. Published in the IoP magazine Physics World, Griffiths reminds us that Physics sells itself to students if presented honestly:
“Physics teachers are fortunate (I am among friends, so I can speak frankly): ours is a subject the relevance and importance of which are beyond question, and which is intrinsically fascinating to anyone whose mind has not been corrupted by bad teaching or poisoned by dogma and superstition. I have never felt the need to “sell” physics, and efforts to do so under the banner “physics is fun” seem to me demeaning. Lay out our wares attractively in the marketplace of ideas and eager buyers will flock to us.
“What we have on offer is nothing less than an explanation of how matter behaves on the most fundamental level. It is a story that is magnificent (by good fortune or divine benevolence), coherent (at least that is the goal), plausible (though far from obvious) and true (that is the most remarkable thing about it). It is imperfect and unfinished (of course), but always improving. It is, moreover, amazingly powerful and extraordinarily useful. Our job is to tell this story – even, if we are lucky, to add a sentence or a paragraph to it. And why not tell it with style and grace?”
He goes on to criticise the gimmickry that is supposed to gain better attention from students. He has this to say about the advent of flash cards and electronic clickers:
“They can be powerfully effective in the hands of an inspired expert like Mazur, but I have seen them reduced to distracting gimmicks by less-capable instructors. What concerns me, however, is the unspoken message reliance on such devices may convey: (1) this stuff is boring; and (2) I cannot rely on you to pay attention. Now, point (2) may be valid, but point (1) is so utterly and perniciously false that one should, in my view, avoid anything that is even remotely open to such an interpretation.”
The point is made that any new approach to teaching will produce measurable improvements, but only because of the enthusiasm of the practitioner. Infectious enthusiasm is most likely the key, and not all teachers have that, so maybe the gadgets help these classes. But I’m not convinced.
Griffiths was known as a great lecturer and scorned such fashions. You can hear one of his lectures here, audio only, though, without the luxury of visuals.