Tristram Hunt proposes something which may just be worse than OFSTEDJanuary 11, 2014
Teaching is an ideological battleground. It often feels like half the profession thinks the other half is completely useless. This is why nothing tends to cause more problems in teaching than the power one group of teachers or educationalists has over another. One example of this is OFSTED. Somebody who hasn’t taught in years can come into the classroom of somebody whose classes make good progress, and declare that the teaching is of the wrong sort. That’s also why there is a lot of conflict between frontline staff and SMT. Managers are not promoted because they are good at teaching. In fact many are terrible. However, over the years, they seem to have accumulated the power to stand in judgement over what is good or bad teaching. And again, those whose classes are learning well can be told by those with very few classes, or even none at all, that the lesson was not taught the correct way. This conflict, as opposed to a conflict between students and teachers is the reason for the name of my blog.
In practice, different opinions about how best to teach are not resolved by open debate or even by monitoring results, they are resolved by the exercise of power. Some people can spend their time pronouncing on the best way to teach, and exercise the power to make life miserable for anyone in their vicinity who disagrees. Others cannot even express their opinions out loud at work, or even blog those opinions under their own name, because their position is one of relative powerlessness. That’s the system we are in and while I cannot seriously argue that teachers should be accountable to nobody, I do feel we are subject to arbitrary and irrational demands that limit our autonomy. If there’s a message that can be taken home from my ongoing attempts to expose what OFSTED are up to, or for that matter my writing about bad management in schools, it’s that institutional power in the education system can be used to push particular ideologies and to obstruct teachers with the “wrong” beliefs or practices from doing their job.
There is no easy answer to the question of how much autonomy teachers should have, or to the question of how we can make those with positions of power in the education system accountable for how they exercise that power, but my opinion, and I think I speak for a lot of teachers, is that we are restrained too much at the frontline. There are too many managers, consultants and, in the worst case scenario, inspectors, telling us not only how to teach, but also making sure the consequences of teaching in unapproved ways, or without producing the correct paperwork, are unpleasant. However, what hadn’t occurred to me is that it could be worse.
I do see the system as utterly dysfunctional, but there is always hope. If a teacher is teaching in a school which makes ridiculous demands on them, they can, at least, look for another school. If a school’s demands are particularly ridiculous, they might even get helpful support form their union (but don’t count on it). If a teacher is criticised by OFSTED, they can, at least, find themselves protected if their employer appreciates what they do, although the more senior you are, the more serious the consequences of OFSTED criticism are likely to be. None of this is perfect, or even acceptable, but ambitions are wrecked more often than livelihoods and teachers often do get through their dark times and move on to something better. If all you want to do is teach then you will probably find somewhere, eventually, that allows you to do that. There are no shortage of tough times, but whatever doesn’t destroy you will probably make you stronger. I know teachers who have gone on to be happy in the job, despite breakdowns; despite terrible bullying; despite experiencing truly terrible schools.
What we don’t need is any more regulation. And what we don’t need is to raise the stakes even higher, so that any institution has the power to force anyone (but those completely beyond the pale) out of the profession for good. It is bad enough we have to conform to the whims of SMT or move on, or conceal how far we depart in our practices from the arbitrary demands of OFSTED. I don’t think we can cope with any further regulation and obstruction. I don’t think we can cope with any further threats to our autonomy. For this reason, I was gutted to read this (from the Times website):
Teachers will have to be licensed and will face the sack if they fail tough new checks on their abilities under plans drawn up by Labour.
They will need to show that they are teaching to a high standard and have refreshed their subject knowledge and skills through training. Those unable to demonstrate they had done so would be refused a new licence and effectively struck off from the profession, Tristram Hunt, the Shadow Education Secretary, has told The Times.
The controversial plan revives key elements of a proposal by the previous Labour administration to force teachers to renew a teaching licence every five years. The plan was dropped before the 2010 general election.
Mr Hunt held back from saying how often he would want teachers to be assessed, saying that he wanted to discuss implementing the policy with the profession in the coming months.
Somehow, Tristram Hunt has looked at a profession regulated into ineffectiveness by OFSTED and subject to a bombardment of bother by the bureaucrats in SMT, and decided that’s what’s really needed is more regulation, more hassle and more hoops to jump through. Worse, the personal consequences of failing to meet the demands of whichever additional regulator will be put in charge of licensing seem steeper than ever. At best this policy will add to bureaucracy and be another waste of money like the GTC. At worst, it will give teachers a new master with more power than OFSTED and SMT combined. Obviously the details aren’t clear. Some people on Twitter showed remarkable optimism that this new regulatory force will somehow be more enlightened and trustworthy than OFSTED. Some seemed to think it would be a Royal College of Teaching, concerned only with providing high quality training. However, given the conflicted nature of education debate, somebody is going to have the power and somebody isn’t, and the power will now extend to driving people out of the profession. My own nightmare scenario is being forced out for not doing enough groupwork or discovery learning because some office-johnny thinks that style of teaching encompasses the “skills” teachers should have. Other people will have different nightmares and, of course, one person’s dream scenario might well be another’s nightmare. However, if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed, it’s that this is the same old game of bureaucracy and interference in the classroom, but with higher stakes than ever. And more stress and more hassle, not to mention more hoops to jump through, will only make the job of teaching more unpleasant than ever.
All I can hope is that, for once, our unions get their act together and work to ensure that this could never come to pass. If it was clear that no teacher would cooperate, that nobody would apply to be licensed, then the scheme would not be worth considering. It is also up to us, as a profession, to make it clear to our unions that any union which doesn’t oppose this vigorously can expect to lose a lot of members.