If you’re old enough to remember Brookside, do you recall that time when Jimmy Corkhill – crazy, lovable, thug-with-a-heart Jimmy – faked his qualifications and pretended to be a teacher? He was great, our Jimmy, nothing like his poncey, jargon-obsessed, over-trained middle-class colleagues. He might not have had letters after his name but he was from the streets (or at least the Close) and he spoke in a language that the kids understood. Like a Scouse Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, he inspired the young scallies. When he finally got found out and lost his mind as a result, we felt for him. We were angry at The Man – in the form of the GTC – for not just throwing away the rule book and letting our Jimmy carry on. One look from Jimmy with those puppy-dog eyes – the same eyes that persuaded the long-suffering Jackie to take him back time after time – and we’d have given him anything, a PGCE, NQT status, a B.Ed, even QTS. But alas it wasn’t to be.
I wonder if Michael Gove watched those same episodes and felt our Jimmy’s pain. After all, Gove is well known for inventing education policy based on personal experience and while Brookside isn’t real life, I can attest that the emotions we felt for Jimmy were very real. Did Gove feel them too? Could this be why he’s now announcing that Qualified Teacher Status will no longer be required for those teaching in academies? After all, this is precisely the kind of thinking which would have helped your average University of Life graduate get a foot in the door and show those lefty HoDs, with their smart-arse qualifications and unions, exactly what’s what.
The Spectator seems keen on this plan.
This change might sound technical but its importance is that it means that academies will now be able to employ people who have not gone through a year of teacher training. Previously, an academy couldn’t have employed, say, James Dyson to teach design without him having done a year in a teacher training college.
Sounds great, doesn’t it (providing you ignore ridiculously retro terms such as “teacher training college”)? Let’s have James Dyson for design, Nigella for food technology – or maybe Raymond Blanc, since he could double up and do French? – and George Osborne for economics (only joking! I mean, we have to find some way to laugh about that one …). Anyhow, let’s have them (apart from Osborne ) and let’s have them in every single school. We can clone them or something, like in Never Let Me Go, then it wouldn’t even matter if James and Raymond didn’t want to teach. We’d just make them. They’d be born to do it. Of course it’d take a while to grow them (and I’m not sure who would teach them during this time – Jimmy Corkhill, perhaps?). Anyhow, there’s no way they’d be ready to teach the as-yet imaginary new specs in 2014. Hmm. Perhaps this won’t be as easy as it looks.
Of course there are other people with subject expertise who aren’t rich, famous or fictional, and hence might be easier to use. There’s me, for instance. I’m ace at languages – got a PhD in them, in fact – and I know the specs inside out. What’s more I’m good at planning lessons, I love PowerPoints and I’m a dab hand with the laminator. Of course, there’s the small matter of me being useless in front of a class of teenagers. Plus the fact that while I can write impressively in French, my accent is straight out of ’Allo ’Allo. And then there’s that problem I have where I’m able to do things but not remotely able to explain why or how. But still, I’d be fine. I’m a subject matter expert, after all. Way better than my partner, who’s just starting out as an NQT. Like me, he comes from an academic background, but unlike me, he’s always been a brilliant educator. Unfortunately, he’s now had one year of training and is all “leftified“. They’ve squeezed all the inspirational juice out of him and now he’s a Christine Blower puppet. He even says he’s learned an unbelievable amount in a year and that his learning will make a difference. It’s shocking, really, the way they brainwash them.
Being realistic, though – since someone has to be, and it’s never going to be Gove – I don’t think all presently qualified teachers are terrible. I don’t think they’re all great, either. I suspect, as with most people, they think no one else appreciates how difficult their job actually is. And, as with most people, I think they’d be right. Perhaps this is true of every job (even banking – not that this excuses gross incompetence and a huge pay differential). It’s easy for outsiders to point out the benefits other workers have, and the mistakes they’re making, far harder for them to do the jobs themselves. Deep down, I guess we all know this, which is why we don’t swan around telling everyone else their job is easy, regardless of the resentments we harbour. We tend to keep our mouths shut – unless of course we’re talking about teachers. With teachers, it appears everyone’s a bloody expert (I presume it’s because we each spend so many years sitting in a classroom we think that’s all there is to it). But if it’s really that easy, why aren’t we all clamouring to do it? Wouldn’t we all like those magical six weeks off over the summer? Are we resisting the pull of the dream career due to some deep puritanical urge? “Six weeks off? Nah, it’d only spoil me.”
I get the impression that Gove’s latest wheeze stems from a belief that watching Brookside and Jamie’s Dream School counts as “educational research”, mixed together with a heartfelt desire to undermine the professional status of all practising teachers. And yes, I know that independent schools have long employed teachers without QTS, but places of wealth, with tiny classes, can afford to take risks. Why should state schools, when there are thousands of highly skilled people out there already, trying their best to educate despite all the changes that are constantly thrown at them? And even if employing James Dyson / Jimmy Corkhill did save money and offer “a new perspective” in the short term, does Gove seriously think that untrained teachers would be more compliant than trained ones in the long term? Why should they be? Why would they be any more acquiescent the next time they’re accused of dumbing down and not trying hard enough to turn their students into good little economic units for Cameron and his chums? It’d be enough to turn even the most hardened industrialist-turn-vacuuming-technology-teacher into a lefty unionist. Why not just support the lefty union members we’ve already got – after all, they’ve got teaching qualifications, too?
The truth is, as a parent, I rather like the teachers my son has already. I don’t want them swapped for people who sit around “knowing stuff” and “being experts”. God knows, he gets enough of that bollocks from being around me at home. I want him to be taught by people who’ve learned how to teach. Is that really so much to ask?