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Who’d be a teacher?


The number of pupils in secondary schools is expected to increase by more than half a million, or 20 per cent, within a decade. Primary schools have been coping with increased numbers for several years, caused in part by immigration.

Fortunately, children of first-generation immigrants are inclined to be more motivated than most others, and this is having some beneficial consequences. Anyone wishing to understand why under-privileged youngsters in London out-perform similarly deprived children in other parts of England need look no further than the far greater percentage of immigrants in the capital. They boost educational standards. Worryingly, though, white working-class native kids are lagging further and further behind. Too often, it seems, the assimilation of non-natives, however commendable, can sometimes happen at the expense of other children.

In my experience, it is immigrant parents who are most concerned by standards of behaviour and of teaching in some of our schools. Mostly, however, they stay quiet, out of respect and gratitude for the country that has adopted them. They understand that, to paraphrase Cecil Rhodes, being granted the right to live in the UK or, better still, British citizenship, is equivalent to winning first prize in the lottery of life.

Their gratitude will not solve the issue of a burgeoning school population. Larger class sizes would be one solution. Not only would this be cost effective, it would force teachers to use the traditional whole-class, teacher-led, classroom methodology that characterise the educational superstars of the Asia Pacific. The educational establishment and, indeed, most parents are, however, very hostile to increasing class sizes and it is not on the Government’s agenda.

Instead, to sustain our addiction to child-centred methods of teaching, we are going to need many more teachers. Sadly, our schools are not only second-division internationally, they are very expensive.

It has recently been announced that applications for teacher training have fallen by a third in a year, so the government has quite a task ahead. We are not, of course, facing only a recruitment crisis. If anything, retention of new teachers is an even greater challenge.

In 2015 a teacher union was claiming that almost four in ten teachers were quitting the profession within a year of qualifying. The Government challenged this claim but accepted that almost a third of newly qualified teachers left the profession across the five years from 2010 to 2015. Ofsted said the true figure was, indeed, four in ten, and its boss at the time, Sir Michael Wilshaw, declared it a ‘national scandal’. If anything, it is likely that matters have deteriorated since 2015.

Record numbers of teachers are, also, leaving the profession mid-career. We are failing to recruit, retain or motivate teachers at a time of a booming pupil population.

A desire to work with children and the love of a subject are the factors that bring most teachers into the profession. At secondary-school level, a mathematician wishes to teach maths, a linguist expects to teach a foreign language, a geographer wishes to teach geography, and so on. Recruits for primary schools expect to teach a range of subjects but still to be, essentially, teachers of a largely academic curriculum.

The reality of what confronts them can be quite a shock. Too little conventional subject teaching and an overload of politically correct ideology – gender intelligence, racism, sexism, drugs, so-called British Values, the evils of Britain’s imperial past, feminism, health and safety, equality of outcome, the need for safe spaces and for trigger warnings, non-appropriation of other cultures, inclusiveness, offensive terminology such as ‘he’/’she’, sex education, social media and technology addiction, etc.

Teachers these days have to be social workers, psychiatrists, substitute parents, dietitians, drugs counsellors, health and safety consultants, nurses, equity and inclusion managers, restorative justice co-ordinators, behavioural therapists, race and ethnicity officers, mental health and trauma counsellors, marriage guidance advisers for parents, advocates for children in cases of domestic violence, directors of community relations, sex therapists, and technology and social media gurus.

Bright young graduates are getting the message and too many are shunning the profession altogether. Those who expect the brainwashing to cease once training is over are soon disappointed by the long hours of classwork and preparation, the stress and the cultural conformism that requires a suspension of the intellect.

We have a recruitment and retention problem against a background of growing numbers of pupils but, beyond the PC zealots, who wants to be a teacher in 2018?

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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