Great teachers: attracting, training and retaining the best - Education Committee Contents

Annex 2: Note of the Committee's discussions with secondary school and college students, November 2011

This note offers a brief record of two meetings held with secondary school and college students from London and Hertfordshire, at the House of Commons. The discussions were intended to gather students' views on the qualities of the best teachers.

Members in attendance: Pat Glass MP, Damian Hinds MP, Craig Whittaker MP

Students agreed that outstanding teachers shared a range of qualities. Making learning fun and engaging was considered crucial, although students pointed out that an ability to keep discipline was equally important, and that some 'fun' teachers could get taken advantage of. Active and interactive learning was seen as a trademark of good teachers, rather than lessons which involved the teacher talking too much (an emphasis on practical tasks was put forward by both groups). An ability to relate to young people (being "in tune" with them, as one student said) was also seen as vital, as this encouraged your students to learn more and to respect the teacher in question. However, creating respect amongst students was seen as a 'mystery'! Teachers with 'bad attitudes' towards young people did not inspire learning to happen. Understanding of subject was seen as very important—one student pointed out that if a teacher doesn't know anything, you won't learn anything—but the ability to communicate the knowledge, and enthusiasm for the subject area, were also regarded as a key qualities.

Very few young people seemed to have considered teaching themselves. For some, this was because they didn't see their teachers as role models, or because they thought teaching as a career appeared unexciting. Teaching was seen as needing qualities which some students felt they didn't possess—such as patience—and it was acknowledged that working with children could be very difficult. Teaching was seen by some as a stressful job.

Of those students who were considering a career in teaching, the motivation was largely due to intrinsic factors: for example, students said they wanted to help people with particular problems, or had a desire to work with children. It was pointed out that teachers benefit the whole of society, and everyone needs good teachers, which implied a rewarding profession. Among the more extrinsic rewards of teaching, good holidays were noted. Approximately 10% of the students in one group felt teaching was badly paid. However, the general consensus from many students was that higher salaries would not persuade them to consider the profession any more. Teaching, one student said, "is not all about money". Furthermore, students didn't want to be taught by people who were 'in it for the money'. In the other group, it was suggested that teachers should be paid more.

When asked what the Government could do to improve the overall quality of teaching, recruitment of people with the above qualities was high on the list of responses. In particular, students pointed out that teachers should be assessed on their subject capabilities as well as their personal skills. Teachers needed to be mentors, one student said, and should have a good rapport with young people. Students should, it was felt, be able to offer feedback on their teachers' performance (some had experienced this, but others had not). Others suggested that students should be better involved in the selection and appraisal of staff.

Teacher training, it was felt, needed to be practical, and more young people should be recruited to teaching, although it was pointed out that good, older teachers could be "in touch" with students as well.

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