When I started this blog, I decided to avoid party politics as much as possible. It is clear that there are people of all political persuasions who support a return to a rigorous, content-rich curriculum and firm discipline. In particular, there are many on the left who recognise, like Communist intellectual Antonio Gramsci, that political progressivism requires educational conservatism (see Hirsch, The Schools We Need, p7).
Yesterday, though, politics came to visit me in the shape of a hustings at my school, including the four main candidates in its constituency. And there was one issue raised which really made my blood boil: whether teachers in state schools should be forced to gain ‘qualified’ status.
Before I go any further, I should mention that I do indeed have ‘qualified’ status. I’ll blog at greater length some other time about the farcical hoops through which I had to jump and the rubbish I was taught on my way to receiving the rubber stamp from the government.
When the candidates were asked about their party’s approach to education, the Labour candidate launched straight in with the issue of ‘unqualified’ teachers, which makes it appear a central plank of Labour policy. She evidently expected us to be shocked to hear that 7000 pupils in our constituency are being taught by ‘unqualified’ teachers. She went on to mention other issues, but in her summing up, she reminded us that Labour are going to ‘make sure teachers are educated’.
I might have succeeded in maintaining diplomatic silence on this blog had it not been for that last comment. Make sure teachers are educated?!
Insisting on qualified teacher status does nothing to ensure that teachers are educated. Given the dogmatically progressive content of many teaching courses, it is more likely to ensure that they have been catechised in the defunct and dangerous ideology which has been creating an ever greater gulf between the privileged and the disadvantaged. Gramsci predicted in 1932 that the new ‘natural’ methods would have this effect: ‘The most paradoxical aspect of it all is that this new type of school is advocated as being democratic, while in fact it is destined not merely to perpetuate social differences but crystallize them in Chinese complexities’ (quoted in Hirsch, The Schools We Need, p6).
There is also little to no focus on actual subject knowledge in teacher training, and typically no requirement to have a good honours degree in the subject to be taught. Why should there be such a requirement, when education is supposedly all about transferable twenty-first century skills?
If Labour were really serious about ensuring that teachers were well educated, wouldn’t they be insisting on a good honours degree as an entry requirement? This is the type of thing that independent schools care about. In the independent sector, there are many teachers without qualified status, who have been employed on the basis of their knowledge and skills, not on the basis of a piece of paper of doubtful value. Parents pay thousands of pounds, even tens of thousands, to have these ‘unqualified’ staff teach their children.
Why on earth are Labour making this a central plank of their policy? It feels like a step back to the seventies, and a trade union closed shop mentality. Could it be that there are teachers who feel threatened by the competition from those without the requisite bit of paper?