Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ashamedly elitist

I am not the only person to have noted that in Cameron's drive to attract graduates from the best universities with the best degrees into the teaching profession would bar his own maths tsar, Carol Vorderman, who only got a third. I sought advice from an expert with more than 40 years' experience at the sharp end of education - practical, classroom teaching. She's recently retired as a maths teacher, but is in great demand by her former employer for cover work, although she doesn't have a degree, so wouldn't qualify for training funding under the Cameron approach.

If I'm being generous, this is another Cameron policy idea that is based upon a simple solution - education results can be improved by getting the top graduates involved in teaching. There is a damn sight more to being a teacher than the quality of your degree. I know of one Cambridge graduate with a first-class degree in maths that lasted twelve months in front of a class because he lacked the necessary abilities and skills possessed by many lesser-qualified teachers. I've known well-qualified teachers without the ability to control classes, but the top graduates will get the golden welcome, while lesser mortals - still required to make up the numbers - will have to fund themselves. I'm not alone in this view.

Similarly, the idea that married couples should get a tax break is well-meaning, but it is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of cause and effect. Children certainly benefit from stable parental partnerships, but marriage is not the cause of the stability, but a symptom. Stable couples are more likely to get married, but the message that Cameron is sending out is that unmarried parents are second-class parents. Perhaps this is appealing to some of the Daily Mail-reading classes who consider all single-parents to be young, feckless scroungers - although the reality is that over half of single parents are single in their 30s and 40s as the result of the end of the marriage through widowhood or divorce and a very small proportion of single mothers are in their teens. For some reason, these aren't deserving of a tax break, but the love-rat partner who abandons them and takes a new wife then collects the tax bonus. And then there's the reality check - would a few pounds a week in tax benefits really make anyone dash out to find a spouse? I'm not sure that encouraging relationships on the basis of tax efficiency is a guarantee of love or stability. Isn't it rather odd that a party that has been critical of the level of state intervention into people's lives is happy to intervene in their lives in this way.

If I'm being less than generous, then this is just a series of attempts to grab headlines without the intention to follow through with any real, substantive policy.

But that isn't likely, is it?

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