BBC series ‘Tough New Teachers’ shows governments must value teachers more

The BBC is currently airing its new series on BBC3 called Tough New Teachers. It follows five teachers who teach through the Teach First programme, which takes the highest flying graduates and places them on a two year training programme, working in some of the countries most challenging schools and who will hopefully help to improve results in the schools.

The people on the program had been outstanding graduates and each have gone into teaching for a number of different reasons. One studied theology and saw teaching as a way of doing good, while another teacher went into science teaching because she wanted more from life than money. They were all nervous at the start of their jobs and quickly realised the challenges they faced teaching classes where many of the students came from difficult backgrounds and lacked the motivation to learn. It was a radical change for some of the teachers, who had come from a more privileged educational background.

The programme highlights many of the issues in education. One notable problem is that is difficult to attract talented people into teaching. Many of the teachers were high achieving graduates and there are many better paid graduate routes they could have followed instead. In teaching they face working long hours, with marking and lesson planning, with one teacher commenting how he was arriving at school at eight in the morning and not leaving until seven in the evening. On top of this they faced a stressful working environment, dealing with difficult pupils and sometimes struggling to control and manage a class of students. It comes as no surprise then that fifty per cent of teachers leave after the first five years.

The program therefore shows the danger of the Conservative’s and previous governments’ attempts to devalue the teaching profession. The Coalition have introduced a range of new policies that have made life more difficult for teachers. Many teachers claim that there is to much interference from politicians; they want to be seen as professionals and be allowed the freedom to get on and teach. The hiring of non-qualified teachers in free schools has been seen as devaluing the profession, giving the impression that anyone can teach. The government argues that it will improve education by allowing people with expertise in different areas to pass on that knowledge. However, teaching is more than passing on knowledge. Whilst someone might have lots of knowledge about their subject it doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to pass on the knowledge. Also, they might not be able to inspire and motivate students, and they might not know how to deal with students with additional learning needs or how to manage a classroom of students, skills that a well trained qualified teacher will have.

Other measures have also alienated teachers such as the attack on pensions, the attempts to introduce performance-related pay, the demoralizing inspection regime, and blaming teachers for each new failing education initiative. This has made teaching an unattractive option for many graduates.

It is important that teaching is seen as a rewarding career and a profession. Teaching is one of the most important jobs in society,in term of moulding the minds of young people and providing them with life opportunities. A well educated population leads to a better economy and society. Teachers therefore need rewards and respect that reflects the value of their work. The devaluing of teaching will lead to a further decline of the profession, as many talented people will turn away from it, leading to a lower calibre of teachers and a further declining education system.