Jimmy Corkhill, Michael Gove and the devaluing of QTS

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?

6 thoughts on “Jimmy Corkhill, Michael Gove and the devaluing of QTS

  1. Before I trained I worked in a school covering for absent teachers. They quickly figured out that I was rather good in front of 30-odd teenagers and cheap. Very cheap. I was used to teach science, ICT & to take a form with no qualifications whatsoever (ok, I had a BA – and a GCSE in science) I was rather chuffed – they trusted me, they saw my potential, they believed in my innate ability to pass knowledge onto the next generation – until, that is, I realised I was just cheap.

    I went back to university, completed my PGCE (by the way, I don’t know where all these ‘I learnt f-all on my PGCE’ brigade are coming from. I learnt loads, so much that I decided to do an MEd – maybe teaching without a qualification has shaped my view) and I have taught (qualified) for two years. They paid me (to start) £5,000 more, a fricking bargain if you ask me. 

    This ‘minor change’ (quoting the DfE) is a cost-cutting exercise to allow natural teachers into the classroom without the qualifications the teacher needs/deserves. A lot of people say they’re ‘great’ without the qualifications – imagine how AWESOME you could be with them – kids deserve that. 

    Apologies if this isn’t very clear. I’m writing on an iPhone. To summarise – it’s a cr*p idea. 

    1. My partner did the GTP – we couldn’t have afforded it otherwise. He’d taught for years as a university lecturer and was good at it, but he’s adamant that he’s learned so much more over the past year. And a year is so little time to make such a difference to yourself as a teacher and to the children you teach. It does just feel to me like a way of completely devaluing teachers, both financially and as professionals.

  2. I was in the first wave of GTP trainees and whilst I would have been OK without doing the year of training I was a much better teacher as a result of it! Gove keeps contradicting himself, only a few weeks back he was talking about making sure teachers have at least a 2:1 at degree level and valuing qualifications – now he is saying teachers can just waltz into the classroom ready to go. The biggest flaw in all of this thinking is that people like Gove seem to assume having good subject knowledge will make you a good teacher. This certainly helps but the main skills needed are the ability to form healthy relationships with the young people based on respect, the ability to communicate difficult concepts in fresh and engaging ways and the ability to manage the social, emotional and behavioural baggage children bring with them to the classroom. You may be an expert in Maths but if you cannot bring that to life for those who are not experts stay out of the classroom. Teacher training adds not only value to the profession but also gives people a chance to work out some of the skills that have nothing to do with subject knowledge and everything to do with emotional and social intelligence. Phew – got that off my chest!

    1. I think I’d be a terrible teacher. I did a year as a languages assistant in Germany (teaching 14-18 yr olds) and was totally rubbish. At least with training there’s the chance to find out whether the necessary skills can be developed – I think getting the relationships just right is so important and so difficult. There’s so much more to it than just subject knowledge.

  3. Thought this was an excellent blog post. I’m horrified at what Gove is doing to schools and the absolute idiocy in schools.
    I was a secondary teacher. In fact I was a member of a senior leadership team in my last job. I resigned and am now self employed. I wrote about it.

    http://stephendcook.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/leaving-teaching.html

    Well done, very enjoyable

    P.S. You might like this one too

    http://stephendcook.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/measure-that-gove.html

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