Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary, has been heaping praise on the high-performing education system in Singapore. This follows his ‘fact finding’ visit to the city state. He seemed genuinely surprised to discover that Singaporean pupils are not, after all, enslaved by ‘Gradgrindian’ rote learning in ‘sweat shop’ class rooms. Belatedly, he thinks we may have something to learn from our former colony.
He is right, of course, but the sense of awe and wonder at what he found in Singapore reflects an infantile naivety that ill becomes someone who wishes to run the education system in England. One does not need to visit the Asia Pacific region to work out that great schools require great teachers. Although things are now improving a little, most teachers in the UK have come from the bottom 20 per cent of graduates. They have come from the top 20 per cent in most succesful education systems around the world. In other words, countries such as Singapore recruit the brightest and the best to teach their children. No surprise, then, that their pupils do so well.
In Tristram Hunt’s case the penny now seems to have dropped. We will raise standards of educational attainment in this country once we improve the quality of teachers. Unfortunately, he seems to think that this means that all state school teachers must have a formal teaching qualification. Most already do, but academies and free schools are at liberty to employ those whom Tristram calls, pejoratively, “unqualified” teachers.
These are usually teachers who are, in fact, highly qualified in terms of the subject they teach but who have not been through the necessary ‘ brain-washing’ needed to gain a teaching qualification. If anything, the process of going through teacher training could be regarded as a disqualification for entering the classroom. Who wants their child to be taught using teacher-training methodologies that may be rich in political correctness but which prevent pupils from learning?
If Tristram Hunt would like to ascertain the consequences of teacher training he should look about him. Why are a fifth of children leaving primary school in a state of illiteracy and innumeracy? Why are employers, time and time again, complaining about unskilled school leavers unprepared for, and unable to cope with, the world of work. Why do most universities have to run ‘catch up’ remedial courses? Why is the UK lagging behind many of our economic competitors in terms of school performance?
Most importantly, why are the ‘whole class’ teaching methods so successfully deployed in the most successful education systems of the Asia Pacific area such as Singapore, Shanghai, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Japan regarded as heretical by teacher trainers here and, indeed, by Ofsted? These are the teaching methods that were once common in UK schools and that place our 1950s’ generation around the top of international league tables of educational attainment.
Tristam Hunt is not asking these question because to do so is an embarrassment to the cohorts of ‘qualified’ teachers. This naive ex-public schoolboy benefitted from the expertise of teachers who had avoided teacher training but who were highly qualified in the subjects they taught. Our best independent schools are full of such teachers.
Tristram’s call for “a kind of Hippocratic oath” for teachers is, at best, a distraction. In reality, an oath of loyalty for teachers is already in place. Any ‘would-be’, or practising teacher, has to commit themselves unequivocally to bogus ‘child-centered’ and politically correct teaching methods in order to have any hope of a place on a teacher-training course or the prospect of a teaching job.
If there is one lesson, above all, that the UK should learn from Singapore, it is the one that Tristram Hunt forgot to mention. It is the educational equivalent of Ed Miliband forgetting to mention the ‘deficit’ in his recent party conference speech. Most pupils in Singapore sit the GCE O-Level examination; an exam made in England and ‘exported’ to Singapore, but banned here.