The shift to a ‘school-led system’ has been a defining strand of Coalition and Conservative education policy – first in school improvement and leadership development, and now extended to other aspects of education policy. In relation to initial teacher training (ITT), it has meant radical changes in approaches to the delivery of training, with many implications for how we think about ‘the teaching profession’, as well as for securing teacher supply. As the government rolls out its latest reforms for managing ITT, it’s interesting to reflect on the progress made so far in implementing schools-led ITT, and where we might be heading in future. (more…)
There’s no question that school leaders will face tough challenges in the coming years. But there is also a major opportunity to reshape the school system. This blog, the second based on my London Centre for Leadership in Learning lecture on 19 May, should be read alongside this set of slides.
The nature of the challenges is such that it is not possible for schools and their leaders to manage them alone. They will have to collaborate – whether that builds on what they are doing at the moment or takes them into new territory. (more…)
Gender violence has been a key theme of the European Union’s Daphne programme. I have been involved with a most exciting and innovative Daphne-funded research project to develop free online training tools, which we hope will help teachers, youth workers and health professionals across Europe to tackle gender-related violence in children and young people’s lives.
Our particular approach in the GAP WORK project draws on earlier research I conducted with Dr Pam Alldred of Brunel University (where the project is based). It found that teachers, health and youth workers do not feel adequately trained to work with children and young people around sex, sexuality and relationships and showed how sex education and dealing with violence remains marginalised in school curricula. Such (more…)
“My dad says that if you can’t teach me what I need to know between the hours of 9 and 3, then you ain’t doing your job properly” … proclaimed “Ryan” in front of the rest of his Year 9 class when I tried to enforce his detention for non-completion of homework. As a new teacher just out of the Institute of Education’s PGCE programme, I had a repertoire of appropriate responses for such situations but I recall, on this occasion I was stumped in that moment. A million possibilities occurred to me all at once – which to choose to get the best out of the situation for everyone? There was a pause while a cavern opened in the floor in front of me and everyone held their breath, waiting to see if I would fall in.
I thus realised very early on that learning the craft of teaching is career-long. My PGCE tutor once described teaching as a “generative art”. It is situated in deep knowledge about subject and pedagogy – and for those who choose to teach in challenging urban, rural and coastal environments, the relationship between education and “place” brings with it a multitude of other professional learning that needs to be embraced. The complexity of learning your craft as a teacher requires on-going, professional support from within schools and from the rich human and intellectual capital in “Outstanding” university providers like the Institute.
I was delighted therefore to hear news of the Institute of Education’s recent Ofsted inspection judgement of ‘Outstanding’ and its glowing report – a fitting accolade for one of the key architects involved in London’s success over the past ten years. Of course, for over a century the Institute has led the international field in education research and development as well as in the initial training of teachers. The Institute has been responsive to changing times, adapting to new policy environments taking on innovation.
In 1993, provision for early professional development following initial teacher training was limited and leadership training was sparse in London. For many, London schools were not the schools of choice in which to teach and teacher shortage was becoming a real problem. There was no national framework for teachers’ development. I relied heavily on the Institute’s resources for further professional learning.
Twenty years on, the picture in London for both early and career-long professional learning is widely different – and the Institute has led the way. London teachers and leaders have benefitted enormously from the wide range of opportunities it has provided for further learning during this period – especially through the establishment of innovative practice-based masters and doctoral programmes and the foundation of the ‘London Centre for Leadership in Learning’. In particular, strong mutually beneficial partnerships with schools, collaboration between academics and practitioners on research and writing in education and the embracement of initiatives like Teach First are just a few of those to name.
Becoming “at least good” as a teacher or school leader takes a wealth of high quality support and development from others. And whilst “Ryan” (and other pupils) have extended my learning and calibrated my practice – which, although not always easy, has been an important part of my own journey – and whilst I have learned so much from the cutting edge work of many school colleagues, the Institute has also been fundamental.
They say it takes a community to educate a child – it takes a community of practice to educate a teacher. The Institute is central to that community in London and practitioners in the Capital are proud to have it.
Dr Vanessa Ogden is head teacher of Mulberry School in Tower Hamlets, which works in partnership with the IOE, and received her Doctorate at the Institute
The pupil’s name has been changed.
It’s a fabulous quotation: “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” It has the sense of an underlying educational law, as compelling as Newton’s laws of motion. It’s routinely attributed to the 2007 McKinsey Report, How the world’s best performing education systems come out on top.
