Valuing Teachers

Wales isn't the only country to be concerned about its drop in ranking in the PISA assessments. Here is a story from one of the Flemish newspapers:

South Korea teaches Flanders how to achieve results

Flemish minister for Education, Pascal Smet (SP.A), ten Flemish MPs and a delegation from the education department and the Flemish Education Council are spending the week on the ground in Seoul schools and universities to see how South Korea managed to end up in the top three for the international PISA tests for 15-year olds in a short period of time. They travelled to the Seoul University of Education in a VIP bus, where teachers are trained through a four-year course, after which exams are held for each municipality.

The exams are held in three rounds, and only once all are passed can a student become a teacher. South Korea employs a central examination after secondary education. “The highest-scoring 0.8 percent of students come here to train to become primary school teachers,” said rector Song Kwang Yong proudly. “They don’t want to become a lawyer or a doctor, but a teacher.” And he is not exaggerating. “Confucius divided careers into 44 categories,” the rector explained. “Teaching is the topmost. Anybody who teaches here is very proud of that fact and also enjoys extraordinary prestige.”

Smet sighed at the explanation as in Belgium a third of young teachers quit within the first five years. “We don’t have Confucius, but we must also be able to recruit good students as teachers,” the minister said. He is presently working on a new plan for teaching as a career. “We must also, just as they do here, provide them with sufficient additional training once they have started the job.”

At Banpo High School the pupils often arrive at 07.50 in the morning and frequently stay at school until 22.00. Those students that don’t stay to study after standard school hours go to a private school for extra lessons. “The pressure is intense,” one mother, who lived for some time in the US, says, “and not just from society, but also within the classroom. In the West a hard-working student is a nerd, but here your grades determine your popularity.” Many of the MPs consider the pressure put on the shoulders of the children as being excessive, but Smet still voiced his appreciation at what he encountered in the Far East. “We have not come here to imitate the South Koreans,” he said, “but we can most certainly learn something from this mentality.”

De Morgen, 25 March 2011

Yet the situation in Flanders is very far from being bad. Flanders used to be right at the top of the PISA rankings, and is still in the top ten in maths and reading, though it has now fallen out of the top ten in science, as we can read here.

Education is going to be one of the main focuses of this year's general election in Wales, and I'll probably have a lot more to say about it over the next few weeks. Some already have pointed the finger of blame for Wales' relatively poor performance at teachers, others will point at the politicians who determine our educational priorities; but perhaps this short article shows that the value that society places upon teachers is more fundamental than anything else.

Do our brightest and best students—the top 0.8%—aspire to become primary school teachers? Not many, I'm sure, not least because there are many more professions which are far more lucrative and far less stressful. We might not be able to do too much about the stress, but it would be good if we in Wales were able to do something about the money.

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Taffia Don said...

Teachers pay and conditions have not been devolved, so it is impossible for the Assembly to change these.

But as the DCSF report (DCSF-00924-2008BKT-EN) says "Parental behaviour has a bigger effect than school quality on pupils' attainment..." We need a greater emphasis on education in the home, greater emphasis on parents as educators, and greater emphasis on educational success, if we want to improve.

Paying teachers more will not made an impact if pupils don't see the value of education.

MH said...

Thanks, Don. For others who are interested, that report is here.

Yes, teachers' pay and conditions are not devolved, but I think they should be, as I said here. I am actually more convinced of this now, having spoken about it with people from a couple of unions over the weekend. To be blunt I see it is the only way of protecting teachers' pay, as it is almost inevitable that the ConDem government will seek to extend regional pay scales to teachers, which will mean teachers in Wales will lose out in comparison with their peers in most parts of England.

Now it's all very well to say that there should be more emphasis on education in the home. There are many parents who realize this and encourage (or even drive) their children to do well. But there are many parents who, even with the best will in the world, are not able to be educators and must therefore rely on schools to take that full burden. And there are some who simply do not value education very much, and instill negative attitudes and a sense of hopelessness in their children about how much difference education can make, particularly as a route out of poverty. This becomes a cycle, and increasingly polarizes the better off from the poor. This polarization is, in my opinion, the single biggest problem we face as a society.

