Why Evidence and Research Won’t Resolve Ideological Disputes Around The College of TeachingDecember 17, 2014
I wrote last time about how the GTCE, despite being intended to be a professional body, ended up being an arm of the education establishment promoting a very progressive view of the role of teachers and the methods that should be used. I also discussed why I feared The College of Teaching could end up being a very similar organisation and why, assuming I had the choice, I would be reluctant to join. However, it hasn’t been created yet, so the idea can still win me over, and there are certainly people I respect involved (although none of them are teachers) and so I had intended to immediately describe what needs to be done to make the prospect enticing to me. I now realise this is going to take more than one post.
While my starting point was that the College of Teaching cannot have the same ideological leanings as the GTCE had, there is a wider point that any strong ideological stance (including those beliefs whose adherents claim not to be ideological), would make it of limited appeal to some significant part of the teaching profession. I think this is a concern across the board. A lot of people’s main priority is that the College Of Teaching does not get captured by those they disagree with (whether they think that’s a matter of ideology or not). My next post should include some practical suggestions about how this can be ensured, however, I have realised that some people advocating a College of Teaching have assumed that making the ideas it promotes “evidence-based” will be enough to unite the profession.
In this post I simply want to point out that a commitment to evidence or research (I’ve not really distinguished between the two as I’m not sure that matters for this argument) will not be enough to make a body seem ideologically neutral. I’m perfectly capable of challenging what people present as research or evidence. I gave the example in my last post of the GTCE’s research summaries, and have in the past commented about the BERA Social Justice blog, both of which show how research can be anything but ideologically neutral. I would go further and agree with Michael Fordham and Howard Aldrich that even the way research is categorised is flawed.
Now it may be possible to design a rigorous research programme that would satisfy my concerns, but I think it would serve only to cause others to object. Here are some recent examples of people expressing views about evidence in the College of Teaching (and I have deliberately picked people who would not be happy if my views, or even my views about evidence, were dominant in the College Of Teaching):
…we are in danger of locking our work into a mechanistic and technical model, losing the creative and progressive power of the work we do. We are NOT like doctors, or actuaries – there is no simple evidence-based relationship of intervention to outcome.
…More than the suggested representation of all unions, regions, etc – I believe the College of Teaching must also represent all pedagogies and have a formal place to access learning from educational technology; eg – the success of project based learning in raising attainment, or new models of CPD using twitter.
From Eylan Ezekiel
According to the website ClaimYourCollege, the college of teaching “will also harness the experience of its members and draw on robust evidence that will speak truth to politicians and pundits – reducing ineffective interventions, policy and practice.”
Whilst I welcome the increasingly prominent role of “evidence-based” and “evidence-led” practices (though I prefer the term “evidence-informed practice”), I am concerned that the concept may be hijacked by those with a particular political stance who interpret evidence and research through the lens of their convictions.
[Then after an explanation of research that differs about the value of technology in teaching]
…So, whose evidence will the college of teaching base its recommendations for practice on? Who will decide what constitutes good evidence? Will we be encouraged to interpret this evidence as teaching professionals or will this evidence be interpreted for us? And would a college of teaching continue to eschew the application of technology to support teaching and learning as an “ineffective intervention”?
From José Picardo
…research shows time and again, that the early and primary years set the tone for the future. They can shape minds, strengthen hearts and build learners with the tenacity to succeed. It is my belief that this research, gathered and disseminated by a professional body free from political ideology and vote chasing, would give us the knowledge and autonomy to create the learning experiences that these children need. And for this reason alone, I whole heartedly support the idea of a College of Teaching.
From Debra Kidd
With the drivers of markets, managerialism and high-stakes testing in place, it becomes possible for government to step back, safe in the knowledge that a complex web of mechanisms – league tables, performance-related pay and Ofsted – can be relied on to do the work.
The danger is that a College of Teaching simply becomes another element in this web of control that frames how teachers are expected to do their work. It provides the appearance of autonomy and independence, but in reality it serves to reinforce the culture of compliance that bedevils English state education.
This is because what will be valued will be what the College has decided is “what works”. Asking teachers to focus on what works, and privileging the research methods often associated with such questions, runs the risk of creating new orthodoxies. Through this, career advancement remains contingent on implementing what others have decided is “good”, or what constitutes “best practice”….
…The focus on “what works” deflects attention from a wider set of questions about “what matters?” or “what’s wrong?”. For example, teachers are encouraged to ask what works to close achievement gaps in their classroom. But they are not encouraged to ask wider questions on how to close these gaps when governments preside over ever-widening inequalities…
…If teachers are confined to asking “what works?” while only the policy elites get to decide “what matters” then teachers remain shut out of the debates about the really big questions: what is education for and how should young people be helped to understand and engage with the world they are growing up in?
From Howard Stevenson
Now if you know anything about my views, and what I consider to be the evidence that underpins them, I find it impossible to imagine that my disagreements with any of the above can be resolved by reference to evidence. I am not arguing here that I cannot be part of a College of Teaching which includes people with views like those above, but I am certain that no amount of evidence or research is going to allow us all to support a single College of Teaching that claims to be promoting “what the research shows”. Research and evidence are divisive, not unifying, forces in education.