But if you dig into that report, you’ll find a footnote acknowledging that the quotation came from a senior government official in South Korea: yet another illustration of the old adage that a management consultant is someone who steals your watch and then tells you the time. But as an aphorism it has done its job, and is now routinely quoted by government ministers, education reformers and academics the world over. A Google search yields over 180,000 uses of the quotation since 2007. It crops up again, in disguised form, in Andrew Adonis’s contribution to last week’s Varkey Gems study on the status of teachers worldwide: “No education system can be better than its teachers”.
It’s a great quote. And it’s wrong. It took me a long while to work out what was wrong with it, until a line from Bob Schwartz, professor of practice in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, triggered my thinking. “What”, asked Schwartz in an OECD essay, “is the most important school-related factor in pupil learning: the answer is teaching”. And that captures the difference. It’s just as good a quotation, but it is different in three important letters: it’s teaching, not teachers.
A moment’s thought tells you that Schwartz has to be right and McKinsey have to be wrong. We can all teach well and we can all teach badly. Even good teachers teach some lessons and some groups less well; even the struggling teacher can teach a successful lesson on occasion. More generally, we can all teach better: teaching changes and develops. Skills improve. Ideas change. Practice alters. It’s teaching, not teachers.
The three letters also have important policy implications. If you pursue the line that the important thing is teachers, you focus on people. You need to sack the weakest teachers and you need to design a system which guarantees that you can replace them quickly with better ones. Of course, performance managing very poor teachers out of the profession is important, and it is important that we recruit the brightest and the best. But these turn out to be very, very slow routes to improving the quality of an education system.
The English figures bear this out. There are 400,000 teachers in schools in England. About 30,000 new ones are trained each year. Assume the weakest 5,000 recruited each year can be replaced with 5000 who are definitely going to be better than the remaining 25,000 (there are some heroic assumptions here), and it will be many years before a visible impact is secured on the profession. It took Finland more than 30 years for recruitment practices to re-shape the profession. Changing teaching by changing teachers is a long, slow slog. And in some of those high performing countries, including South Korea and China, recruitment is – as the Varkey Gems report makes plain – helped by the extraordinary status enjoyed by teaching there. In fact, the status of teaching is a stronger attraction for committed candidates than relative salary levels. The status of teaching determines the extent to which policy can reshape teachers.
If you pursue the line that it is teaching that matters, you get a different set of policies. It’s still important to recruit and train those who can develop as excellent teachers, but you need to work continuously to improve the quality of teaching across schools: every teacher, in every classroom, in every school, getting better at teaching. This involves focusing on what drives really good teaching – committed teachers and high quality instruction, which itself depends on rigorous subject knowledge and knowledge of effective pedagogy, both leavened by imagination.
I’ve called it – with tongue partly in cheek – a formula for quality teaching: Q = C + E [K(s+ t)] + I. That is, quality depends on committed teachers (C), plus effective pedagogy (E), based on subject knowledge (Ks ) plus knowledge of effective teaching (Kt), supplemented by imagination (I).
Forty years ago, policy assumed that schools made little difference to pupil outcomes: outcomes were principally determined by social factors. School effectiveness research told us that that was not the case. Schools made a difference. Then we understood that school effects were the sum of classroom effects: teachers make a difference. But the key lesson is that it’s teaching, not teachers, which matters. Every teacher can teach better. That’s an equally great line.
In his address to the NCSL annual conference in 2012, Michael Gove devoted almost half his speech to explaining the School Direct concept and announcing plans for expanding the pilot. The response from most school leaders in the audience was bemusement: “why do we need to worry about teacher training? That’s what universities do; we’ve got enough on our plates.”
I suspect that view seems rather antiquated now to the schools and higher education institutions (HEIs) that have been grappling with how to make the School Direct model work over the past year. Many of these acknowledge that due to tight timescales they went for a fairly traditional PGCE-model this time round, but most are planning for the schools to take on a greater role over time.
The expansion of School Direct has certainly been fast paced and sometimes chaotic. Estelle Morris is the most recent high-profile critic to raise legitimate concerns around the risk of a teacher shortage due to the shortfall in School Direct recruitment numbers this year and the destabilising effect it is having on existing, high-quality HEI provision.
Ministers will have undoubtedly paused for thought over what to do next with School Direct. My guess is they will go for measured expansion: the Department for Education (DfE) has been discussing ways to shift student loans funding from HEIs to schools for the past year or more. If they can agree a way to do that, schools will be put firmly in the driving seat as commissioners of initial teacher training (ITT). The challenge will be to make sure schools can do so in a sufficiently strategic and cost efficient way – and that’s where teaching schools and chains come in.
