Page last updated at 13:08 GMT, Thursday, 4 February 2010

Ed Balls gives a lesson in conflict

By Briar Burley
BBC News

Ed Balls gave a lesson on peaceful opposition

It's not often you hear a Cabinet member telling a Westminster crowd to sit down and work quietly in pairs. But then it is not everyday that England's schools Secretary becomes your teacher for the afternoon.

Ed Balls was invited into Westminster Academy to teach a class of 28 11 and 12-year-olds a subject of his choice.

The topic - something with which he is perhaps more familiar - conflict.

Against the backdrop of a country divided over his government's military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq and politicians gearing up for a general election, the schools secretary chose to educate his class about peaceful opposition.

Using images and videos of Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Bob Geldof, pupils were asked to consider how non-violent protest and speeches can bring about change.

He did have a lot of control of the classroom but not completely
Year 7 pupil

Working in groups the children had to decide on their own choice of topic before writing and presenting their own Martin Luther King-inspired speech to the class - all ending in loud jeering and applause.

The lesson was part of a week-long campaign by the charity Teach First, which was set up in 2002 to encourage top graduates into teaching.

Throughout this week a range of guest teachers will take lessons including fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood, BBC News presenters Huw Edwards and Justin Webb and Channel 4 News anchors Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Samira Ahmed.

"By putting the spotlight on teaching through the week, we want to demonstrate that it is one of the most demanding yet rewarding and important professions" said Brett Wigdortz, head of Teach First.

Cambridge graduate

Research by the London School of Economics recently revealed how social and economic background is still the most significant factor influencing a child's outcomes in life.

Placing the best quality teachers in schools is seen as a vital tool in rebalancing inequality through education.

Ed Balls teaches a class of secondary school pupils about Martin Luther King

Finbarr Cosgrove, 24, is one of 11 Teach First participants working at Westminster Academy.

He graduated from Cambridge with a degree in English and is exactly the kind of teacher that schools are looking for, but he admits salary potential and the image of the profession is a stumbling block for many graduates like him.

"I think money is a big factor, yes but I also think graduates need to come into schools and see what teaching is really like," he said.

A total of 485 top graduates entered the teaching profession through Teach First in 2009, but the charity claims there is demand for as many as 1000 teachers every year.

Ed Balls rejected the idea that pay was an issue - and said the profession was becoming even more attractive.

"People in teaching have seen their pay in the last 10 years rise by 20% in real terms. There's been a big jump in pay.

"But importantly, you can now stay in teaching and rise up the profession without having to leave the classroom in order to get promoted."

Away from the politics and back to the classroom - just how did Year 7 rate Mr Balls as a teacher?

One pupil told us: "I'd have to say it was a really exciting experience but it wasn't really much fun with everybody shouting. He did have a lot of control of the classroom but not completely.

"On a scale of one to five I'd have to give him a four."

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