Why I’m Deeply Sceptical About A College Of TeachingDecember 14, 2014
I’m planning several posts related to ideas around the creation of a College of Teaching. This is probably the most negative one, the next one will describe how I can be won over.
When the suggestion appeared some time ago that there should be a new professional body for teachers in England, I had my doubts. The GTCE disaster was still fresh in teachers’ minds. This was an organisation that had taken money out of our pay packets to pay for a group of progressive education advocates to tell us they were right. According to the Code Of Conduct the GTCE had put together then (other than some comments about progress and understanding diversity) our responsibility to educate our students could be summed up as follows:
Help children and young people to become confident and successful learners.
- uphold children and young people’s rights and help them to understand their responsibilities
- listen to children and young people, consider their views and preferences, and involve them in decisions that affect them, including those related to their own learning
- have high expectations of all children and young people, whatever their background or aptitudes, and find activities that will challenge and support them all
- promote children and young people’s confidence and self-awareness by clarifying how assessment will be used to support improvement, providing clear and specific feedback, and celebrating their success
- communicate clear expectations about pupil behaviour to ensure disruption to learning is minimised and children and young people feel safe and secure
- help children and young people prepare for the future by engaging them with the implications of changes in society and technology and offering them impartial advice and guidance about their future options.
Yes, that’s right. The GTCE had a code of conduct for teachers that didn’t actually mention that we should teach in order for our students to learn, nor for that matter does it mention that it matters what it was our students would learn. And just in case the principles of the GTCE didn’t make it clear that all good teachers were progressives, they also produced “Research for Teachers” summaries which claimed that “research shows” progressive methods were best. For instance this one for maths teachers, which asked us:
Why adopt a pupil-centred approach?
A number of Research for Teachers summaries show how pupil participation varies according to whether the teaching environment is pupil- or teacher-focused. For example, the RfT summary of a study of collaborative learning in mathematics noted that teachers who adopted more didactic, ‘transmission’ styles of teaching, in which knowledge was ‘passed’ from teacher to pupil, lowered the
self-esteem of pupils who were re-sitting GCSE Mathematics.
In contrast, activities designed to promote collaborative discussion were found to raise the pupils’ self-esteem. The pupils also attained higher marks on an algebra test. Analysis of the number of questions answered by pupils in the before and after tests indicated that the improved marks were mainly due to the pupils making fewer errors, not simply because they felt more motivated to attempt more of the
As many teachers know through their own experience, a problem with teacher-focused learning environments is that they put pupils in the role of consumers of information with the teacher as ‘font of all knowledge’. At the extreme, pupils sit and listen to their teachers talking, engaging in little classroom talk themselves. They tend to work mostly individually on tasks provided by the teacher, such as worksheets and text book exercises. In pupil-focused learning environments, pupils are producers of ideas. Pupils are encouraged to participate and become engaged with learning through collaborative learning activities, peer teaching, projects and classroom talk that require multiple levels of thinking. They create new ideas and materials through projects, usually talk aloud about the way they derived an answer and take the initiative to interact with teachers and peers.
The RfT summaries highlight how it’s not simply a case of doing one or the other; rather it is about creating a classroom environment where all participants – teachers as well as pupils – are co-learners in the educational journey. Teachers who have changed their approach to pupil-centred have found that their pupils are more motivated and engaged. They also have to spend less time than usual managing their pupils’ behaviour.
Now, you must remember this was not from some deliberate grouping of progressive teachers. This was from an organisation that was set up to support us; that we had to pay for out of our own money. The GTCE was created by David Blunkett as Education secretary and his major political influence on pedagogy was the creation of the National Strategies which emphasised whole class teaching, so it’s probably fair to say the GTCE was not founded to promote progressive teaching, it was just taken over by the education establishment and then used that way. This is the first reason to be wary of any new education body advising us on what to do. It is not enough to talk about a college of teaching that is politically independent; it’s not the politicians who are the ideologues in education. It has to be immune from education establishment take-over. That’s the issue and that’s what will put me off joining.
So far, discussions around a College of Teaching (major developments seem to have centred around The Prince’s Teaching Institute) have done nothing to suggest it would be any different to the GTCE in terms of the influence of the existing education establishment. The biggest red flag, the one that turned me from sceptical to hostile, was that a major meeting to launch it was held on a school day in term time, effectively excluding most teachers who might have been interested from involvement. The next item to have a dramatic effect on me was reading about who was being asked to get involved. The Prince’s Teaching Institute actually wrote the following without irony:
In keeping with the Minister for Schools’ argument in the report that “a new College of Teaching would need to come from within the profession”, the workshop brought together stakeholders from across the education spectrum, including Headteachers of secondary and primary schools, representatives from Unions, Higher Education, Subject Associations, the existing College of Teachers and school employers.
Yes, that’s right. The interpretation of “within the profession” that won the day appears to include everyone except classroom teachers. No wonder they didn’t want to hold their meetings at weekends. This is not a movement of teachers, this is a new education establishment body. And, of course, it would be. If teachers organised a College of Teaching, they’d do it online and mainly in the holidays. This isn’t yet the GTCE Mark 2 because it is still being designed as a body with voluntary membership (although some of the things Tristram Hunt has been suggesting could be overseen by such a body are scary). It is likely to join the succession of other charities that claim to represent teachers of one sort or another while doing their own thing, with its strength likely to be largely dependent on who it can leech money out of.
But, of course, this is early days. Those who think something good can be made out of this largely respond to criticism by asking people to put forward their own suggestions. So in a future post, I will try to set out the minimum requirements necessary for me to consider joining such an organisation. That way, even though nothing I’ve seen so far fills me with any optimism, I can at least have described what sort of organisation might be worth while.
Update (17/12/1014): The words “in my next post” have been replaced with “in a future post” in the last paragraph as I realise there is another preliminary issue to take care of).