Once a classroom teacher (QTS) by Rob Knee QTS

As the pressures, negativity, dictats and demoralisation increase so does the turnover of staff in schools. Recruitment becomes a crisis (a crisis which is currently with us although it will not be reported). And so this particular educational cycle wearily follows the well trodden path. What could change? What can be done to redress the resulting damage to the futures of children and young people?

Probably not the government’s appallingly cynical meddling for perceived political gain.
Here’s a an idea/suggestion. We encourage anyone who has taught to make a point of using, whenever they can, their QTS initials and to look for opportunities to continue to fulfil part of the role of a teacher at home, at work or in the community. Teachers are trained to be ambassadors for the safety, wellbeing, encouragement and development of young people. If we produce around 40,000 teachers each year and the number currently employed is around 400,000 then the number qualified and not currently teaching must be in the millions (many in high profile jobs and roles). We should celebrate the time these teachers gave and understand that many move, quite naturally, into and out of the profession. We should also continue to encourage and value the contribution that the ‘have moved on from working in school cohort’ can make. We should raise the profile, and society’s awareness, appreciation and use of, the millions of skilled ambassadors for education in their midst.

Exam Change

Changing a key pillar of the education system, such as the examination regime at 16, should only be done for strong educational reasons. The current proposed changes, appear to be based on a vote winning ploy, to appease the rose tinted spectacle wearers, who yearn for the apparent greatness of the days of yore. People who generally did well out of the system.

This appears to be another example of amnesia. GCSE evolved as an exam that offered some chance of achievement to all and could genuinely stretch minds. The first tactic was to rubbish an exam, on an annual basis, that provided unwelcome possibilities of social advancement. Then, in response, introduce an exam that is narrowly academic and demands skills that are more easily honed in the quiet, well resourced and supportive sitting rooms of the middle class.The irony is that the outcome, (unsurprisingly, as this project is not based on any advice from the core of teaching opinion), is effectively a dumbing down.

Blooms Taxonomy of intellectual skills, places knowledge and understanding at the bottom of the pyramid. The higher skills, generally tested by GCSE, of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation, are likely to be casualties in a content heavy curriculm.
So we have a change that is unwanted, unecessary, expensive, confusing, distracting, debasing and divisive.

This government, more spectacularly than most, has not even bothered to try to recognise the 50% of the population, for whom different syllabi and different assessments are needed. Instead of forcing all through a narrow gate and favouring the minority, surely we should be keeping the gate sufficiently wide for the possibility of developing the potential of all?

The only realistic opposition to a centralised administration of education, is for groups of schools, in partnership with local employers, colleges and universities, to develop locally recognised qualifications.

Moonshot: The power of collaboration

One of my favourite classroom ‘simulations’was called Moonshot. The class were given a list of 15 things that they had with them on the moon and asked to rank these in order of value. So Oxygen was handy, a compass may be not etc. Their responses were collected in and then they had to repeat the same task in groups. We then compared the scores individual v group and as you might expect, the group scores were always better than the individual.

The web offers us a unique opportunity to collaborate with problem solving. We can turn the planet into a giant brain if the people with the ideas are prepared to do so. And do we need to. Some of the challenges that we face need all the brains we can muster. Stephen Hawking has just suggested that he thinks it unlikely that we can survive on the planet for much longer.

The implications for education? Begin with the premise that everyone can make a contribution. The process of design, from ideas to manufacture, involves a host of skills that many of us possess to some extent. Some schools teach Philosophy for Children (P4C) which can give children of any age the opportunity to get to the core of an issue. Facilitate co-operative learning through web based problem solving from an early age. Embrace the full range of problems and challenges from energy, recycling, health, house building, agriculture, transport, care etc. Encourage a local community based micro model to begin with and then expand. It is the process of education that we can change most rapidly and most easily (and where teacher autonomy can be protected).
The next generation will have to deal with all the challenges, perhaps we should have the good grace to step aside and let them make a start.

National v Local

The centralisation of control of education is leaving schools prey to even more political influence. The pendulum will swing back – this usually happens as a result of an eventual realisation that things are not working and because of a weakening of the collective amnesia as to what the merits of the old order were.

Local management of schools brings the system closer to the parents and communities which the schools serve. One of the areas of collective amnesia at the moment is about schools being an organic element of a community – if you detach the system from its immediate roots it will inevitably wither.

Schools work best when the community and the parents feel ownership. Teachers feel valued for the wider aspects of the work that they do in supporting families and community.  The curriculum can be adapted to suit local needs. The whole process is a partnership, a joint enterprise. It surely takes the proverbial village to raise the child.

The current climate is pressing schools to collaborate – the economies of scale in the current climate are too great an advantage to forgo. The threat of take over by an external asset stripping academy chain is another driver towards local networks. What we miss at the moment is local leadership. This has been exacerbated by the relentless attacks on Local Authorities and it is difficult to see where leadership will emerge. Such a need for local leadership is not confined to schooling – locally organised responses to economic hardship, energy supply and threats from a lack of planning control also stand out.

Atomised societies are difficult phenomena to change.  What we need are successful pioneers to emerge and for their achievements to be shared and understood. There must be a community somewhere in the Western world that is leading the way, but where?