The Thing with a College of Teaching – Part Two

From Dec 19 2014

Last weekend, I saw this picture, from the Schools Improve Twitter poll –


..and of course, this refocuses the mind. If the aim of ANY body connected with schools and education is not ultimately to “improve” schools and education, then why bother? So is the negative response here revealing a lack of faith in a body of teachers to be able to improve standards? And what do we mean by “standards” anyway?

Schooling has become a very diverse ‘industry’ since I entered in 1990. At that time, there were state schools, administered and monitored by Local Authorities, and there were various kinds of independent schools. That seemed to be it. When Local Management of Schools (LMS) arrived in the late 90s, questions were asked about not just the new financial freedoms that state schools could operate, but about where this shift to a freer organisation might end. And of course we now see so much more variety in school organisation – I don’t need to list them here.

A College of Teaching needs to reflect this diversity in its composition while at the same time striving for consistency – focusing on the matters that unite us, rather than on ideologies that divide us. A College of Teaching needs to also needs to value the diversity of approaches within the profession. Yes, we’ve seen that Ofsted don’t require a particular lesson style; yes, we’ve encouraged teachers to free their creativity, to relish not being confined by prescriptive, formulaic lesson styles. Surely the same now needs to happen within a College? There can’t be only one way in which the ‘truth’ (cue philosophical responses…) about teaching is investigated. Research or evidence driven approaches are very effective, very popular and very current. But how many are there? Teachers can’t be expected to respond, in their teaching, on an immediate, practical level, to every piece of evidence that comes along, just as they shouldn’t have had to suffer the twists and turns of some recent government policy shifts. A College of Teaching needs to value diversity of approach and diversity of relationships which are at the heart of the classroom experience. However much ‘research’ supports an approach, there might well be times that I know – I KNOW – I just know – that this won’t work with my class. My relationship with 9S or 10X2 is at the core of my teaching and my knowledge of them as people, and as learners, gives me the direction to follow. Granted, this is the result of 25 years of experience – and I’m not saying that lesson studies, action research and evidence based approaches aren’t valid, interesting, useful or effective in ascertaining learner needs and efficacy of teaching strategy. But intuition and the day to day ebb and flow of lessons, marking, more planning, more lessons, assessment, feedback, feedforward and on we go… these are also my research … these are also my evidence. A College of Teaching needs to enable and support evidence-based approaches as key points in the discussion of effective teaching, but to acknowledge that softer ‘evidence’ is also valuable.

I wonder how many methods and mechanisms there are for driving up standards? As many as there are schools? Types of schools? As many as there are teachers, or classes, or pupils? A quick Google search elicited over 74 million suggestions for ‘How to drive up standards in education?’ A College of Teaching needs to also needs to mediate and evaluate the huge range of inputs of opinion and policy that currently deluges the teaching profession. In the same way as many teachers in many schools are complaining about the ‘tick-box culture’ of responses to every new initiative, so the profession as a whole needs to take stock and focus on what really matters. I’m lucky to work in a school whose management team have long refused to give out a criteria sheet or tick list for lesson observations, for example. Common sense prevails. The ‘feel’ of the lesson is valued. Of course there are standards, and we are a school where Ofsted judgements are issued for some lesson observations (and we are an Outstanding school) but we don’t let the minutiae cloud the bigger picture.

I’ll be attending the London Festival of Education at the IoE in February. I’m not a Londoner, but it makes sense to me to listen to some discussion about what works, as well as to take part in discussions about how lessons learned in London can be disseminated around the country.

A College of Teaching needs to be a good listener, especially now, in order to become a respected body, integrated into the world of teachers from the outset. There are communications in the ether:

and some interesting information comments on an earlier wordpress site here




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