Leading Article: A teacher's lot must be made a happy one

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The Independent Online
Who would be a teacher? Fewer and fewer, it would seem. No one working in a school will be surprised by news from the National Audit Office that 150,000 teachers have taken early retirement in the past decade. Teachers feel maligned by the world: blamed by politicians for letting standards fall, blamed by parents for failing to discipline children, and blamed by society for everything from failing to spot child abuse to their pupils' bad manners.

The message from much of the media is that teachers are idle incompetents whose holidays are too long and whose views are too trendy. Recently, Chris Woodhead, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, has joined in, berating teachers for the methods they use and announcing that 15,000 of them should be sacked.

At the same time, the job has become increasingly insecure. Once teaching was a safe, secure public sector profession, in which people accepted lower salaries in return for the security of a job for life. Not any more. Due to cuts in public spending, nearly 10,000 teachers lost their jobs last year. More may do so this year.

To depress and demoralise those responsible for educating our children is extremely destructive. The nation cannot afford the loss of 150,000 experienced teachers when its prosperity depends on closing the gap in education standards between Britain and many of its competitors. Only teachers will be able to make the difference in the classroom and to raise standards across the board.

So what is to be done? One solution is to improve teachers' salaries and promotion prospects. Good honours graduates entering the profession earn just pounds 13,350, rising over about seven years to pounds 20,145, the top of the ordinary classroom teacher scale. There they may stay for a long time. The biggest group of teachers earns about pounds 21,000. For this they work nearly 50 hours a week, according to figures produced by the Teachers' Pay Review Body.

But better pay alone is not enough. Teachers need less haranguing and more encouragement. The best way to raise their morale and their enthusiasm for teaching is to accord them the status and respect they deserve.

They need more support from the Government, too. When the school inspectors arrive to pronounce on a school's success or failure, they should give the teaching staff help and advice to make real improvements in the school, rather than just vanishing until the next inspection.

Of course bad teachers must go. Teaching is far too important to allow those who fail at the job to carry on. Combining a serious increase in salaries and status for the majority of extremely capable teachers, while rooting out the few who drag them down, would do much to raise the value of the profession in the eyes of the outside world.

Until a teacher's profession is a source of pride rather than embarrassment, the haemorrhage of talented staff will continue. Everyone has to recognise how badly we need teachers and how much we undervalue them.

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