In The Importance of Teaching white paper, teaching schools were positioned as playing a leading role in training new teachers, but their remit was actually much broader: to transform the culture of professional learning across schools. Too often, it was felt, newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) fell off a “development cliff” once they finished their PGCE and started work because too few schools focused on continuous professional development (CPD).
This year, Vicky Beer, executive principal at Ashton on Mersey, spoke at the national teaching schools conference, where she attributed much of her school’s success to its longstanding commitment to teacher training and staff development. Ofsted reports aren’t prone to hyperbole, so the statement in Ashton on Mersey’s report in April that lessons are of “simply stunning quality” seems a strong endorsement of her argument.
Her premise was simple and persuasive: when you ask experienced teachers to work together to develop and mentor new recruits, you create a dynamic learning culture where the best practice is made explicit and professional collaboration is the norm. As a result, everyone improves.
Ashton on Mersey’s ethos reflects the need for joint practice development (see Judy Sebba’s research, with teaching schools as practical examples of JPD). David Hargreaves describes JPD as: “a joint activity, in which two or more people interact and influence one another.” This is in stark contrast to the non-interactive, unilateral character of much conventional good practice sharing. Hargreaves has argued that JPD must sit at the heart of every teaching school alliance if they are to really add value to the quality of teaching.
Of course, this is easy to say but incredibly hard for teaching schools to do; they need bums-on-seats if they are to make training pay, but JPD is about learning on the job with peers, not going on courses.
This is where School Direct potentially comes in: working with other schools and HEIs to plan and deliver excellent initial training can be the catalyst that unlocks new ways of working on professional development more widely.
But there is a concomitant risk. In the government’s rush to expand School Direct they are putting huge pressure on teaching schools to focus on this above all else. As a result, their wider work on CPD, leadership, research and school to school support is already being sidelined.
This year more than 35,000 students completed A-level physics. This not only represents a move towards meeting the need for a more scientifically literate population, it hit the Institute of Physics‘ 2014 target for increasing participation in the subject a year early. The increase represents a rise of 29.5% on the 2007 figure of 27,466 – a fantastic endorsement of the hard work of many teachers of physics. Clearly science teachers are doing something right.
What is it that expert teachers do?
As a student teacher of science I remember the day when the department head in the practice school managed to enthral two classes of students with a lesson on the subject of π (pi) with no preparation. He was able to tell a story of the history and use of an idea that the students could not only relate to and understand but that linked to the big picture of science.
Whilst this may not fit with the modern day view of an outstanding lesson the skill shown by this experienced teacher was something never to be forgotten. Many of us have these stories, as one Guardian letter writer commented (5 September), in response to the building that melted a Jaguar car: “My inspirational physics teacher told us the Archimedes and burnished shields story to explain the powerful properties of the concave mirror, which was followed shortly by me getting a right clump for setting our front fence on fire with my Dad’s shaving mirror!”
There is some debate about the nature of knowledge an expert teacher possesses as opposed to that of an expert scientist. What is content knowledge and what is pedagogic content knowledge? However, to my mind, the teacher who can draw out a story related to the curriculum, illustrate it with good activities and encourage young people to test out the ideas against their own is onto a winner. It is clear that having the best degree in a subject, whilst important, is not the only prerequisite for making a great teacher. Enhancing the uptake of subjects like physics, I believe, is not just about generating more highly qualified teachers with higher physics degrees.
For example, there are many teachers of science who are expected to teach outside their degree specialism, even up to post-16 courses, and often feel very challenged by this experience. These teachers need the time and space to reflect upon their practice within their specialism but also to relate practice to the less familiar subject disciplines.
The newspapers are full of the news that there are not enough physicists training to become teachers. In addition, non-specialists are being encouraged to retrain to teach mathematics, chemistry and physics through subject knowledge enhancement courses both prior to their PGCE and as qualified teachers. Likewise physics expertise is being developed through the Stimulating Physics programme.
Teachers involved in these programmes are keen to learn both about what it is they are trying to teach but also how to teach it. They are evaluating, adapting and incorporating tools and resources within their context and framework of experience. In other words they need to learn both the accepted subject content ideas alongside discussing the pedagogical ideas and storytelling exhibited by experts. We are beginning to see the evidence of the success of these programmes as the numbers achieving Physics A-level this year demonstrates.
Subject Knowledge Enhancement courses at the IOE are now recruiting. Thanks to funding from the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL), the course is free for practising teachers in state schools and there is also £900 towards cover.
Today, Jay Allnutt and I published a new piece of analysis (PDF) showing that schools taking on Teach First participants have achieved gains in their GCSE results as a result of the programme. Our analysis tracks the performance of these schools in the first three years after they join the programme and compares them to changes in progress at a set of schools that look identical, except for their Teach First participation in that year.
We make sure this comparison set of schools have the same pupil demographic profile, the same prior levels and trends in GCSE performance, are in the same region of England and are all schools who will choose to join Teach First at some point in the future (formally this is known as a matched difference-in-differences panel estimation). Overall, school-wide gains in GCSE results are in the order of an improvement of about one grade in one of a pupil’s best eight subjects. This estimate is a fraction of the size claimed by the only other quantitative evaluation by Muijs et al (PDF), but is still large enough to be of value to schools.
Like many, until I wrote this research I was sceptical that Teach First participants could possibly have any sort of transformative effect on schools. The academic research tells us that we don’t know much about what good teachers look like before they join the profession. We just know they are likely to be relatively ineffective in their first year of teaching, compared to their second and subsequent years. So, to my mind, setting up a scheme that legitimises exit from the profession after just two years seemed like lunacy.
Furthermore, to someone who trained to become a teacher for a whole year and still found my first year in the classroom extremely exhausting and challenging, it did seem rather reckless to place young graduates into challenging classrooms with so little time to prepare.
But on reflection, I now think Teach First provides important lessons for recruitment to the teaching profession as a whole.
I believe Teach First reminds us of the importance of selecting the right teachers at the outset
Even in the depths of recession in 2010 there were just 3 applicants for each place on a traditional graduate training course (PGCE, PGDE and GTP). By contrast, at the same time Teach First was processing about eight applications for every place. Without needing to make claims about the relative qualities of the respective pools of applicants, it is easy to see how Teach First is able recruit an intake with greater potential, provided their sifting process can do a reasonable job of spotting those with the drive, resilience and stamina needed to succeed in the classroom.
Recent academic papers from the US explain that getting this initial selection of teachers right is critical because, whilst a first year novice teacher is less effective than they will be in year two, the improvement in teaching quality gained through experience is actually relatively modest compared to the very wide variation in teacher quality at the outset. Furthermore, those who are weak teachers in year one improve their practice at a slower rate than others, thus widening gaps in effectiveness in years two, three and four.
Giving graduates an exit path after two years may be an important recruitment device
It is hard to really know whether you’ll love teaching before you try it. The great pleasures of teaching are rather strange compared to other graduate jobs and many 21 year old graduates will have had little contact with young children in recent years. Given this, while many graduates hesitate about training to join the teaching profession (forever?), they may feel more able to join a scheme with a straightforward exit route after two years. If they find they need to (which most don’t), they can walk away with a sense of completion rather than as a ‘failure’ or ‘drop-out’. And the greatest success of Teach First takes place when a graduate who fully intended to move onto a job in the City or in Law completes their two years and finds they are unable to rip themselves away from the delight and gratification of educating the next generation.
Michael Gove recently wrote an article in the Daily Mail attacking so-called Marxist teachers and teacher educators, who he characterises as “the enemies of promise”. Reading this no holds barred critique may well have given many who work in education a strong sense of déjà vu. I sought out a copy of my inaugural lecture at Goldsmiths College in May 1991 – “Next in line for the treatment: Education Reform and Teacher Education in the 1990”. As I noted back then:
“A recurring theme in the pamphlets of the New Right pressure groups is the need to rid the system of the liberal or left educational establishment, which is seen to have been behind the ‘progressive collapse’ of the English educational system and which ‘prey to ideology and self-interest, is no longer in touch with the public’.”
The answer prescribed by the pressure groups: schools free to recruit whoever they wanted as teachers and any training deemed necessary done on the job. At one level the pressure groups were making a general argument about producer interests, but it was also a more specific attack on the alleged ideological bias of teacher educators. The fundamental problem for this line of argument was that, if the critique of teacher training was right, schools surely needed to be purged of teachers who had “suffered” from teacher training before they could themselves be entrusted with teacher training.
Much has changed in education in the intervening 20 years, and it’s a shame that the contemporary debate does not acknowledge that. Most importantly, the more legitimate criticisms of university-led teacher training of the 1980s and ‘90s have long since been addressed through constructive engagement between government, universities and schools. In that same 1991 lecture, I argued that higher education institutions should actively embrace school-based training and partnership working, and the sector has subsequently welcomed multiple training routes and worked ever more closely with schools. It’s also the case that some of us in university departments of education were involved right from the start in the development of Teach First, one of the teacher training routes consistently praised by government ministers.
All this, according to Ofsted under its previous HMCI and a report last year by the House of Commons Education Committee, has had positive effects on the quality of new teachers entering the profession. It has helped to shape the schools that Michael Gove himself singles out for praise. Current policies, however, are being rolled out in a manner that risks eroding some of the best practice that has developed in recent years and the infrastructure that supports it. Only a couple of weeks ago at the launch of the Ben Goldacre report Building Evidence into Education (pdf) the DfE was promoting an evidence-informed approach to education policy and practice. We need that in initial teacher training policy, too.
Key to an evidence-informed approach, of course, is the responsible and considered use of the evidence. On that basis it was disappointing to see the way in which the first inspection results under the new inspection framework for teacher training were described in an Ofsted press release last week. It included spurious interpretations of limited data and at least one factual error, and it omitted to mention anything that reflected well on HEIs or badly on school-led teacher training schemes.
It was also disappointing to see a report in The Times suggesting connections were being made between the allegedly inferior teacher training inspection results from HEIs and the letter from 100 education academics voicing doubts about the government’s National Curriculum proposals (which had prompted Michael Gove’s article in the Daily Mail) – not least because very few of the signatories to that letter are actually involved in the design or delivery of initial teacher training.
What the evidence does show is that teacher training in the best performing education systems worldwide is based in close collaboration between universities and schools. It would be political folly to disregard the contribution that HEIs are making to teacher supply and quality in England in order to pursue an agenda based on outdated caricatures.
Geoff Whitty, former IOE Director, is currently Professor of Public Sector Policy and Management at the University of Bath and a non-Executive member of the Board of Ofsted. His comments on Ben Goldacre’s recent paper on the use of evidence in education can be found here.
What professions are likely to be tempted into unethical behaviour? Bankers? Politicians? Journalists? What about teachers?
They are not the first group of professionals who spring to mind, yet teachers are frequently drawn into tensions over what is the right thing to do because of the conflict between their deeply-held sense of vocation and what they have to do in school.
My research, to be presented at the forthcoming BERA conference, reports on the difficulties student teachers experience because of the contradictory demands they face. In England for example, the statutory national curriculum takes a principled stand on the value of inclusion and states that “teachers should aim to give every pupil the opportunity to experience success in learning and to achieve as high a standard as possible”. However, the drive to achieve high league table ranking frequently militates against the principle of inclusion.
The ethical implications here are that pupils may be conceived primarily as a means to an end of higher test results and not “an end in themselves”. Conscientious teachers working in schools that require lessons “delivered” with highly specified “outcomes”, who are trying to cater for all their students, experience conflict when working with the technical demands of a test-dominated curriculum.
With schemes of work developed to tight time-frames, teachers often feel driven on to the next lesson, and this weighs against going where the moment leads and attending to those spontaneous and teachable moments that can arise, or returning to something unfinished, when more time could be fruitful. Prescriptive schemes of work with detailed, specified outcomes for lessons give limited opportunity to follow up pupils’ engaged curiosity and teacher judgement is often overridden by having to “move on” in order to manage the demand for pre-determined lesson outcomes.
Lack of time to engage with pupils’ concerns and questions as they arise in the normal flow can be a source of tension for teachers when they know that some pupils may be left behind in the rush to move ahead. The tensions teachers experience in situations dominated by an auditing paradigm cannot be easily removed, since they have their source in beliefs and values.
Significantly, research has shown that pupils hold similar views. They talk about good teachers as those who listen and help them, and not in technical terms relating to targets and results.
To prepare teachers to enter into school culture with their values of good teaching alive requires teacher educators to act ethically. This creates a double injunction: to prepare student teachers to enable their pupils to learn and achieve of course, but also to develop student teachers’ capacity to withstand the contradictions of school life and keep their vocational ideals alive.
The research is a theoretical discussion in philosophy of education informed with empirical research taken from student teachers’ reflective writing. See Teacher Education and the Development of Practical Judgement (Continuum) and Critical Practice in Teacher Education (IOE Press) for more information.