April 02, 2003
What kind of control?

There was an email last weekend from a certain Simon Austin.

I notice that you run an education blog.

Correct.

Is this because you work in that sector?

No but I'd quite like to. My plan is to use this blog to learn lots about education, and thus get a better job than if I just trained and applied, and then got hurled into a room full of juvenile delinquents, which I think is a silly way to start, and a pretty silly thing to be doing at any time..

I am in the wonderful businesses of TV, music and media. Rights ownership to be precise.

I was wondering whether you could comment on the following since I would really love to get your opinion and ideas on this tricky subject:

1 How to attract better people into teaching in the first place, especially Maths, Technical & Science teachers.

2 How to attract people back into teaching once they have left.

3 How to attract professionals who wish to make a radical lifestyle change into
teaching.

4 How to positively change people's perceptions & pre-judgements (usually negative) about the profession.

5 How to improve the media's reporting of the sector to show it in a better light.

The reason that I ask these questions is because I am to make two TV series about these issues over the next two years in addition to all my other light entertainment and factual stuff. I wish to redress the teaching and education knocking that has taken place over he last three years by offering real solutions to these very real problems.

The difficulty that I have is that a lot of the knocking is quite well deserved.

I hope that you will have a few suggestions for me.

Well, not very many, and very few that I haven't done half to death here on several occasions. Here's part of the problem, from an education.guardian.co.uk story today.

Disruptive pupils, league tables, a lack of opportunities to renew their knowledge and budgetary "game playing" are preventing science teachers from fulfilling their capabilities, claims Save British Science, a pressure group aiming to improve the scientific health of the UK.

The organisation has been briefing MPs on the concerns of teachers ahead of a members' debate tomorrow into the state of science education in secondary schools.

The organisation claims that teachers cannot give full attention to their main role of educating and inspiring young people about science, engineering and mathematics, because they are wrapped up in layers of bureaucracy.

But if you believe that "bureaucracy should be got rid of", what control, if any, should there be on the activities of maths and science teachers?

One of the reasons why free market ideologists like me think as we do is that the market not only provides an arena of freedom, but also one of control. It supplies the alternative that is necessary if bureaucracy is to be done away with. In the market, maths teachers with their own ideas about how to do things can offer what they believe in, but if they get no takers, they'll have to change their ways or else stop. No forms need be filled in. No tyrant from London need impose "best practice" with a blizzard of questionaires. The teacher can just get on with teaching. All steps away from bureaucracy towards a free market in education are, other things being equal, to be welcomed.

But if the government is simply expected to hand over money to maths and science teachers without having any control whatsoever over how that money is being used or whether any good teaching is actually occurring, well, you can expect all you want, but it can't happen. The present horror, of bureaucrats out of all control, will merely be replaced by another horror: teachers out of all control.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am an admirer of the Kumon maths system. (I know less about Kumon English but am prejudiced in its favour based on what I've seen of the maths.) Kumon makes use not of brilliant teachers, but of a brilliant system, embodied in a mass of documents and procedures. In its way, Kumon is just as "bureaucratic" as the state system, in the sense that you either do it their way or they won't let you do it at all. The difference is that it works.

Maybe others can do better.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:42 PM
Category: Free market reforms
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