Claire Soares: Those who can, can't always teach

In Gove's world, you need not bother training to stride into the class

Claire Soares
Tuesday 31 July 2012 09:48

Can you count to five? Readers of this newspaper would, I imagine, consider themselves experts in this field, so, after the holidays, saunter down to your local primary school and offer your services. For, in the world according to Michael Gove, experts need no longer bother with a formal teaching qualification to stride straight into the classroom.

Only, as anyone who watched Dream School can testify, an expert does not a teacher make. Consider David Starkey petulantly insulting a bored pupil or actor Simon Callow's admission: "I somehow got some sort of silence simply by shouting louder than they did. This was just brute force." You're not going to let these weak celebrities deter you, however. You have the backing of our esteemed Education Secretary who has just decided that new academies will be allowed to employ unqualified teachers.

So come September, you're in front of a class of wriggling infants, teaching them to count sweets. "Three, two, five, four, one" one boy pronounces, while a girl, who has already counted the five items correctly, suddenly looks panicked when asked how many sweets there are, like you've switched to advanced calculus. Erm, this was supposed to be easy, wasn't it?

Few of us are aware of the concepts we must master to count: the one-to-one principle, knowing a number represents a single object; the stable-order principle, the established sequence of numbers; the cardinal principle, knowing that the final item counted is also the total number of items; the abstraction principle, that objects don't have to be tangible to be counted; and the order-irrelevance principle, knowing it makes no difference whether you count from left to right or right to left.

Having switched careers after a decade as a journalist, I am often asked what I learnt during my year's training to become a primary teacher. Well, it's a long list, but one thing I was specifically trained to do is diagnose which of these five concepts a child is struggling with. A maths genius, however masterful their subject knowledge, was not. Proving the existence of the Higgs boson does not mean you can teach Year 4 about gravity after a windy lunchtime (as all teachers know, children are noisier and crazier on windy days).

The Education Secretary's misconception is equating expert subject knowledge with teaching expertise. Teaching is not about imparting facts, it is about engaging pupils and inspiring them to learn. That's why Finland, whose education system Mr Gove is happy to trumpet when it suits him, trains its teachers intensively. The most rewarding comment of my first year of teaching came from a pupil who thanked me not for what I had taught him but for helping him to become a better learner. That's why teachers need teaching, too.

The writer is a former Independent journalist who now teaches in a London primary school

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