Gove not cherry-picking this one: OECD’s Schleicher on teacher pay and conditions

For those of you who don’t know, the ISTP – 2012 International Summit of the Teaching Profession is being held today and tomorrow in NYC, USA.

Our initial reaction to these events is always that they are a good opportunity to see the world, have a few dinners at taxpayer expense and pontificate on matters that many will not have any experience of.

Improving anything is easy behind a desk or in an audience listening to a guest speaker but more difficult when actually walking the walk in the classroom, despite all the fine talk about “high performing and rapidly improving educational systems” and “developing school leaders, training teachers for the delivery of 21st century skills, and preparing teachers to work and succeed where they are most needed.”

Better, quicker, sharper, faster, fitter teachers are now de rigeur but we and daresay many others know that this kind of discourse is a way of deflecting attention away from the real problems facing teaching and teachers: poor salaries and dehumanising working conditions.

We had always thought that the OECD is on-message when it came to teacher-bashing and nothing more than a conservative front for big business and neo-liberal organisations eager to divvy up the remaining public education pie.

However, in his report – Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century: Lessons from around the world – Andreas Schleicher, OECD’s special adviser on education, has given us some hope that outside the bubble that is Westminster, England, at least, bureaucrats understand FINALLY that if you want good teachers you have to treat them properly.

The most common way to treat professionals properly is to pay them enough, and this is a point made repeatedly in the report. Indeed, the report states that, “Cross-country comparisons using PISA data show that relative pay-levels of teachers are related to average student performance in education systems, after other system-level factors have been accounted for.”

Yet what is striking about the report is that the proper treatment of teachers is seen as more than about money.

He writes: “The kind of teaching needed today requires teachers to be high-level knowledge workers who constantly advance their own professional knowledge as well as that of their profession. But people who see themselves as knowledge workers are not attracted by schools organized like an assembly line, with teachers working as interchangeable widgets in a bureaucratic command-and-control environment.

Is neo-liberal promoter Schleicher saying schools are run like factories, with teachers regarded as cogs in a machine? Quite incredible.

Less remarkable but very predictable is the fact that no-one from either of the main parties in the UK felt this comment on teacher working conditions or others like it deserved a response.

For there ARE others. For example: “Working conditions and teacher satisfaction and retention are closely related. Inversely, the lack of a positive work environment contributes to the high attrition rates in certain schools, especially in the case of disadvantaged schools.”

What the UK government should be doing, according to the OECD, then, is pay teachers more and leave them free to do their job, treat them better i.e. like human beings, and stop meddling in something that teachers know far more about.

Yet, this doesn’t fit well with the Tory agenda of deliberately undermining the teaching profession and replacing the current training organisations with ‘charities’ and cheaper, more onerous school-based options. The last thing Gove wants is for attention instead to be placed on teacher pay and conditions as this will put pay to Tory efforts to play patronage with the education budget.

So expect Gove to remain silent, and for the elephant that is teacher pay and conditions to stay in the room.

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