Teacher Workload

Politicians seem to ignore or are never briefed about certain inherent reasons as to why publicly flogging teachers and schools ‘to do better’ is doomed to failure. In fact, their policies often contribute greatly to large numbers of teachers leaving the profession within 5 years of qualifying. There are many issues I could raise (not least the policy that allows militant parents to set up free schools in defiance to counties which have democratically decided to phase out Middle Schools) but one stands out – the increasing demands on the profession caused by social and cultural upheaval.

I read today of the rising number of children arriving at school without being ‘toilet trained’. Without going into the reasons (more numerous of course at the current time) why children often appear to arrive at the school gates with so many disadvantages (emotional and health problems, poor literacy etc) it is clear that they are confronted by a system of schooling based largely on out dated middle class values and toyed with by ambitious politicians who seem not to consider or care about the full implications of their edicts.

A member of our family is a Primary NQT who works practically a 12 hour day and some of the week -end. Is this really the best use of highly trained and skilled professionals? Why do we not allow the new generation of teachers to say how the system should be run? Who else knows better? Another problem that goes unnoticed is not having the necessary 350,000 or so good teachers in place to run the system. Even if we could ensure this quota existed we can not ensure that they are all in the right place at the right time.

It may be that we need to rethink the model. Instead of having a front line army who deliver most of the teaching and a range of managers who compensate by doing the things that this front line group do not have the time to do, perhaps we need to increase the number of classroom staff by properly elevating the role of the para professional. I know the Unions would be concerned but perhaps we might begin with some carefully monitored and evaluated  test cases.

We are unlikely to achieve improvements in performance by either children or teachers  unless we recognise that teachers are having to do at least 2 jobs at once and sometimes 3. There is the job of being an educator, the job of being in loco parentis and the job of coping with the latest vote winning initiative from Whitehall. It is amazing that schools do as well as the majority are.

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2012; Multi Academies, School Direct, ICT,Prejudice

2012 promises much by way of radical change in education, some of the change engineered by government, some as a fall out from government. Multi Academies are a logical response by groups of schools who wish to collaborate in the face of a shrinking Local Authority, the chance to pool scarce reources and the threat of predatory school chains. Multi Academies may be supported centrally because they will provide fewer ‘centres’ for administrative purposes. I have written before about the likelihood that all of this will lead to some kind of eventual reinvention of a Local Authority – still the most efficient model to support schools . Until we reach that point, it will be exciting for schools to work closely and to explore the benefits.

School Direct heralds the new age of Initial Teacher Training whereby schools will become the key players in ITT. Schools have always enjoyed engagement with ITT for a variety of reasons, not least as a very good way to recruit staff. The danger here is that the market will produce dominant school groups (aided by Teaching Schools) and the self interest factor could lead to the exclusion of the majority of schools from ITT.

With both Michael Gove and the Guardian calling for a radical overhaul of ICT something is bound to give,except that nothing can until we find/support several thousand trained teachers to deliver Computer Science. However, ICT clearly to become the curriculum reform candidate of the year.

Prejudice seems to be on the rise if the problems in the football world are anything to go by. We are told that when things get tough, common decencies take a hammering. Apparently we stop caring for each other. Schools have always been key factors in the creation of a tolerant society. It is to be hoped that whatever political alternative develops as the strategy for the next 10 years, it will call for a consensus on education that begins with a true picture and looks at what works well and what is reasonable.

Teachers and Learning

Teachers are expected to demonstrate that  their pupils are learning. This can be a challenge at the best of times and we need to exercise professional judgement when deciding if this is happening. We also need to pay heed to the strongest sources of classroom research, such as the meta analysis by Professor Geoff Hattie http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/what_works.htm , which concludes that the way a teacher interacts with an individual pupil is by far and away the most potent ingredient in learning. Enabling this type of activity in a classroom is a challenge for planning and for classroom management. If this type of informed , instructive and affirming feedback happens in a lesson, then we can be confident that learning will occur. The ‘harvest’ of such interventions may need to be pursued through subsequent  individual questioning.

A more radical set of ideas about learning are linked to the concept of ‘flipping’ whereby the pupils learn independently from tailored web based programmes and computer games and the teacher diagnoses, facilitates and  coaches. http://21k12blog.net/2011/02/13/the-flipped-classroom-advances-developments-in-reverse-learning-and-instruction/

A little flipping certainly supports the feedback activities described above and has the potential to relieve the teacher of the punishing ‘all singing and dancing’ pedagogy, which is often implied by the perceived need to strive to be ‘outstanding’. Few teachers, in my experience, are capable of being consistently ‘outstanding’ in this way and expecting such ‘performance teaching’ for 5 lessons a day surely encourages burn out or career change.

A Truth Commission

Education will continue to be at the mercy of politically based decision making unless it can establish a much more secure and public consensus on what actually works. Imagine a government interfering in Nuclear power generation without having the strongest scientific evidence to support them. Education will never have access to ‘scientific evidence’ ,but would surely benefit from some mechanism that could act as an arbiter of wisdom. Perhaps the nearest example is the Wise Men of the Treasury – they are not always unanimous but their consensus wins the day.

Imagine that such a body had been able to establish a consensus on issues such as making all students study a language, the value of 14-19 diplomas, the quality of science teaching by those with a 3rd class degree, the importance of CVA, the value to schools of  Local Authority support, the dangers of making schools operate commercially, the best curricula etc etc – not only might we avoid huge waste and demoralisation, we might get a little closer to the fair and effective school system that appears to be the common goal.

One key problem is that the conventional wisdom of teachers – gained from day to day experience and informed reflection – doesnt often get communicated effectively byond the confines of the school system. Educational research needs to be able to capture this knowledge with recognised and robust methodologies – which it often does, but the problem seems to be the wider dissemination of these findings and the gaining of some high profile and lasting seal of authority. Such a ‘seal’ would provide a greater public and practical bulwark against  the vote catching initiatives. If such a domestic  ‘Truth Commission’ was too contentious then we could always ask for a fair judgement from an International Body.