In praise of teachers

I first spoke on this topic at the 10th anniversary celebration of Teach First. I was delighted to be asked as I regard this as the most important of professions. It is we who create life chances for young people and play a crucial role in raising their self-belief and laying pathways for future careers.

It saddens me therefore to see surveys saying morale is at ‘an all-time low’ and to hear talk of low self-esteem. The TES editorial has on more than one occasion called upon us to ‘up the love’.

I have been in teaching for 30 years and have never wished I had been anywhere else. I spent ten years in the independent sector and twenty in the state sector, the latter with City Technology Colleges and then their successors, our Academies. I personally enjoyed the challenge of making learning interesting, inspiring, effective and fun. I was delighted when students enjoyed my subject and took it further. It’s always a joy to meet old pupils as impressive adults many years later, who remember their lessons and come back to tell me about their progress. KS3, GCSE, A-Level, Oxbridge and UCAS tutoring all gave me a great opportunity to learn more about my students. Then there were extra-curricular activities opportunities – swimming, tennis, riding (even for me) and clubs galore run by my team. As an Executive Head with all through schools, I stretched my learning still further with such things as assemblies for KS1 & 2, new lessons to observe, activities to oversee, children to understand.

Now as Schools Commissioner for England, I have had the exceptional opportunity to visit schools across England for almost two years now and talk to pupils about their teachers, to celebrate their achievements and consistently wonder at their skills and imagination. Where challenge is greatest, there are always ‘teacher gems’ and, through the academy movement, we have been able to liberate more teachers to do what they and only they can do best, which is communicate with and open up young minds.

Teaching is a profession that needs to be observed to be appreciated. The early morning starts, the inflexible timetable, the continuous change of audience six or eight times a day, the requirements and targets from inspections and exams to be incorporated. Lunch time will see teachers in corridors, lobbies and playgrounds, talking, mentoring and coaching. After school they put on different hats and bring new experiences for children. Never can they feel under the weather but thankfully children have a great capacity to challenge and lift the spirits, the reason why I love being in schools, even today.

We all know “the quality of a school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers”. So the relentless focus on good and outstanding teaching is absolutely right. Right too has been the opening up of new routes into teaching. We cannot afford to miss recruiting anyone with potential. So Teach First, Teach Direct, Graduate Teacher Programme, SCITTS and Teaching Schools are all to be applauded as they widen the pool of teachers.

On my visits as Schools Commissioner, over the past 20 months, I’ve seen so much that is praiseworthy and good practice exemplars. From head teachers, senior teams, teaching and support staff who are committed to ‘closing the gap’ to those who are taking on other schools, in addition to their own and spreading their ethos and good practice system wide. I am also incredibly pleased to be witnessing a renewed emphasis and respect for our primary teachers, a greater understanding of the importance of the year 6/7 transition and so many creative examples of investment in learning and development, with outstanding Continuous Professional Development programmes provided to teaching and support staff who are so keen to enhance their skills.

Of course it is not just the staff but also the governors, children and parents that we have to commend. Governors giving of their time and expertise, children inspired and eager to learn because of the faith they hold in the teachers who enrich their lives where otherwise there would be gaps and parents who believe in the value of education and are grateful and supportive of their schools.

Teachers must have energy, expertise and commitment. They can be young or old, experienced or inexperienced, all united by creating better life chance for young children. We need to continue to encourage and celebrate diversity within the system. There is no one model for a successful teacher.

Yes we have faced continual change across every area of school life but the vast majority of teachers are still there to take on the challenge. They deserve our thanks and it was good to see head teachers ‘honoured’ again this year as a reminder to us all of the importance of their role. We must encourage more honours nominations for our school staff and governors indeed across the country, many of whom are often hidden gems who give so much of themselves to provide a better future for our children and their communities.

I am delighted to speak in praise of our teachers as we work with them to ensure every child has a school of which to be proud, with teachers who are committed to ensuring their future is bright.

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