This attitude was not prevalent in Wales a couple of generations ago, when education was seen as the main route to advancement. To me, this change has coincided with us placing less value on teachers. Who knows which is the chicken and which is the egg; but we think less of teachers, pay them comparatively less than we used to, and attract fewer of the brightest and best graduates to be teachers.

I don't think teachers are particularly dissatisfied with their pay, and in the current crisis I don't think it is reasonable to pay them more. But our society does tend to correlate what we pay people with what we think they are worth in a wider sense. So in the long term we must seek to reverse this trend by attracting more of our best graduates into teaching (and keeping them there) and this will mean paying them accordingly.

Anonymous said...

I think sending kids to Sunday School would do a lot in terms of increasing literacy, discussion skills, learning 'manners', learning morals etc.

I guess most kids who were sent to Sunday School in 'the old days' weren't necessarily better than other kids, they may not even be religious. But one thing they did gain was an extra hour or so of reading, discussing, learning etc. An extra hour which children which didn't go to Sunday School didn't have the benefit of.

I'm not saying Sunday School is the only option ... but I'm not seeing many other secular institutions offering this asset.

As a father I now see the benefits which my children get from Sunday School and guess what that amounts to over a year or a school career. Let's say 1 hour x 40 weeks x 8 year? That's about 320 hours extra of 'education' which a child not attending Sunday School may not get.

Sunday Schools were cheap (almost free). And even with the old chapel snobbery, was much less class conscious and elitist than many more popular extra curricular activies today.

I think we in Wales lost a lot when Sunday Schools went out of fashion. This is maybe more so in working class Wales and Welsh-speaking Wales where the Welsh-medium Sunday Schools did so much to help with Welsh literacy.

There were many bad points to do with Welsh non-conformity, but over the last generation or so we've seen the evidence of being very neglectful of something which helped us a lot over 200 year. Something we ridiculed and then neglected ... and no we have nothing (except maybe the Urdd Eisteddfodau) to put in its place.

'Sunday School Boy'

Taffia Don said...

The report that I referred to has a detailed analysis regarding the benefit of parental involvement or interest in education from simple things like being read to by the father. Children who are read to by their father (or male) have better reading ages and better attainment than those who are not. So educational results would be increased from supporting family literacy campaigns as well.

I agree that parents are far to willing to support their child than ever before (having four parents complain when I moved their daughters for talking and disrupting lessons). However, this is in line with decline in respect in the wider society. I would be interested in hearing your ideas how this trend can be reversed.

We have found ourselves in a rights oriented society, where everything is someone elses responsibility - we should not expect our school to be the sole source of education that our children receive. We need to get parents to take responsibility for their childrens education. Teaching standards in "worse" schools is often better than those in "good" school but the key difference is the attitude of the parent. I'm generalising here, on the whole parents in good schools, look for educational opportunities, they look to get support for children who are having difficulty or they can supply it themselves. Those in "worse" schools, think that as long as their children attend school that their job is done. They feel no obligation to check homework, or support the school in any manner (I had a parent call their daughter in the middle of lessons).

In addition to encouraging learning in the home, I feel the easiest step to encouraging children to take attention to their education is, having set standards for progress, rather than age related progress. Would be a comparitively cheap alteration.

MH said...

I saw a TV documentary which focused on boys and reading, and on the difference it made if fathers read with their sons, Don. So I'd agree with you on that.

As to respect, I take your point about decline in respect in society as a whole, but I think it's fair to say that good teachers earn respect. It's part of the job, and that's why teaching is a tough job.

I don't have any strong views about whether it's better to hold children back a year unless they achieve that year's expected standard, or whether it's better to address it by remedial or additional teaching. But it is something that needs to be addressed because (especially with literacy) once a child starts to fall behind, they'll simply fall further behind unless it is adressed.

We know from Estyn that 40% of children have a lower than expected reading age, so the problem is huge. I just can't see that holding back 40% of children would work logistically, and it certainly wouldn't be cheap to pay for 40% of children getting an extra year of schooling ... but that's not to say it wouldn't be worth the cost.

Off the top of my head, I think the transition from primary to secondary is critical. If a child was only a year behind it would probably be better to let them go through but with remedial/additional teaching. If any child was more than a year behind, it might be better to hold them back. But that's no more than thinking aloud on my part.

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