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The Battle For Better Teachers

Britain’s athletes are poised to win big at the Olympics, but why aren’t we faring as well in the education game?

Written by . Published on January 16th 2012.


The Battle For Better Teachers

LONDON 2012 Olympic Games will provide a litmus test and yardstick for the state of the nation’s sporting talent. Being the host country, the amount of resources spent and the home crowd, Team GB will be expected to deliver a record amount of medals. At the last Olympic Games in Beijing, Britain had their best overall medals tally since 1904. In the medals table they finished fourth in the world. You could say as a result that we are in the premier league for track and field which is impressive.

It has been around 50 years since the last overhaul of the education system and as evidence shows the UK is losing ground to other countries.


Sadly, when you look at the world education tables it seems that far from Premier League we appear to be languishing in some kind of Endsleigh league, maybe the Championship at best. In a 2010 world education study, conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UK was ranked 20th.

‘Education, Education, Education’ said Tony Blair. We believed, we hoped – but let’s face it 20th is not great. The OECD study highlighted how the UK has slipped down the rankings in performance in maths, reading and science. It’s obvious something is not working well in our schools and education system.

Step up Education Secretary Michael Gove. Gove is the man in charge of Team GB off the track, trying to get the country back in the big league for education standards. Languishing in 20th it’s a tall order but at the same time vital that he gets it right and we move in the right direction up the table.

Aspects of Gove’s strategy to overhaul the system have already been met with opposition and criticism. Firstly, there is the case of Downhills primary school in Haringey which was last week ordered to become an ‘academy’ school by Gove. The decision was met with concern by parents, teachers and local MP David Lammy. Gove’s agenda is that schools such as Downhills, which are deemed to have failing standards, need to turn it around quick time.  Critics answer that mere stats don’t tell the true story. But surely higher grades are a good test that schools are moving in the right direction.

Gove has also been criticised for his plans on singling out ‘failing’ teachers. Teaching is a noble profession. The ability to nurture and ensure someone gets on track to fulfilling their potential or aspirations is laudable. But to achieve this you need good teachers, below average or bad are not acceptable given the high stakes.

It’s a tough love analysis but if we are to excel in education we need to aspire to having the best teachers in the world and some will not make the cut. Just as British athletes make the team on merit so should teachers in schools. As Gove stated ‘Nobody benefits when poor teaching is tolerated. It puts pressure on other teachers and undermines children’s education.’

Do we want a system where poor teachers can limp through 20 years to a pension? We want teachers to know they will be entering a profession that they will have perform at a competent standard, if not improve or be culled. A lot of pressure and responsibility, but rightly so as we want teachers who are up to handling the pressure, being good at their job and not just stumble along and enjoy the long holidays.

Academy schools which Gove is in favour off are a legacy of Tony Blair’s vision of schools moving forward. Essentially, schools that apply for academy status have total control over their budget, curriculum and staffing. It allows a school to decide what it needs to make it successful.

It has been around 50 years since the last overhaul of the education system and as evidence shows the UK is losing ground to other countries. If academies are the answer and can help stop the overall decline in standards then Gove and Blair will have been vindicated. If they fail, time for plan B, but you have to try right?  

As we look to a successful position in the medals table at London 2012 would it not be great if we moved up the world education table as well for reading, maths and science? Being faster, stronger or more determined is good but smarter would be real progress too.

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