Political interference and a public perception that ‘anyone can teach’ were two of the obstacles mentioned to creating a greater sense of professionalism for teachers. Pete Henshaw, co-host of September’s Tweetup event on this topic, also mentioned the pace of reform, lack of trust in leaders (and corresponding accountability measures) and a general disrespect for the value of education as expressed in the media.
The event, hosted at the Teacher Development Trust’s offices, was held to encourage a range of teachers, leaders, politicians, researchers and other interested parties to discuss ways forward. Six speakers were invited to make formal points and suggest the way forward.
John Bangs, senior consultant at Eduction International, and former Head of Education at the NUT, focused on the importance of teachers’ feelings of self-efficacy and how these can be raised through professional development, good pupil relations and more distributed leadership in schools. John pointed out that his colleagues at the OECD have highlighted the importance of teacher engagement in educational reform, and said that any future professional body for teachers must have buy-in from teachers and their unions – indeed unless union general secretaries feel they own the process then it probably won’t ever get off the ground.
Philippa Cordingley, Chief Executive of CUREE, said that the status of the teaching profession will rise when teachers are put in charge of their own learning, and when it is driven by their own aspirations rather than external targets. She said that we must end the ‘tyranny’ of politicians, teachers and commentators thinking classroom teaching is merely common sense, and recognise that it is a deeply skilful activity requiring the gradual development of a great deal of internalised knowledge and understanding.
Mike Griffiths, President of the ASCL, felt that teachers need both an entitlement and and requirement that they continually improve their practice. Teachers need to project a professional image, and show they are putting pupils’ interests first by not engaging in industrial action. The profession must be seen to acknowledge the privilege of its key role in society and engage in less moaning about the minutiae of the job. Government needs to be more positive about the noble profession of teachering and young people, but stop dictating how teachers should work.
Chris Husband, Director of the Institute of Education, looked back at teaching in history and noted that while life for children has changed beyond recognition outside the classroom, the activities they undertook inside classrooms had changed very little. He felt that teachers need to be much better about grasping, deploying and disseminating the knowledge we have about effective learning, and must work collaboratively to plan better lessons with expert input.
Charlotte Leslie, MP for Bristol North, and member of the Education Select Committee, drew a contrast between the way politicians devolve decisions about medical best practice to the Royal Colleges, while education has no similar body, encouraging political meddling. She proposed a new Royal College of Teaching to collect, research and disseminate effective classroom practice, and to encourage, recognise and accredit the regular and ongoing professional development that teachers need to undertake. A Royal College could create a teacher status equivalent to a Consultant Surgeon, with similar public recognition and esteem. Charlotte felt that this body would have to be set up by teachers themselves, and not imposed from the government.
Alison Peacock, headteacher of Wroxham School (a teaching school), and a leader of the Cambridge Primary Review national network, reminded the audience that excellent teachers transform lives – they can inspire children and help them challenge themselves. Teachers need to be excited about coming to work, engage in professional learning because they love it, not because they’ve been told to do it.
The event finished with questions and answers and general discussion. Check bag for a future blog with some of the guests’ thoughts on the question.