Friday, April 27, 2007

The Great Teaching Crisis

News that the Tories are trying to target the votes of teachers reminds me to write about the Great Teaching Crisis.

The Great Teaching Crisis was much discussed (particularly in households with at least one teacher) in the mid 90s. Teachers were being placed under increasing strain with more and more admin to do on top of the time spent in the classroom, and no support to help them manage the workload.

University graduates enjoyed much higher salaries and status working in the private sector, and as a result fewer and fewer people were choosing to train as teachers. And a huge proportion of teachers were baby boomers who had entered the profession in the late 60s and early 70s, who would all retire within about 10-15 years, with no one to replace them.

But like the Millennium Bug, the Great Teaching Crisis never happened. Unlike the Millennium Bug, the reason for this was because the Labour government took action and sorted it out.

A survey from 'High Fliers' identified that teaching and journalism are now the two most popular destinations for recent graduates - teaching is a high status option and much more attractive career option than ten or fifteen years ago, with higher pay, adverts on the telly encouraging people to think about becoming teachers and particular schemes for Fast Track teaching and courses for teaching assistants who want to qualify as teachers. Almost every class now has two adults in it - a teaching assistant as well as a teacher, and quite apart from all the other good that teaching assistants do, this has helped reduce the admin burden on teachers. And while there are ongoing problems in some subjects - particularly sciences, no one now thinks that there is likely to be a shortage of teachers overall in the future. They are also more likely to be teaching in recently refurbished buildings and less likely to have to rely on inadequate facilities or temporary and unsuitable classrooms.

This isn't to say that all is perfect for teachers now, many teachers find that they have to quit because of stress, some face physical abuse, and schools vary considerably in what they are like to work in. But life as a teacher would be very much more difficult and stressful if the Tories had been in charge for the past ten years. No politician ever gets credit for avoiding crises, and the irony is that all the new teachers will never know what it was like to have no admin support and little preparation time. But the Great Teaching Crisis shows how determined efforts by a government can boost the status of the public sector, help the people who work for it, and avert a crisis which seemed almost inevitable. And that is a lesson well worth knowing.


At 11:23 am , Anonymous mat paskins said...

You're most unfair. As I recall the government took firm and frank action on the millennium bug. There was a task force headed by Lord Birt, which later incorporated the milennium bug as head of its strategy unit.


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