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John Simkin

Age and Teaching Performance

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Recent research by Nottingham University and the London University’s Institute of Education discovered that pupils are more likely to get better results if the teacher is new to the profession. According to this research, 80 per cent of staff in their first seven years in the classroom produced value-added results at or above the expected level. But this fell to 68 per cent for those with between 8 and 23 years’ experience and to 59% per cent for those with 24 years or more.

Do you agree with this research? If so, what reasons can you give for these results?

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Recent research by Nottingham University and the London University’s Institute of Education discovered that pupils are more likely to get better results if the teacher is new to the profession. According to this research, 80 per cent of staff in their first seven years in the classroom produced value-added results at or above the expected level. But this fell to 68 per cent for those with between 8 and 23 years’ experience and to 59% per cent for those with 24 years or more.

Do you agree with this research? If so, what reasons can you give for these results?

It may be more difficult for an older teacher to establish a rapport with his or her class. It is also quite probable that the young graduate has more up to date knowledge and enthusiasm for their subject. They may also still see themselves as a learner.

I'm not sure exam results are a true measure of "teaching performance" - my ability to squeeze non academic students through a watered down academic curriculum has actually improved as I have got more experienced. Whether this counts as "teaching performance" however is open to debate.

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Could it be a combination of these factors? Namely:

1. Teaching demands a lot of energy. Maybe older teachers just "burn out". Even though I switched to higher education in my late 20s - which was a lot less exhausting than secondary education, where my career started - I began to feel very tired at the end of each day in my late 40s and I took early retirement at 51. However, the most decisive factor in persuading me to take early retirement was increasing senior management and government interference and increasing bureaucracy. I was spending less and less time teaching and more and more time on filling in forms, reporting on what I was doing and writing future plans.

2. Younger teachers are probably more up-to-date with National Curriculum and exam requirements and probably make these their main focus. Older teachers probably want to get away from this straitjacket and concentrate on educating their students rather than just getting them to pass exams. When I talk to younger colleagues I often find they they lack a breadth of knowledge about their subject and, sadly, a lack of interest about anything relating to their subject that does not fall within the National Curriculum requirements.

I detest the top-down, control freak mentality that currently pervades all aspects of education. For example, Becta has just issued new guidelines to suppliers of registered electronic resources under the Curriculum Online initiative. The phrase that caught my eye in the new guidelines was: “Becta does not anticipate that any registration products will require removal but please note the stronger requirements for products to be designed for schools and linked to the curriculum”.

I doubt that teachers of my subject area, namely Modern Foreign Languages (MFL), will be particularly impressed by this requirement. Many electronic resources - probably "most" in the case of gifted students who need to be stretched beyond Common European Framework Threshold Level B1 = Higher GCSE - are not specifically designed for schools and linked to the National Curriculum. MFL teachers require a vast amount of authentic sources, as used by mother tongue speakers of the languages that they teach, e.g. text extracts from the national press, and audio and video clips from radio and TV, supplied "live" via websites, in the form of blogs and podcasts and also on CD-ROM or DVD.

In other words, MFL teachers often seek materials that are not necessarily linked to the National Curriculum but those materials which accurately and authentically reflect the languages that they teach and the cultures of the countries in which the languages are spoken. There used to be a large number of suppliers of materials of this sort in the UK, and there were also suppliers in Continental Europe and elsewhere, e.g. French-speaking Canada. UK suppliers now tend to concentrate on producing a more limited - and less richer - range of electronic resources which are specifically linked to the National Curriculum, and overseas suppliers are effectively cut out. Is this what was intended by the DfES? Maybe it was part of the government's Grand Plan in killing off Modern Foreign Languages in state schools - which it has effectively achieved by making the study of a foreign language optional beyond KS3. As a result, Modern Foreign Languages as a subject area is increasingly becoming the pursuit of an academic élite. We appear to be returning to the situation that I remember in my schooldays in the 1940s to early 1960s, where only "posh" kids studied foreign languages in order to prepare themselves for careers in the diplomatic corps and international business and just swanning around Europe for pleasure. As a partner in a business that supplies MFL software to schools, I can see a clear trend in our latest sales figures, where most of our trade now comes from independent secondary and prep schools and from specialist state schools, i.e. language colleges and technology colleges.

I think that the new requirement reflects Becta's poor state of knowledge about the ways in which Modern Foreign Languages as a subject area is "different" and underlines the blinkered approach to education that affects this fog-ridden island.

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I agree that young teachers are more enthusiastic and have more up to date knowledge on their subjects than experienced teachers.

However, not being taken seriously by students (because of the teacher's age) is always a disadvantage for young instructors.

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