October 25th, 2007
In the October 19 2007 Times Educational Supplement, the lead headline is “It’s the teachers, stupid”. It reports the findings of a report by McKinsey, a global consultancy firm that argues that the most important factors in educational excellence is the teachers.
The findings are quantified: around the world the top educational systems are found in South Korea, Finland, Singapore and Hong Kong. In these countries, teachers come from the top 5%, 10%, 30% and 30% of the graduates respectively. As a comparison, in the USA teachers come from the bottom 33% of graduates. The figures aren’t specified for the UK, though it is considered ‘between the two extremes’.
Their conclusions are that the only way to improve the outcomes of pupils is to improve the quality of instruction. When a profession is high-status, top graduates want to do it and the quality of their instruction improves.
Having read this article yesterday, this morning on Radio 4’s Today programme I heard a lady talk about one of the changes between when she grew up and now: when she was at school she was told that (as a woman) she could become “a teacher or a nurse” whereas now she might have aspired to be a “doctor or a lawyer”. The status levels are clear, and still entrenched. Doctors and lawyers are high-status professions. A teacher is respected, but is essentially a carer in some important way. I can’t believe that in Finland or South Korea these unfortunate couplets would trip off the tongue so readily.
I am glad that McKinsey has produced this report, because ministers are liable only to listen to a big consultancy business. My heart sinks to imagine how much money has been thrown at this consultancy giant to point out the mind-blowingly obvious. What is scary to me is that ministers appear to be genuinely unable to appreciate these truths without a consultancy-led statistically-backed study, whereas surely a moment of rational reflection shows their conclusions to be self-evident.