The teachers deserve their Oscars

25 Oct 2008 BBC News Online

The teachers deserve their Oscars

By Mike Baker
Mike Baker
Last week saw the 10th anniversary of the Teaching Awards, with the ceremony televised on BBC2.


It now seems the Teaching Awards are here to stay.

Yet, when they began, many teachers strongly criticised the idea of picking a "best teacher" as artificial and elitist. They feared it would undermine the team working that is essential to schools.


A decade later those critics have been proved wrong. The Teaching Awards, which were the brainchild of the film director Lord Putnam, have given a great boost to the public image of teachers.


I should perhaps, at this stage, declare an interest as a former judge of the national awards. Observing the short-listed teachers in their classrooms was thoroughly uplifting.


I clearly remember visiting a lesson given by Nick Wergan, the eventual winner of the "2007 Outstanding New Teacher of the Year".


Not only did I not want to leave at the end of his English lesson, I would happily have gone back for the next period and would even have been happy to be set homework. I might even have handed it in on time.


Watching this year's award winners - and particularly the heartfelt endorsement of the winners from pupils and parents - set me thinking about the public image of teachers.


There was a time when teachers seemed to have a poor image in the media. It went back to the days of the teachers' strikes in the 1980s. Indeed, it may even have started before that, in the 1970s, when schools started to get the blame for the feeling that Britain had lost its way in the world.


Now I detect a more sympathetic portrayal of teachers in the media. Yes, there is still plenty of focus on the problems in schools, but there is now rather less of the impression that teachers are responsible for all of the ills in society. Indeed, there is greater respect for the difficulties they face.


I wondered if I was just getting soft in my old age. So I looked to see if there was any evidence to corroborate this sense that teachers are now getting a more sympathetic showing in the media.


I came across the Teacher Status Project, a research project undertaken by the Universities of Leicester and Cambridge between 2002 and 2006.


Part of the project looked specifically at the media portrayal of teachers, examining the coverage and interviewing journalists. It concluded that there had been a move away from the "teacher bashing" of the mid-1990s and earlier, towards a more sympathetic and positive picture.


It also noted that teachers and schools had become more "media savvy" and that teachers are now "given remarkably high visibility as a key voice in public debate".

Remembering teachers


Of course, there are other factors at play too. Teachers' pay and working conditions impact on their pubic image.


And, at a time of job insecurity and impending economic recession, the teachers' lot looks increasingly attractive (which, incidentally, is why there may be a lack of public support if the National Union of Teachers current pay ballot brings industrial action).


Many people in other jobs will now be looking with some envy at teachers' final salary pension schemes and their relative job security.


In the past, economic recession has usually coincided with an upturn in applications for teacher training. This might prove to be one of the few silver linings in the gathering of dark clouds.


But more than anything, the positive image of the teaching profession is rooted in our own direct personal experience of inspirational teachers.

As it happens, just as I was reflecting on the Teaching Awards, I was asked to contribute to a new website, run by the charity, the Teachers Support Network.


"Great Teachers Remembered" is a way of making a tribute to a teacher who has died.


As it happened, one of my former teachers died this summer. Roger Bayes taught English at my secondary school and was a big influence on my eventual choice of English as my subject at university and of journalism as a career.


He also ran most of the cricket activities, even though he was not a sports teacher. This was at a time when sport in state schools was at a low ebb. I was no great shakes at cricket, I'm afraid, but have loved the game ever since school.


Long-term impact

I had not realised he had died until I came across a blog by Patrick Kidd, one of the cricket writers at The Times. Not only had Patrick penned an elegantly affectionate portrait of Mr Bayes, as I feel I should still call him, but over 30 others had contributed their memories of him too.


These reminded me of the many stories about Mr Bayes, including him carrying his pint of beer out to the middle when batting in staff v. school matches and, in later years, his tendency to referee football matches from inside his car, parked near the touchline. In case you're wondering, he flashed his lights when there was a foul.


How many non-teachers will be able to claim such an impact on so many people over so many years?


So, to return to my starting point, I applaud the Teaching Awards. It hardly matters whether the half dozen or so winners each year really are the best of the 500,000 teachers in the UK.


What matters is that they are amongst the very best of those men and women who make a real difference to our lives.


If we can make such a fuss about our favourite footballers, singers and actors, we should certainly do the same for teachers.

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