My first reaction, as headteacher of an increasingly popular, oversubscribed comprehensive school, was to smile, in the confidence that Ofsted has recently recognised the quality of leadership in my school. But, on reflection, I am increasingly concerned about the effect of constant criticism of teachers. Public humiliation will not raise standards, and may well discourage young people from valuing and respecting the knowledge and skills that their teachers possess.
How can we encourage students to respect the professionalism of teachers, and to value the work that they do, when newspapers report gleefully that a significant percentage are no good? Small wonder that some schools struggle to motivate students and, in the worst cases, have difficulty controlling them.
Ofsted, the Government and the Opposition all claim to want to raise standards in education. As a newly qualified teacher in the late Seventies, I used to dream of education being at the top of the political agenda. Now that it is, my dream is shattered. Education is not genuinely valued by those who use it for their own political purposes. There is plenty of rhetoric about improving standards in our schools, but little evidence of a real commitment to support professionals to do so.
The need for dedicated and able teachers is obvious. I'm sure I'm not alone in possessing a staff team whose commitment Ofsted recognised as "impressive". Recruiting and retaining such teachers is essential if we are to raise standards. We will be able to do this only if we talk up the value of education, and the vital role that teachers play in the process. It is not surprising that able students are deterred from becoming teachers, because of the negative image of the profession. Instead we should celebrate the fact that more than 96 per cent of teachers are competent. How many other professions can claim such a high figure?
Clearly, the issue of resourcing our schools is vital if standards are going to be raised. We need to recruit enthusiastic, able teachers who are attracted to the profession by the rewards that it brings.
Teachers should not be made to take sole responsibility for our country's failure to achieve the same educational standards as some of our more successful competitors. There is clearly a link between the value placed upon education and the standards achieved. Our teachers need support, obviously and desperately in terms of financial resources, but more subtly in the esteem in which they are held. An effective partnership requires all parties to meet obligations which are part of the contract. Teachers cannot raise standards without the commitment of all involved, primarily students and their parents or guardians.
Schools play a crucial role in providing a clear moral framework, and in developing students both academically and socially. Teachers can be effective only if students respect them. If the messages that students receive about teachers from outside school are constantly negative or critical, it will be impossible to make real progress.
I am proud of the section in my school's Ofsted report which states: The school's mission statement "Highfield is a community in which individuals are encouraged to learn effectively and to respect each other" is evident in the day-to-day life and practices of the school."
We do what we say we do: we are achieving our mission. I wish I could have the same confidence in those whose declared mission is to raise standards in our schools. Our children deserve better than those influential figures who are not genuinely committed to providing a quality service, and are more concerned about their own political imagen
The writer is headteacher of the Highfield School, Letchworth, Hertfordshire.
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