Is Teaching Becoming a Service Industry?

Following yesterday’s post, here’s the link to the Telegraph article which reported details of Tony Little’s criticisms of government education policy –

Teaching being turned into a ‘service industry’, says Eton head

The headmaster of Eton College warns that a love of teaching is being lost in the drive to professionalise classrooms and ensure pupils hit national examination targets

By Graeme Paton, Education Editor

 A generation of teachers risks being turned into “functionaries in a service industry” because of a relentless focus on exam targets in schools, according to the headmaster of Eton College.

Large numbers of newly-qualified teachers are entering the classroom with a “limited” understanding of their role following a drive by successive governments to “professionalise” the job, said Tony Little.

He warned that traditional notions of teaching as a vocation had been replaced with ones that prioritise assessment targets, behaviour management and curriculum objectives.

Mr Little criticised recruitment campaigns launched by the Department for Education that appear to compare teaching to jobs in IT, accountancy or marketing.

Unprecedented numbers of “well-intentioned and talented” new teachers are entering the profession but “I do not recall a generation who define their purpose as teachers in such a limited way”, he said.

The shift risks turning children off education and undermining their enthusiasm for subjects, it was claimed.

The comments are made in an article for Insight magazine – a new publication launched by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of leading private schools.

tony little

It follows a major Coalition drive over the last three years to entice more graduates with first-class honours degrees into the classroom.
Ministers have also introduced a private sector-style system of performance-related pay in English state schools in an attempt to drive up standards..

Mr Little, whose school has educated 19 British Prime Ministers, including David Cameron, said that teachers needed to act in a professional manner, insisting that his comments were “not a cry from a wild-eyed prophet hankering after a fictitious golden age”.

But writing in Insight magazine, he said: “Teachers who increasingly see themselves as part of a professional body that delivers outcomes will end up as functionaries in a service industry.”

Mr Little added: “The Department for Education ‘Get into Teaching’ website is keen to advertise the benefits of a teaching career.

“It states that research shows teachers feel twice as alert/happy/proud/relaxed/involved as professionals in IT, accountancy or marketing. This seems a rather half-hearted claim.

“Not only is this an approach that fails to identify why there is a ‘natural high’ for teachers in the classroom, it is self-referential.

“Sensibly enough, the website urges would-be teachers to speak to an old hand. Why?

“To find out about ‘behaviour management, workload management, subject knowledge, and curriculum’. No room here for soggy ideas about vocation.”

He quoted from a book written 100 years ago by Arthur Benson, an Eton house master, which focused on the vocation of teaching.

But he added: “This glance at teaching’s front-of-house web page illustrates just how absurd appears the old fashioned Benson’s high-sounding sanctimonious guff. It has been replaced by sharp-edged, clear-sighted and, above all, measurable professionalism.”

Speaking to the Telegraph yesterday, Mr Little appeared to question the Government’s emphasis on qualifications as a basis for entry into teacher training, adding: “Simply having a first class degree isn’t enough.”

“Whereas once we referred to the age of enlightenment, we now live in the age of measurement,” he said. “There are real worries connected to that about how we expect young people to perceive the world and enjoy it.”

Tony Little is certainly no “wild-eyed prophet hankering after a fictitious golden age”. He’s not an ‘enemy of promise’ and he’s not a member of any ‘blob’. To the contrary, Mr Little, like Tricia Kelleher whose views we blogged about yesterday, is one of our most experienced, gifted and respected educationalists – which is a lot more than can be said for the politicians directing education in England: Mr Gove, Ms Truss and Mr Laws.

Once again we urge Labour’s education spokesmen and women to pay attention to what Tony Little and Tricia Kelleher are saying about education in England. These outstanding leaders of education are heads of schools that take pride in providing an educational experience that is second to none. They lead independent schools that have nothing to fear from government policy or Ofsted. They are speaking out because they want all children, and not just a privileged elite, to have an education that is rich, enjoyable, creative, holistic and personalised. They want all teachers to be able to offer this type of education, and not to be driven by ‘targets’ and a culture of competition and fear. They don’t want to see people entering the profession who are driven by personal ambition rather than an ambition to be great teachers who offer a great learning environment.

Once again we urge all heads of schools and all teachers to speak out, to endorse these statements by Tony Little and Tricia Kelleher, and to let the Labour leadership know what they think. Most of all we urge them to ensure that their schools are not being driven by targets or government dictats. It’s time to make a stand for what’s right and for the rights of every child and young person.

See also:

No limits to learning

Politically, Alison Peacock believes teachers, in primaries in particular, should speak out more. “When politicians stand up and say ‘all we want is the best for our children’ I feel there’s a silent chorus of people saying ‘so do we’. In primary we just want to do a good job for the children. There’s less tendency to have a political voice.”

100 academics savage Education Secretary Michael Gove for ‘conveyor-belt curriculum’ for schools

Just a letter from 100 academics – some thoughts on ‘impact’ and ‘public engagement’

LSE Blog

Gove curriculum will ‘dumb down’ education, say academics

The Great Education Wars (
Still Learning Finnish Lessons (
Finland’s education ambassador spreads the word (
Compass Education Inquiry Launch: Part One (
Finnish school system outshines U.S. education (
The Row About Pupil Progress (

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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