Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Meaning well isn't good enough on education

I spent part of yesterday morning listening to Michael Gove outline the latest Conservative policy on teacher training. Luckily, my morning cup of tea was drained, otherwise I might well have spluttered most of it over the eiderdown.

In one sense, I see nothing wrong with the notion that teachers should be selected from the best candidates available, and that to aspire to the ideal that all teachers will have, at least, a 2:2 degree is fairly laudable. However, the idea that young people with good degrees are going to flock to the classroom because Conservative Party policy will make teaching easier, despite the relatively low salaries and societal lack of respect, demonstrates a worrying degree of either myopia or naivety.

The teaching profession is made up of, for the most part, the best of those that apply. Many of them are devoted to their charges, some do it because they couldn't think of anything else to do, others were probably never good enough but aren't bad enough to sack - just like most professions. There are even those who went into teaching for entirely altruistic reasons.

And that appears to be what Michael Gove is expecting. He compared salaries in other European countries (and South Korea) for good measure, noting that teachers in Finland or Germany get paid at the same level as teachers here. And whilst I suspect that the collapse in the value of sterling relative to the Euro hasn't helped those numbers, what I suspect he hasn't factored in is the level of salary relative to the wider national income distribution.

At the moment, I presume that recruitment into the teaching profession is relatively buoyant. In a recession, jobs that are perceived to be 'safe' are at a premium. However, as the economy improves, that will change, and it will become more difficult to recruit and retain teachers.

You see, it's a free market out there, one with a workforce less prone to seeking a career in one organisation, where aspirations are higher. Potential employees are likely to compare and contrast packages of salaries and benefits, and when you can earn £60,000, £100,000 and even more in the financial sector, with its impact on your prospects for housing - even now, a teacher's salary won't buy much in London - why teach?

Trust me, the answer isn't going to be "because Michael Gove asked nicely"... 

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