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So Michael Gove wants to make it easier to kick bad teachers out of the profession. In particular he wants those teachers “who can’t keep control or keep the interest of their class” to be moved rapidly into the “firing line”.
As with every single other profession – public or private – there is undoubtedly a small minority teachers who are doing poor job. Yet, yelling about the need to kick out those teachers whose classrooms get out of control betrays a naiveity about the character of many secondary schools, and represents an approach that will hinder rather than help education.
Not a great deal of time has elapsed since I last attended my London comprehensive. And looking back, I can remember passionate, able and deeply committed teachers, who, all too often, were treated despicably by a fair minority of students. I remember many very good teachers who struggled, on occasion, to control their classes. However good they may have been, they were nonetheless dealing with people whose capacity to behave unreasonably seemed unrestrained by habit, morality, or indeed fear of any of the sanctions that teachers had at their disposal.
What message is Gove sending to such students (and indeed their parents)? Well, the message appears to be “if you behave unreasonably, it’s your teachers fault”. Fast -tracking teachers for the sack – when their classrooms become out of control – gives, frankly, the most maladjusted students the whip-hand over those who educate them. The biggest disrupters will be further empowered to threaten their teachers’ livelihoods.
More to the point, it is a fantasy to imagine that dishing out more p45 can genuinely address the problem of out of control classrooms. It is obvious, not least after this summer, that such classroom problems are a manifestation of a more general inter-generational crisis. One does not have to buy into the right wing trash about a decline in morals/collapse of Christian civilisation narrative to be capable of observing this. Frank Furedi is right to argue that, as our activity in society becomes increasingly denuded of meaning, adulthood somewhat loses its point, and that, as such, a general collapse in adult authority is less than surprising.
Does this mean that we should be completely fatalistic about what we expect in the way of classroom control? Of course not. But it does suggest that the costs of Gove’s approach – in terms of the erosion of the educators authority – may greatly outweigh the benefits of getting rid of a few bad apples.
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