Gove should do his homework on what it takes to be a great teacher

By Linda Jack

| 03 August 2012

OK, so now we are going to employ unqualified teachers to teach, how about unqualified engineers to design our bridges, or unqualified plumbers to fix our plumbing, or unqualified doctors to operate on us?

I am astounded that someone who claims to be on a mission to improve educational standards in the country has not recognised that someone might need an appropriate educational qualification in order to understand how young minds learn, how to engage young minds and how to enthuse and encourage said young minds!

I completely agree with Hilary Emery of the NBC about the risk employing unqualified teachers pose to our most vulnerable children and young people. If you have no understanding whatsoever about how children and young people learn, about emotional as well as intellectual development, about the psychological and social issues that impact on their lives, how on earth can you expect to teach them effectively?!

There is a lot of nonsense talked about so-called dumbing down of education – yet this ill-conceived ideological vandalism risks dumbing down the professionalism of teachers irreparably. It strips education of all except the need to impart knowledge.

As a trainee teacher I well remember that we rather turned our noses up at PGCE students, how could they learn in one year what had taken us three or four – nowhere near as much teaching practice or in-depth focus on education. My personal concern was that even our three years training didn’t go far enough, which was one of the reasons I chose to study youth work too. Frankly, if someone is technically brilliant in their field and really wants to teach, why wouldn’t they be prepared either to take a year out for a PGCE or to do an on the job course?

It seems to me that the mistake Gove makes is to assume that what makes someone, let’s say, a brilliant scientist, will also make them an amazing teacher. Of course that is possible, but by no means inevitable. It’s rather like the other idea that is gaining currency, namely that ex soldiers will make excellent teachers… erm, as a soldier turned teacher… let’s not go there!
Methinks this has far more to do with window dressing, with playing to the gallery and trying to appear to be doing something radical, than any proper thought through proposal.

Maybe the highly intelligent Gove and Gibb are wont to rely far too heavily on their own privileged backgrounds and obvious academic acumen to want to recreate that for all children. And maybe as highly academic individuals they were willing recepticles – able to understand, to decode, to absorb everything on their educational plate with little or no guidance about how to use their knife and fork! Maybe for them having a captain of industry, or a world-class mathematician coming and filling their minds with exciting new ideas and concepts was awesome. But teaching is so much more than that.

Ever since I was a child education has been the plaything of a string of well-meaning but fundamentally ignorant politicians. They have all correctly identified the problem – the system has failings – but politicians have rarely, if ever, identified the solution. The result sadly is that too many young people’s futures are blighted because of it. Mr Gove would do well to learn from academia himself and recognise the importance of evidence-based policy.

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