It’s again time for Scottish educationalists to peep over the Border, this time at Tristram Hunt and Anthony Seldon.
Teachers should be licensed and could be sacked if they fail tough professional checks, asserted Hunt, Labour’s Westminster education spokesperson.
“Just like lawyers and doctors they should have the same professional standing which means re-licensing themselves, which means continued professional development, which means being the best possible they can be,” said Hunt, not a man to allow a few non sequiturs to spoil the rhetoric.
“If you’re not a motivated teacher – passionate about your subject, passionate about being in the classroom – then you shouldn’t really be in this profession.” No politician with a genuine belief in the capacity of the teaching profession would start a sentence with the negative and accusatory clause, “If you’re not a passionate teacher…”
There would be loud cheers if he were emulating Finland and seeking a highly-paid, well-qualified teaching profession, in an overwhelmingly comprehensive system and a far more socially equal society.
True, there are some ineffective teachers. That requires rigorous professional review, a well-supported, and supportive, programme of continuing professional development and a recognition that the best way to boost teachers’ skills is to encourage the sharing of the excellent practice which exists in all schools and across the profession.
In Scotland at least, we still have a General Teaching Council. The GTC may not be the last word in professional management and development. It is independent of government, financed by teachers and able to maintain a demanding culture in terms of professional qualifications and discipline.
If what Mr Hunt wants is the reintroduction of the EnglishGTC, fine: but why the aggressive rhetoric? His statement puts the failures of the educational system on the backs of the teaching profession. It underlines a dangerous drift in Westminster Labour’s agenda.
Equally fascinating was the almost consecutive call by Wellington College’s Anthony Seldon and the Social Market Foundation for parents annually earning in excess of £80k to be charged for sending their children to ‘over-subscribed’ local authority schools.
“Britain will be in debt for many years to come. We should be looking for every possible source of extra funds to come into public services and state schooling is the last great bastion holding out against the principle of payment,” said Seldon.
His theory is that such an approach will return money to the educational system, lead to more affluent parents sending their children to under-subscribed schools (which he described as ‘poor schools’) and leave more places at popular (‘good’ he would call them) schools for the bright children of the poor.
The reality would not be the social mobility Seldon claims to want. The first result would be many affluent parents, currently sending their children free to state schools, would see no reason not to send them to private schools. Indeed, with the educational private sector strapped for cash, that may be precisely the purpose of his proposal.
The second result would be, as inevitably happens when charges are imposed for previously universally provided services, that the level at which these charges were imposed would gradually drop until more and more parents were asked to pay for their children’s schooling. Free schooling would end for all but the poorest. The old divisions would be reinforced, not challenged.
These are dangerous times. Basic principles which underpinned education are under attack. The Scottish educational community has to respond.
The above article was first published in Holyrood Magazine on 17 February 2014.

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