I heard Nick Clegg on the Today programme recently extolling the importance of teachers in the education of children. This is the chap who led his Liberal party to extinction and, over five years of coalition, held back the Conservatives from implementing policies that would have freed up our economy and reformed our failing school system!
While it is pretty obvious that teachers have an impact on the quality of a child’s learning, I think Clegg is wrong to say they are paramount in education. The plain fact is that, for the 13 years of mainstream schooling, children spend 15% of their time in school and 85% outside of it. This makes it pretty obvious to me that the impact of parents and the quality of home life has to be as important in a child’s development, in fact, almost certainly more so, than the impact a teacher can have for 6½ hours per day for less than 200 days in a year. Where parents believe in the value of learning, where there are books a plenty in the home, where access to the TV is controlled and where there is a computer for the child to enjoy but with a degree of supervision and control, surely that child has a head start over a home where these are missing? The difficulty that schools face is the mixing together of children from all levels of society and ability and the inevitable consequence that the brighter and better supported at home may well be held back as teachers struggle to help those without encouragement and support at home.
I also challenge Clegg’s view that teachers have to be graduates. I am afraid there are too many graduates emerging from our plethora of universities who cannot spell, do sums, write grammatically or hold a coherent picture of our nation’s history so I think there is no guarantee that a university degree leads to an ability to teach. Add to that the trendy teaching methods espoused by teacher training institutions and you might begin to understand what is wrong with so much in our education system. Communicating knowledge and a love of learning is a skill that shines in some individuals, regardless of their access to higher education and loosening the rules about teacher qualifications in academy schools can only open the door to more individuals with this talent.
If still in doubt, watch the teaching profession in action at the National Union of Teachers conference and you will begin to understand that the state should be distanced from education. I have always believed that education should be funded by the state but is far too important to be run by the state. That is why I support the Free Schools and Academies approach to state education as a pathway to the privatisation of school provision while maintaining public funding. Remember that Blair introduced them; the coalition continued their development and the Conservatives are pushing the programme further. The mistake the government has made is to believe local government should have no part to play in the education market. It is clear to me that local government is much better placed to manage this market with local knowledge and local democratic input than a remote Department for Education in Whitehall or unaccountable academy groups of companies.
Looking at the junior doctors, we seem to have an increasing problem here with their trade union determined to undermine a democratically elected government. The health service has become such a sacred cow that no politician dares to reform it. Government after government has poured money into it only to see it swallowed up in higher pay to GPs who no longer offer a comprehensive 24/7 service to patients. If you see how consultants are rewarded mainly by their own peers, you would be amazed and might want to remind yourself that our striking junior doctors are aspiring to the huge salaries consultants can earn.
Junior doctors need to get real. People working in retail, hospitality or many marketing-based businesses regularly work at weekends and think nothing of it. Junior doctors need to accept they are in a changing world.