Leading Article: Teachers must be led, not driven

Share
Related Topics
TEACHERS behaved badly on cue yesterday. The National Union of Teachers' annual conference usually witnesses behaviour which if spotted in school would call for reproof and perhaps even exclusion; and we were not let down during David Blunkett's visit. A fraction of this union's membership still belongs to far-left organisations (though quite what Trotskyist means these days is hard to grasp). It is also sadly true that the militants and hecklers are concentrated in precisely those schools in deprived areas which most need imagination, dedication, skill, perseverance, experiment ... and money. If only the NUT could occasionally raise its collective head and grasp just how strong a negotiating case there now is for educational investment.

The bad boys and girls at the back of the class yesterday are a problem. They represent those teachers - their numbers may run into the thousands - who are never going to sign up to the schools crusade the Government hopes to conduct. Their attitudes are sour, their mentality negative, their politics antediluvian. Some are archetypal Sixties recruits to the schools who in their teaching methods as in their politics belong in William Tyndale - meaning they fail to see that parents do wish their children to be formally educated, to reach identifiable levels of attainment and to be subject to discipline while going about it. Railing about injustice in society at large can never absolve teachers in state schools from their principal obligation of equipping their children with skills and attitudes to cope with, even succeed in, the world as it is - which means the job markets of Hackney, inner Manchester, Handsworth, Gateshead and Hull.

Yet most teachers, most members of the NUT, are biddable. That surely is the main reason David Blunkett is in Blackpool. He sees that the Government's plans can succeed only if teachers respond. It is a hearts and minds job. Too often his colleagues - notoriously Stephen Byers, sometimes the Prime Minister himself - give the impression they would love, like the Ofsted chief Chris Woodhead, to subject the profession to carpet bombing. But good teaching is not something a thug can produce; teachers cannot be brutalised into imaginative performance in the classroom. There have to be some sticks, yes, but the Government ought to have a ready supply of carrots, too. Education action zones are a case in point. If the Government is sincere about treating its plan as an experiment (in which case it would be good to hear more about how data is going to be collected and appraised) these could be an exciting alternative to local education authorities. Peter Smith of the Association of Lecturers and Teachers is doing the right thing - getting in there at the birth. The NUT's job is to secure for its members the best deal and that must mean incentives to performance, bonuses for improvement - in other words, money. The Government too often, like its predecessor, seems to believe change can be had on the cheap. It cannot. Better behaviour has to be bought. The Government, like its predecessor, is surely right to object to across-the-broad increases, but it must go further in building up the image and reality of high-grade teachers who are highly paid.

With its welcome concession over paperwork, the Government seems belatedly to be realising just how much it is asking of teachers - all those measures of performance of a kind few other professions are subjected to. It has to recognise a paradox, too. The Government, rightly, wants teachers to become more professional, meaning more dedicated, self-motivating, reliable. Whatever the NUT says, a General Teaching Council is the right way forward. But that means teachers becoming more autonomous. Only yesterday we had the health minister Alan Milward requiring health trusts to impose tighter quality controls on medical professionals because their autonomy leads to the elevation of self- or group-interest above that of the patient. David Blunkett says his requirement of a "literacy hour" is non-negotiable - local circumstance or professional judgement be hanged. Teachers are entitled to respond that if they are treated like shopfloor employees subject to central diktat, they will behave like them, too.

Unless they can be persuaded. The reason David Blunkett has to endure the Eastertime brickbats, and will again next year and the year after, is that there can be no revolution in attitudes towards attainment or school organisation unless the ordinary teacher is convinced, and that is a task requiring the political arts. The Government is trying to change recruitment and perhaps, one day, school teaching will attract a new class of people whose commitment to the highest standards can be relied upon (which incidentally will require a big increase in the salary bill). But for the meantime it is members of the NUT, together with the NAS-UWT and the other unions, who need to be cajoled, seduced and above all led in ways which the Doug McAvoys of this world can never dream of.

React Now

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

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition