Archive for January, 2015

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Newspapers Persecute Schools For Enforcing The Rules

January 28, 2015

I’m sure I’ve moaned about this before, but the Daily Mail often annoys me with its hypocrisy about school discipline. It seems to run two, contradictory, types of stories on school discipline. The first type is the “school discipline is not strict enough” story.  Here are some examples of Daily Mail stories either calling for better discipline or reporting sympathetically on others doing so (found after Googling “Daily Mail School Discipline” and “Daily Mail Behaviour in Schools”):

I have a lot of sympathy for this type of story in that I do think the extent of poor behaviour in schools is a national scandal. I’m more optimistic about the way things are moving than I used to be, but I’m always happy to see the issue raised, and I don’t want a return to the bad old days of the Steer Report when it was hard for any teachers to dare defy the behaviour denialists who insisted everything was fine.

So why am I complaining about the Daily Mail? Because they also frequently run another type of school discipline story, which consists of disgruntled parents moaning about schools who have stood up to them and enforced the rules on their children. While some of these articles are, perhaps, phrased so as to hear both sides, it is clear that the human interest aspect of the story is provided entirely by the family of the child who was disciplined. Examples include (all found by Googling “Daily Mail excluded”):

What is most irritating to me about all these stories is the extent to which the student’s and parents’ accounts are always accepted at face value, and the focus is always on the original cause of the misbehaviour, not on the behaviour by student or parents that may have escalated the situation. We’ve all taught kids who are keen to turn the most minor misbehaviour into a major incident, through repetition, defiance or continued anger. This will apply at a whole school level too, with some of those (both parents and students) who pick a fight over one minor rule being unable to back down even if it means leaving the school.

If a child is unlikely ever to follow a rule then they have to go, in order for that rule to be enforced on the rest of the school. If students retaliate in severe ways at teachers who enforce rules then they have to go or teachers will be scared to enforce those rules in future. If students feel free to argue over the interpretation of the rules, then enforcement is obstructed. Rules only really exist if they are enforced and can continue to be enforced. It is those schools where staff are too scared to confront students, which have the major discipline problems. Standing up to students (and sometimes parents) may not be pretty, but it has to be done and it does not help if the media act as if children have suffered a great injustice by being expected to comply. I don’t actually think it should be considered newsworthy if a school enforces the rules, but if newspapers do wish to report it, they should stop reporting it as: “Schoolboy, aged X, excluded for infringement Y” and instead report: “School refuses to make special exception for student over infringement Y”.

Oh, and while the Daily Mail always seems to me to be the worst offender on this, perhaps because of the hypocrisy, I think it’s worth pointing out that the same type of non-story can be seen in all sorts of different papers.

  • One from my local paper about a school I once taught at.
  • The Mirror being as unhelpful as the Mail over the story that prompted this blog.
  • The Guardian proving it is no better than the tabloids.
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Top Blogs of the Week : Schools Week (January 2015)

January 23, 2015

Schools Week have published my review of the best blogs of the week.

Week commencing 19 January, 2015

In Praise of Being Boring

by @danicquinn

In this post, a maths teacher reflects on the feedback from a survey in her school and, in particular, discusses how concerned she should be about students who find maths to be boring.

 

Continued in

Week commencing 19 January, 2015
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What is the College of Teaching for?

January 19, 2015

Having discussed the ideas around a College Of Teaching on Twitter, and at a consultation event last Saturday, I’m beginning to realise that at least some of the difficulties are around the question of purpose. I think I had assumed too much about what a College Of Teaching is for, the context in which it is being proposed, and how widely others who advocated it agreed.

As I said in my last post, I thought that it was intended as a professional body for teachers. This might seem to be answering the question of what the College is, rather than what it is for, but I think that it is actually answering both. In order to be a professional body, it will need to be concerned with making teachers into a profession. Its task will be the professionalisation of teachers (or re-professionalisation if you believe that our loss of identity as professionals is a recent development). It was for this reason that I have very little sympathy with ideas about the College that seem to suggest we can play fast and loose with who is a teacher. Distinguishing between teachers and those in other professions, or occupations, which involve teaching is a necessary part of establishing a professional identity, and no appeals to the expertise of ex-teachers, university lecturers, consultants or interested outsiders has given me any reason to compromise on this. I’m not trying to create a teacher ghetto, or declaring war on all other educators. A brief look at the work I’ve done on the Echo Chamber would show I am interested in the views and experiences of people involved in education in a wide variety of ways, and this debate has made me wonder whether a broader “Association of Educators” might also be a useful organisation. However, a professional body for teachers, needs to be made up of teachers.

Once we have accepted that the purpose of the College Of Teaching is to professionalise teachers, we have two key sets of questions to ask. One set of questions about what we are lacking compared with other professions. The other set of questions is about what it is, in our current set of circumstances, that has deprofessionalised us. We should consider both sets of questions when deciding in more detail what a College of Teaching should do, because there are cases where these two different types of consideration will lead us in two different directions.

One example of this conflict is around the role of outside experts in the College. Other professional bodies have given a high priority to gathering expertise which might seem to indicate we would want to involve as many researchers and academics in the College as possible or that we should be keen to bring in CPD providers. However, for teachers, being told what to do by outside “experts” who really don’t know what they are doing, is a large part of what has deprofessionalised us. A dialogue between teachers about teaching, without people who barely set foot in the classroom telling us the right answer, would do far more to advance our professionalism, than another chance to hear more pet theories from the ivory towers of academia, or the latest gimmicks from the consultant class. Given the recent history of teaching, the last thing the profession needs is any more lectures from outside. One of the strangest features of the debate around the College Of Teaching is the priority given to the idea that it would protect us from the demands of politicians. Politicians are an easy target, but they make their demands in public, whereas our professionalism has been repeatedly undermined by demands from inspectors, consultants, teacher trainers and our own managers without even a whiff of public debate or democratic scrutiny. We must not recreate those hierarchies within the College.

Another area where teachers might wish to depart from a model that has been effective in other professions is in having grades of members. This has been on the agenda since, at least, the blueprint from the PTI which suggested:

A tiered membership structure of Associate, Member and Fellow would encourage, recognise and celebrate the development of a teacher as a professional. The tiers would be constructed to allow all teachers to aspire to the highest level, but only the most exceptional and widely professional would achieve it.

Now this has much to commend it, but again, the recent history of teaching has given us every reason to resent being graded or ranked and every reason to see it as hostile to our professionalism. Whether it’s been lesson observations, performance management, or the explosion in promoted posts, teachers have in the last ten years been repeatedly put in their place in the pecking order. We have been judged again and again, and so often it has seemed arbitrary and unfair. We do not need more of it. By all means, find ways to recognise our skills, our specialities, our knowledge; but let’s have awards in different areas, not tiers of membership. We have been deprofessionalised by being told (usually incorrectly) that the average teacher is not as good at teaching as the “outstanding” teacher, the AST, or the senior manager. We won’t undo that damage by telling teachers they are not as good as the next tier of membership up.

So having torn into those two ideas, where do I think the College has the potential to make a difference? Well, anything that builds a profession would fit my criteria, but here are three projects which appeal to me.

Firstly, teaching is still an area where the knowledge teachers require is taken for granted. If it were possible to map subject knowledge and pedagogical knowledge in a useful way, instead of leaving new teachers to discover it for themselves, that could make a huge difference. It could also be possible to assess that knowledge, giving teachers qualifications in their areas of expertise, which will be meaningful to teachers, not just academics.

Secondly, there are professional ethics. I have argued before that this is one of the areas where teaching seems most deficient compared with other professions. Beyond our duty of care to our students, we are often led to believe that we have no responsibilities other than to follow orders and “play the game” and that professional behaviour involves little more than not expressing opinions. What are our duties to our students, to each other and to the public interest? When should we disobey orders? When should we blow the whistle? Guidance on professional dilemmas that went beyond platitudes could be incredibly useful, and also might improve trust in the profession.

Thirdly, the College should promote professional scepticism. Teachers have been told things that weren’t true so many times. Whether it’s about teaching methods, what inspectors want or in policy debates, it is hard to keep track of the untruths. It is time to start promoting the idea that it is okay to ask questions, and for the College itself to ask questions on behalf of its members. A College can scrutinise every development affecting teachers and make it clear what teachers will want to know. It can seek to open lines of communication, and to make sure its members know what is going on and do not rely on their superiors, or vested interests, for information about teaching.

As long as its mission is to build a profession, and as long as we realise that means keeping us informed, communicating, listening and thinking for ourselves, there is a lot a College Of Teachers can do. But we need to ensure that it is an institution which serves us, not something that is done to us. It needs to enable us to do more, not close down debate, judge us, or seek to hold authority over us.

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Why There Should Only Be Teachers In The College Of Teaching

January 14, 2015

I wrote a few posts some weeks back about plans for a College of Teaching:

I pretty much moved from outright hostility to setting out my terms for involvement. I’ve been pleasantly surprised though, at how many people currently involved responded by encouraging me to get stuck in. So much so that I now feel I’m almost a (very) cautious advocate than a sceptic now, telling people who think it will inevitably be terrible that they should try to influence it towards being good.

But, the key thing I want, remains as controversial as ever and that’s the College’s exclusive domination by teachers. My main concern when I expressed it previously, it that if it isn’t teacher dominated it will be run by the education establishment. They will push for the sort of agenda that the establishment figures, particularly in the universities, usually push for (there’s 100 of the buggers describing what they want here), and they will use the fact that their organisation is “The College Of Teachers” to present their views as that of the teaching profession.

In my nightmare scenario, five years from now, news stories about education will feature some retired headteacher or former lecturer from a university education department, with “College Of Teachers” under their name explaining that everything is fine in education, and all we need are fewer exams and more teachers who can manage behaviour by showing enthusiasm and not talking too much. You know the kind of people who used to claim inclusion was working, exams weren’t getting easier or that academic subjects weren’t suitable for working class kids? The sort of people, who even now, declare any attempt to debate their orthodoxies to be “an attack on teachers”. That’s what I don’t want to happen in my name.

However, I realise that my distaste for the education establishment is not universal, so let me address the reasons I want only teachers in the College of Teaching that go beyond avoiding an education establishment takeover.

While some people seem confused by the name (“College of Teachers” was taken) the plan is for a professional body for teachers. While there’s a lot to be decided about exactly what the College of Teaching will do, that was the plan for what it should be. Whatever things the College of Teaching does must be things that help establish teachers as professionals. This key purpose is utterly undermined if many of the members are not what would normally be called “teachers”. There were a number of educationalists on Twitter last night, utterly furious that because they are not employed to teach children, I wouldn’t recognise them as teachers. Yet, amazingly, none of them actually claimed to be a teacher in their Twitter bio. You cannot have a professional body for teachers where the rank and file are not people who would say “teacher” when asked to describe what they do, who would not join a teaching union, and do not teach anyone below undergraduate level. Part of what teachers need to be a profession, is a professional identity. Dilute that and you dilute, rather than develop, our professionalism. If you wish to speak for teachers, then for pity’s sake, be a teacher.

Another strand of this argument is that, even if they were not let into full membership, then ex-teachers have a lot of expertise to contribute. They could be associate members, or advisors. That they have expertise may well be true, but it is missing some of the the key points of a profession. A profession has expertise and its members exercise autonomy. We can all learn a lot from ex-teachers, even from some of those who have become consultants or university lecturers, but if we need that expertise we are not a profession. We are not, in ourselves, a body of experts in teaching. Worse, not only would we be declaring that those who teach now are so lacking in expertise that they need the help of outside experts in teaching, but a large proportion of those experts would already be employed to tell teachers what to do. Far from developing our professional autonomy, we would actually be replicating our lack of autonomy. Instead of saying “we are a profession, we don’t need anyone to tell us what to do” we would be inviting the people who tell us what to do in to do it some more. A professional body for teachers needs to be organised on the basis of advancing professional autonomy and professional expertise.

Now, to me, a large part of this was obvious from the beginning. The assumption that we needed a new professional body, along with the acceptance that it could not be a regulator or a government quango and that it needed to be teacher led, all seemed to imply a shared vision of what teachers needed. Teachers lacked a professional identity; they were not confident in exercising professional autonomy, and there was a lack of recognition of their professional expertise. Perhaps I was mistaken, perhaps what people really wanted was a club for anyone working in education to network with the education establishment and (if they are teachers) learn from their betters. But if it is genuinely to be about teachers acting as a profession, then they need to act as autonomous experts with a clear professional identity. None of that can happen in a organisation where eligibility for membership, decision-making power, or the expertise about teaching don’t lie exclusively with teachers.

 

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3 Things I Strongly Disagree With

January 7, 2015

Because progressive education is multi-faceted, and continually represented as something new, one of the most common techniques used to hide its influence is to claim that the disagreements in education do not really exist. There are two variants on this argument that are used frequently. One is to claim that the terms used to describe the positions (like “traditional”, “progressive”, “child-centred” etc.) are either meaningless or refer to something either nobody or everybody agrees with. The other version is to claim that in all facets of the debate there are compromise positions, rather than stark choices, making it possible for the debate denialist to claim that they (and very often the majority of teachers who are, it is assumed, unaffected by ideology) somehow transcend the debate.

For this reason, every so often I find it worthwhile to point out examples of things that I fundamentally disagree with. Not to debate them, or to criticise them, but to point out that there are some really quite clear cut differences where people need to choose sides. Particularly when those people do have, or have had, power and influence in the education system.Here’s three blogposts that have not won me over. As ever, I would recommend you follow the links to read the whole post, so we can avoid the accusation that I have misrepresented the views by quoting out of context. Also, I acknowledge that I am highlighting what it is I disagree with, so anyone who wants to find some uncontroversial sentence in the blogpost and say that this was, in fact, the true point of the post needn’t bother.

First from a well established educationalist whose blog gets far more hits than mine and whose power to influence future generations of teachers is far greater than mine, some views on the importance of knowledge:

No matter how clever or persuasive certain so called experts’ arguments appear to be about the need for children to memorise facts and receive their knowledge from teachers, we should not be taken in by such rhetoric. We need to see these people for what they actually are. They are dangerous individuals who are trying to prevent progress by perpetuating a restrictive method of schooling that ultimately, will rob our children of their futures. They are self acclaimed experts who wish to maintain control over our education system by perpetuating standardised testing, rote learning and whole class instruction, while demonising alternative approaches such as personalised learning, games playing and problem solving.

They wrap up their ideas in a cloak of respectability and present them exclusively as the answer to today’s education crisis. They snipe and sneer at those who advocate progressive approaches to education, as they fight desperately to preserve what control they have over schools. In so doing, they are depriving an entire generation of children the right to discover for themselves just how wonderful learning really is. They rob this generation of students of their human right to receive a good, dynamic and relevant education.

Next, another educationalist, internationally influential and involved in training teachers defends the inclusion fad of 10 years ago. While I disagree with that argument as a whole, as a result of having lived through that disaster (this blogpost from @Bigkid4 is a great description of what it was like), I’m particularly surprised at one of the obstacles to inclusion:

Sam’s mother lists a number of factors that she sees as having contributed to the failure of schools to meet the needs of many children. Inadequate training of teachers, poor resourcing and the over emphasis upon academic attainment and narrowly focused assessment and testing procedures are all seen as inhibiting progress. These are certainly contributors to the difficulties with moving the inclusion agenda forward that are recognised by many teachers and families. [my italics]

And finally, and this one from a politician (a former minister for schools, as it happens), on the non-academic aims of teaching where the third paragraph sums up the depressing views of so many politicians of all sides:

Today, Tristram Hunt is calling for schools to do more to develop character among young people. Quoting Winston Churchill and the idea of ‘British spirit’ was a clever way to ensure today’s speech got some good Sunday coverage.

As a former teacher I can also imagine that there will be a fair amount of resigned sighing or angry harrumphing in staffrooms this morning about this latest demand on the teaching profession as reports need writing, excited children need calming and the end of term seems just too far away.

But I think teachers should see this call as a massive vote of confidence. If anything demonstrates the power of education and teaching then it is the ongoing assumption that many social or economic problems could be solved if only they were included in the school curriculum or promoted in schools.

Anyone want to tell me I don’t disagree with these sentiments? Or that there are some convenient middle positions between my position and theirs?

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