Brace yourselves for a week of finger-pointing as it’s now widely trailed (£) that England’s performance on PISA 2012 will be disappointing. I can confidently predict that popular solutions to this will be:
- Bring back grammar schools
- Abolish remaining grammar schools
- Tighten accountability mechanisms
- Loosen accountability mechanisms
- Change the national curriculum immediately
- Leave the national curriculum the same for a long time
- Bring in new GCSEs
- Abolish GCSEs completely
- Recruit more great teachers and fire more bad ones
- Make further changes to teacher training
While changes in system structures, accountability mechanisms, curricula, examinations and initial teacher education have their place it does seem to me like these are very well-trodden policy paths. Yet more frantic pulling of these levers is, I would argue, unlikely to produce the sustained improvement that we are looking for on a national basis.
The bottom line, for me, is that we need to continue to work on our school system’s capacity to improve itself. I think that the introduction of Teaching Schools is a very positive step but doesn’t fully address three key questions for school improvement:
- What is our starting point?
- What does more effective practice look like (and where can I find it)?
- How can we learn from it and develop it here?
As it stands, schools’ self assessment is often little more than an effort to second-guess Ofsted. We need more support for this through national networks of self-audit, peer-audit and support/challenge. Every school should, I believe, be a member of such a network which is outside of its governance structure to prevent inward-looking, closed groupings of schools.
Such networks will also help schools to identify more effective practice, but we also need a national system to allow the pooling of recommendations on where best practice lies, along with support to help improve the evaluation of these recommendations. At the moment we have many pockets of outstanding practice of which the rest of the system remains unaware. This doesn’t necessarily require a central ‘quality mark’ – we can harness the expertise and knowledge in existing bodies such as academy chains, teaching unions, school networks, subject associations and third sector organisations with each developing their own recommendation systems and allowing schools to make their own judgements as to which they trust. Recommendations should be evidence-based, with support to ensure that we constantly raise the bar in terms of the standard of evaluation of effectiveness.
Finally, we must improve the way we transfer knowledge and practice through the system. We must move away from isolated and one off visits and training courses toward more sustained engagement and co-development of ideas. We need, as David Hargreaves would put it, more Joint Practice Development, where teachers work alongside others to co-plan, co-observe and discuss, for example through Lesson Study. We must help schools engage in significantly more robust and objective evaluation of impact to ensure they can prioritise the most effective over the merely helpful or interesting. We must not only give teachers and school leaders greater access to research but must ensure that they are able to report their findings back to the rest of the profession and pick up patterns in larger scale studies.
I’m delighted to say that the Teacher Development Trust is working to contribute significantly to these areas through our national database of training and support, GoodCPDGuide.com and our National Teacher Enquiry Network – a partnership of schools and colleges developing world-class, evidence-informed professional learning. Please get in touch with us if we can help you and/or collaborate with you on these important goals.
This is one of the articles in the TDT December Newsletter.
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