Career-Long Training Is What Makes the Best of Teachers; David Laws Is the Latest Education Minister to Turn on Teachers. Pupils, He Said, Are Suffering from a Lack of Ambition and It Is the Teacher's Job to 'Reach for the Stars'. Here, General Teaching Council for Wales Chief Executive Gary Brace Champions the Need to Win Greater Respect for the Profession

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Byline: Gary Brace

THOSE who care about the status of the teaching profession have just had a roller coaster couple of weeks.

Fresh from the fulsome plaudits broadcast to the nation from the prestigious Pearson National Teaching Awards - which showcased excellence in the classroom - education professionals found themselves heading into a firestorm of ministerial disapproval in the media.

First, UK Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that, in future, those wanting to enter initial teacher training in England would have to pass literacy and numeracy tests; the clear implication being that a significant number already working in the classroom are deficient in such skills.

Next, UK Schools Minister David Laws joined the fray with claims that teachers are failing to raise the aspirations of their students. Although the legislative writ of neither man runs on this side of the border, teachers in Wales can hardly have missed these stinging criticisms of their profession.

Hopefully they were able to shrug it off, as often before. They know that, in reality, the vast majority of teachers are motivated primarily by a desire to see their pupils do as well as they possibly can in life.

And, in respect of new entrants to the profession, they also know that the current generation of newly-qualified teachers are probably better prepared for their careers than any of their predecessors.

Furthermore, Estyn inspectors have verified that the overall quality of teachers in Wales today is "good", "very good" or, in many cases, "excellent". Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done to give the profession the status it needs in order to deflect constant criticism and achieve the consistent improvement required to prepare youngsters for an increasingly competitive world. The landmark McKinsey report entitled: "How the World's Best Schools Come Out On Top", stressed that no education system can exceed the quality of its teachers and it cited research showing that the skills of individual teachers can account for as much as a 50% difference in the attainment of an average pupil.

This touchstone document underlined the need to select the right people for the profession and to prepare them well at the outset. This "start-of-career" support is, of course, the focus of current teacher training initiatives in both Wales and England.

But, crucially, McKinsey goes further and emphasises the importance of continuing to develop teachers' skills. If the teaching profession is to deliver what is required of it, this is exactly where we must be focusing our energies and investment.

The making of great teachers is a career-long process and we must approach it rigorously and systematically. For teachers to be really at the top of their game it is important that all become lifelong learners and embrace the continuing professional development culture of licensed professions such as medicine, law and accountancy, where such development is obligatory. …