Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it is a super teacher! The latest suggestion to tackling the attainment gap between rich and poor students, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw wants to set up a network of “national service teachers”, who will, as The Independent put it, “be parachuted into schools that are failing disadvantaged pupils”.
The idea is that the government will work with Teaching Schools to help “identify and incentivise” the most talented teachers and heads to work in the more challenging schools. These “super teachers” as some parts of the media have dubbed them, will be employed on contracts with central government.
The announcement came alongside Ofsted research showing that the schools with the worst records for teaching disadvantaged pupils are no longer found in inner cities, but often in more affluent, rural and coastal towns. It is the teaching of disadvantaged pupils in these schools that Sir Michael wants to target with the new scheme.
Incentivising teachers is not new and has been tried in the past to attract more applicants to the less popular subjects, schools and areas. There are merits to any scheme that provides further support for those pupils most in need, but is it really true that teaching has become “indifferent”.
I was lucky enough this week at a Teacher Support Network fundraising event to be seated with some young teachers at dinner. We spent the night discussing the work they do, and far from indifference, they were passionate and eloquent about the profession and their part within it.
Other guests on the night included a semi-retired teacher, who has come out of full retirement, because she missed the classroom, again hardly a case for indifference.
Similarly, on the day that we held the fundraising event, we released a new practical guide for managing behaviour on our website. A few days later and the guide has been downloaded nearly 400 times, presumably by teachers looking to improve, develop or check up on their existing skills.
Likewise, when we speak to our clinical team about the kinds of teachers who contact our support line, the counsellors are always at pains to tell us that these are intelligent, capable, competent, resilient, passionate professionals, who really love the kids they are working with.
As with most professions, there will naturally be teachers that have lost their enthusiasm over the course of a potentially long and challenging career. The “indifference” of others may be a mask for deeper issues, such as depression or anxiety, or may reflect someone struggling to keep up with the vast pace of change in schools today. It may not simply be a question of the poor standards of teaching that has been presumed, but a gap in training or lack in confidence.
There is no mention of how the “super teachers” will tackle this “indifferent teaching”. Hopefully, any approach will involve further development and support of existing staff, as well as an attempt to re-engage those teachers classed as indifferent.
Some of the teachers labelled as “bad” will benefit from being able to identify how they can take a pro-active role in improving their skills and gaining the confidence to seek support. We know from our own experience that many can go on to have very successful, rewarding careers in education.
As I write, a headline in the latest SecEd warns that a teacher shortage crisis is predicted to hit in 2014. Given this, it would seem that it is more important than ever, particularly for those pupils most disadvantaged, to invest in the teachers we already have, as well as to develop these “super teachers” of the future.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).