Giving the Tories’ education proposals the Third Degree

Now of course it’s good news that nice Mr Cameron has today announced his promise to improve the quality of teachers and to make teaching ‘the new noble profession’. And some of the ways he plans to do this might be of some benefit. One of those ways though is to restrict financial support for graduates who only get a Third-class university degree. Despite the fact that he says “Everyone remembers a teacher who made a difference through sheer force of personality”, what this proposal is actually doing is reinforcing the notion that by default people with high academic standards, ie extensive subject knowledge, make them the best teachers. As such it fails to recognise – or more probably reveals the lack of understanding of, the breadth of skills involved in the processes of teaching. I once used to work with a science teacher who had a PhD and who bored the pants off his pupils because he was a poor communicator and organiser who had little sense of how learners learn. What we really need are more effective ways of initially assessing potential teaching ability, and particularly I suspect those applying to do BEd degrees.

Meanwhile another part of the plan involves paying teachers more. Perhaps controversially, this also is not the solution. Successive governments seem to have had the belief that teachers are only in it for the money, whereas in reality it’s a vocation – unless you are motivated by the belief that you are in some way making things better for the children you teach you wouldn’t, and indeed couldn’t, do it. And anyway industry and commerce will simply offer the ‘brightest’ graduates more, and the whole thing will spiral out of control.

Meanwhile having used it in the title I was curious to know what the derivation of the term ‘Third Degree’ was. It seems that:

‘The third degree’ is well-known to all US crime-fiction enthusiasts as ‘an intensive, possibly brutal, interrogation.

In Masonic lodges there are three degrees of membership; the first is called Entered Apprentice, the second Fellowcraft, and the third is master mason. When a candidate receives the third degree in a Masonic lodge, he is subjected to some activities that involve an interrogation and it is more physically challenging than the first two degrees. It is this interrogation that was the source of the name of the US police force’s interrogation technique. ‘

Perhaps the way to get better teachers might be to give them the Third Degree?  I’m sure 9b would make a very good job of doing the interrogation…

2 comments on “Giving the Tories’ education proposals the Third Degree

  1. I always liked the bit in ‘Decline and Fall’ where Paul Pennyfeather is interviewed for a teaching job by Dr Fagan: when Dr Fagan asks why Paul had to leave university Paul confesses, ‘I was sent down, sir, for indecent behaviour.’ ‘Indeed, indeed? (says Dr Fagan), ‘Well, I shall not ask for details. I have been in the scholastic profession long enough to know that nobody enters it unless he has some very good reason which he is anxious to conceal.’

  2. What a dismal thought, the chief jellyfish setting an education agenda based on his own (and school friends’) narrow understanding and experience of education. It’s not as though education isn’t already controlled by a small group from a similar background.
    Whatever happened to the notion of an inclusive society?

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