Gazette Article 3: “Will we really be getting the best?”

Article 3Published in the Brentwood Gazette – 21st November 2012

Why change tests when teachers don’t have to be qualified?

Teaching features regularly in the ever-changing list of future vocations that my children tell me they wish to pursue. I have a high regard for the profession and the dedication of the vast majority of those within it but given apparent current attitudes I am concerned how the job will be perceived when they grow up.

You may have seen last month that the government announced that skills tests for prospective teachers were to be revised.

Tests in mathematics, English and “reasoning” are to be taken by those wishing to become teachers before being allowed to embark on a course. They intend, to use our Education Secretary’s favourite phrase, to be more “rigorous” than they are currently.

In announcing the policy Mr Gove said, “these changes will mean that parents can be confident that we have the best teachers coming into our classrooms.”

But do we have that guarantee in Brentwood?

In the summer it was announced that schools with Academy status could join the recently devised “free schools” in employing who they like to teach lessons. A teaching qualification is no longer a legal requirement for employment as a teacher in these schools so what difference will revised tests make?

Only one of our primary schools, St Helen’s Junior, has academy status but, if you exclude Anglo-European School in Ingatestone which has its own trust structure, our town has only one secondary school that is not an academy or free school.

It is not clear from their websites if non-qualified staff are teaching lessons already but there are already examples elsewhere in the country where this takes place. I would expect our schools to be open about it if they were.

However Brentwood’s schools choose to use this freedom, the government’s approach here seems contradictory to say the least.

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GCSE report and teacher status

Part of the justification for changes in skills tests were said to be “improving the status of teachers”. However, within days the exam regulator OFQUAL was accusing the profession of cheating in the marking of English GCSEs in their second attempt at explaining significant anomalies in this year’s results.

Brentwood’s own students have been affected by this fiasco. In his Head Teacher’s talk at the St Martin’s School Open Evening, Mike O’Sullivan reported that the school had expected their A*-C results to be at least 5 per cent higher. BCHS have confirmed to me their results were similarly affected, SHS students sat their papers in January but Year 10 GCSE coursework will have been graded subject to the change too.

In my view the whole case is very simple. No-one, including Ofqual, has denied that students marked in June were graded on a different basis to those in January who for the same papers.

That is clearly unfair and making students take re-sits compounds the injustice. Only marking everyone against the same criteria for the same papers can possibly make things right.

Regulators are covering up their shortcomings by blaming teachers and if the government is truly concerned to raise the status of teachers they should intervene. By not doing so they risk the exact opposite.

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Appreciating teachers

Most of us parents can thankfully judge our kids teachers via our own experiences and not what we are told from on high. This is never more the case in primary schools than in the run up to Christmas.

The commitment shown by the staff at our child’s Infants school is clear when attending the school nativity. This will be my seventh and last chance to attend and marvel.

Staging a recognisable play with 200 plus 4-7 year olds must be like herding cats and I would like to publically declare my admiration. I’d be delighted if one day one of my children is doing the shepherding and is appreciated by society at large for doing so.

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