Monday, 13 October 2014

Will 'superteachers' be just like 'superheads'?

David Cameron has written in today's Mail about his great new education policy - 'superteachers'!

He says:

A National Teaching Fellowship will pay the best of the best to work in failing or inadequate schools. I want to see 1,500 of these top teachers signed up and in post by 2020. That means two in every school; every child within reach of first class teaching.

Where to even start with this hugely insulting nonsense? 

The UK has the second best education system in Europe and the sixth best education system in the world according to a recent study. Every child already has access to first class teaching. It's a huge insult to the teaching profession to suggest that they don't.
The fact is that teachers are constantly being told that they are doing it wrong and other people know how to do it better. This is demoralising whether you are a classroom teacher, middle management, or a head. Being ‘offered support’ has come to have a whole new meaning in education circles. People wince when they hear it, knowing that it will usually entail not genuine support, but a constant stream of critique that is undermining and destructive.

And it’s not like we haven’t been here before. Before 'superteachers we had 'superheads'. We had superheads like Richard Gilliland (who employed his son and his daughter and resigned after government auditors uncovered a series of extraordinary purchases including hi-tech gadgets, antiques and sex games), like Jo Shuter (despite being given a CBE and a head teacher of the year award, she was investigated for fraud and struck off the teaching register after using school funds to pay for her own birthday party), and like Sir Alan Davies (knighted for services to education he narrowly avoided jail after pleading guilty to six charges of false accounting).

Do you see where we're going with this?

For the record we don't know any teachers - heads or otherwise - who don't want to get better at what they do. And mentoring and coaching done in a collegiate way can be extremely effective. Sharing and building on good practice is essential to developing and improving education (and incidentally is one of the many things which performance related pay could destroy). 

Superteachers? Thanks for the idea Dave, but it's about time you and other politicians told the truth. This country is already full of superteachers and they are fed up with being denigrated and insulted by you.


  1. Also insulting is the fact that several (many?) of the local authorities that the Tories have destroyed used to do precisely this. The ILEA for example seconded experienced teachers for two years to go into schools to help them where needed. I worked alongside at least three of these in the 1980s. As we know, the Tories destroyed the ILEA.

  2. You generalise misleadingly :

    "Every child already has access to first class teaching. It's a huge insult to the teaching profession to suggest that they don't."

    Maybe there are some 1st class teachers in all schools, but many children have to endure substandard teaching - it remains hard to identify and improve or replace poor teachers.

    Do you not agree with the sentiment that very capable teachers assist schools where the teaching is generally under-performing?

    1. I can attest that in the States, those low-performing schools are almost without exception under-resourced and attended overwhelmingly by students at or below the poverty line. How effective even the BEST teacher is supposed to be in a classroom with unreliable electricity and quite possibly not even enough seats or desks for the 35-42 students in a class is up for debate. I would suspect that teachers rated "ineffective" in such situations would "miraculously" be rated "highly effective" in well-heeled schools populated by wealthier students, while the "highly effective" teachers would find their evaluations much much lower in the poorer and under-resourced schools.

  3. The teaching profession is no better and no worse than the equivalent layers of professionally trained people elsewhere in society. They aren't gods or devils. And they aren't magicians either. They can't do more than is mentally or physically possible in the time allowed. Politicians treat them as if any failure by any pupil is the responsibility of the profession as a whole even as the politicians create a test-crazy, exam-crazy system which builds in failure for the majority as part of its scheme. And again, they have now created a system which is riven through with covert selection and segregation so that when people compare 'good' and 'bad' schools, they may well be comparing unlike with unlike. Meanwhile, the curricula and teaching methods are not laid down by teachers! The whole system has been created by politicians and yet they keep on and on and on blaming teachers for the failures. It's an incredible double bluff…and yet people like NeilM seem to want to buy into at least some of it. Sad, sad, sad.

  4. No Neil, we don't generalise. You do. It is not hard to identify, improve or replace poor teachers. Every year teachers have to undergo performance management where strengths and weaknesses are identified and targets set for the following year, and it has never been easier to remove teachers from post.What it IS difficult to do is to retain fantastic teachers who are incredibly demoralised with the constant criticism piled on the profession - of which this is a part. Already 40% of teachers don't make it past the first five years, and a recent survey by the NUT revealed that 90% of teachers had considered quitting in the last two years. It is people like you, who continue to insist that the standard of teaching in the UK is poor that are damaging teaching. Teachers are constantly striving to be better - to suggest that they aren't and that the profession doesn't constantly look for ways to improve is misleading, inaccurate and insulting.

    1. I apologise if I am generalising. I did not think I was. Your claim was universal - I have anecdotal counter-examples from my sister who teaches here in South Wales and via a school Governor friend in England. From my conversations with these two, it would appear that poorly performing teachers tend to persist and are indeed hard to replace. I may be misinformed.

      I am entirely in agreement with the general consensus that teachers are overloaded and the best are often driven out by such, along with political sleights. And that teachers are constantly trying to improve.

    2. But anecdotes do not equal evidence.

    3. They can do, hence the term 'anecdotal evidence'.

      But my original point is lost - I was trying to say, and evidently clumsily, that you are in danger of undermining the credibility of your message by stating that all children have access to 1st class education. You cannot prove that, so it is dangerous to assume it.

      I am in line with your motives - I was merely trying to point out the danger in generalisations - and I used one, I see now, in stating that many children suffer with poor teachers. My sister works around 55 hours each week, and I am only too aware - again via anecdote - of the precise nature of the types of paperwork that she has to undertake that exhausts her, detracting from her teaching.

  5. Thanks for your comment Michael. I overtly try to avoid buying into political rhetoric, so maybe I miss the point here. I simply pointed out, as you reinforced, that teaching will always have a mix of abilities - not first class across the board, as the article tried to make out. For teachers recognised to be high performing to go into schools known to have troubles and try to help out is not aligning myself with political agendas. At least I did not think so.

    I agree that many of the troubles are a direct consequence of political measures, not least the draconian focus on testing and measuring along with excess bureaucracy, but poor teachers outside of these factors can benefit from the help of other teachers. It is part of the collaborative nature of teaching.

    Not sure what I am missing here, but am happy to learn from my misunderstandings.