Terence Blacker: A job for the elite, not the incompetent

Should we place our children at the mercy of someone bored, miserable, angry or plain stupid?

Share
Related Topics

A man who took modesty to pathological extremes, the late Willie Donaldson used to explain why, for several years, he was employed to write a column in this newspaper. Every paper needs a column which no one actually reads, he said. It serves a useful double purpose, making other writers look good and providing readers with sharp relief when they reach a page they know they can safely skip.

Although the theory could not have been further from the truth in Willie's case, it helps explain some everyday mysteries. The unfunny cast member of an otherwise brilliant sitcom; the reliably incompetent junior minister; the midfielder scuttling about pointlessly in a football team; Ringo Starr: the reason why they are where they are is to provide a background of ordinariness against which their more talented colleagues will shine.

The one area in which the Donaldson Theory of Beneficial Incompetence would seem to fall down is education. Only a fool, we can surely assume, would actually advocate the presence of bad teachers, infecting future generations with their own peculiar form of badness (stupidity, cruelty, snobbery, idleness – the list is endless).

How wrong we would be. Zenna Atkins, chairman of the Office for Standards in Education, has recently championed the "shit teacher", to use her own elegant phrase. "Every school should have a useless teacher," she says. "If every primary school has one pretty naff teacher, this helps kids realise that even if you know the quality of authority is not good, you have to learn to play it."

In the private sector of business, there was a need to "performance-manage 10 per cent of people of the business" (I think that means sack them), but the same standards should not apply to education. "One really good thing about primary school is that every kid learns how to deal with a shit teacher." No one could deny that this is a revolutionary educational theory. The best way to teach young children the ways of the world is, it seems, to place them at the mercy of someone bored, miserable, angry or plain stupid. More often than not, this person will be the class teacher – that is, the inescapable, everyday face of authority and learning – for a year of their young lives.

Atkins is expressing her personal view rather than Ofsted policy, but it accords neatly to the way teaching is currently run. Over the past decade, a mere 18 teachers have been struck off for incompetence. The General Teaching Council has said there could be as many as 17,000 "sub-standard" teachers currently in the classroom.

The background to this mind-boggling tolerance of mediocrity is an odd attitude within the education establishment. Teachers, doing a difficult job, and sometimes on a low salary, have for decades seen themselves as above criticism. They have become prickly and self-important, often preferring to defend the indefensible rather than admit that those outside the profession – notably those hate-figures, the pushy parents – could be right.

Presumably Atkins looks back on her education with fond memories of the teachers who provided her with that invaluable lesson about the "quality of authority", but I suspect few will share her nostalgia. My first school, which I attended between the ages of seven and 13, would have scored high on the shit-teacher graph. We emerged with the knowledge that adults can and usually will be violent, capricious, biased, mad and randy. Oddly, few of those who attended the school look back on those years with gratitude.

It is time for the standing of educators in society to upgraded, for teaching to be honoured and rewarded as a profession for the elite, not a cushy billet for the lazy or incompetent. The sub-standard should not be allowed to pass down a sour heritage of defeat and cynicism to future generations. As for a chair of the Office for Standards in Education who actually seems to be defending low standards in education, perhaps she might also be gently performance-managed out of the business.

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform