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Teachers under pressure: working harder, but with less control over how they do their jobs

Blog Editor, IOE Digital20 January 2021

Francis Green.

It must be exhilarating, if challenging, to set out for the first time on a teaching career in Britain’s schools. But, from eye-witness reports in recent years, for some new recruits the strains are not long arriving. Now, as a new term gets underway, the chaos surrounding the pandemic can only be adding to the pressures that teachers have laboured under for a long time.

The stats suggest that dissatisfaction is not confined to an unhappy few. In England, among the newly qualified teachers in 2014, some 14 percent had left after a year; after five years, a third had gone. It seems quite a waste. Teacher retention has been declining for some while, and had fallen yet again in 2019 — despite attempts to stem the tide.

What is it about the job of teaching nowadays (more…)

Schools never shut: the extraordinary lengths teachers have been going to in supporting children during lockdown

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 June 2020

Alice Bradbury.

There has been much discussion in the news about schools ‘re-opening’ in the last few weeks; however, schools have never been ‘closed’ during the COVID-19 crisis, and in fact, teachers have been working incredibly hard to support their communities during the lockdown period.

As well as continuing to teach the children of key workers and vulnerable children, including through school holidays, staff have been engaged in a variety of activities which stretch far beyond their normal roles, as our research in the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Pedagogy (HHCP) has shown.

Our mission in HHCP is to improve children’s lives through pedagogy; during this crisis, we have prioritised supporting parents at home (through campaigns such as our ‘Get children thinking’  project) and – the focus here – documenting the experiences of staff in schools and the early years sector. We have spoken to and surveyed leaders across the field of primary and early years education, gathering fascinating testimonies of the experiences of the (more…)

What should teachers be prepared for when young children return after lockdown: lessons from China and elsewhere

Blog Editor, IOE Digital11 May 2020

Yuwei Xu and Clare Brooks. 

With the outbreak of COVID-19 globally, school closures and online education have become shared  experiences for children, teachers, and parents around the world. As China emerges from lockdown, schools are preparing for re-opening.

National guidelines, issued by the People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Education, on COVID-19 prevention and control at all school levels, focus on medical suggestions, physical health and hygiene. However, teachers everywhere are concerned about the mental and social aspects of children’s returning to schools. In this blog, drawing on relevant research from China and elsewhere, we summarize some of the major considerations for young children’s post-COVID-19 psychological and social readiness. (more…)

It looked as though our regulators were finally willing to trust teachers – but Ofqual’s latest guidance suggests otherwise

Blog Editor, IOE Digital7 May 2020

Mary Richardson.

Over recent decades England has seen the gradual erosion of trust in teachers and in teaching as a profession. This suspicion and casual condemnation happens across many public spheres and is most prominent during August each year when the results of the GCSEs and A levels are picked over and hotly debated.

Of course 2020 will be very different as there will be no final exams. Instead the results days (13 August for A level and 20 August for GCSE) will see the release of grades that comprise a range of evidence provided by teachers and schools.

A casual view of any social media or news reports relating to education at present reveals a continual stream of concerns, questions and more than a healthy dose of rumour suggesting that these very high stakes assessments might disadvantage students both now and in the 2021 cycle.

Ofqual has been quick to respond to this and their consultation documents include a review of evidence from (more…)

TIMSS 2015: do teachers and leaders in England face greater challenges than their international peers?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital8 November 2017

Toby Greany and Christina Swensson. 
This is the third in a series of blogs that delve below the headline findings from the 2015 Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS)[1]. In this blog, we focus on how the perceptions of teachers and school leaders in England compare with those of their peers in other countries.
Just under 300 English primary and secondary schools took part in TIMSS 2015. The headteachers of these schools, as well as the mathematics and science teachers of randomly selected Year 5 and year 9 classes, were asked to complete a background questionnaire asking their views on a range of issues. Given the way teachers were selected to participate in TIMSS, their responses do not present a representative view of all teachers and headteachers in England. Therefore, we compare the findings from TIMSS with findings from (more…)

Do teachers need to understand what they are doing?

Blog Editor, IOE Digital28 May 2013

John White
Do teachers need to understand what they are doing? Most of us, I presume, would think this a silly question. It stands to reason that teachers, like doctors or politicians, must have a good understanding of the purpose of their role.
Yet, in the last twenty-odd years, it has been all but forgotten. There has been plenty of training in the specifics of teaching a subject and managing a class, but I’m talking about wider horizons.
We could not imagine a trainee doctor learning about diagnosing symptoms or prescribing drugs without having a broader picture of what they are doing this for. They know it is about helping people to become or remain healthy. Although there may be disagreements about what good physical health is, they are at the margins. Most of us, including the trainee, share a broad consensus about what it is to be healthy.
Yet, teaching is not like this. The trainee teacher of mathematics knows, of course, that they are in the business of educating, but there are widely divergent views about what this is. If they are not equipped to critically evaluate such disagreements, within what wider framework can they place the specifics they are being taught?
Of course, he or she will have picked up some kind of implicit framework from their own schooling, as well as the training institution they attended and through government policy. However, it is largely up to the individual which of these frameworks they allow themselves to be guided by – or whether, they consciously select a framework at all.
If the trainee is ill-equipped in critical evaluation, they are likely to follow some such kind of received opinion. Most probably, it will be the dominant line of the last two decades: that school education is about following regulations for prescribed subjects, so that students can do as well as possible in national exams based on these subjects.
Unless we want received ideas like this to become, through constant reinforcement, even more ascendant across the generations, we have to do more to encourage teachers to reflect on them in the light of alternatives.
What might we want them to think about? We could start with the dominant line just mentioned. What is the rationale for it? If the point of good exam results is to help people get into interesting jobs, what relation does this vocational aim of schooling have to other possible aims – being a good citizen, for instance, or leading a fulfilled life? Is having an interesting job part of living a fulfilled life? If so, what else comes into the latter? – And what if a young person doesn’t land an interesting job? Can he or she still live a full life?
This is just the start of the journey. And already the thinker is plunging into deep waters to do with the nature of citizenship, personal well-being, and inequalities of life-chances. There are no quick fixes here. It takes time to sort these matters through with any rigour. We are in philosophical territory. Philosophy cannot equip our teacher with definitive solutions to these or similar problems, but it can at least help them to reflect and look at the assumptions behind certain positions, judge the soundness of arguments, and imagine alternatives. And all this takes time.
Am I arguing for a massive injection of philosophy of education into initial teacher education? Is that my – self-serving – motivation for writing this blog?
No. I taught the subject in the 1960s – and know that a lecture plus a seminar each week was a totally inappropriate package for teachers, who had much more immediate things on their mind, like controlling their classes. Even so, it would make sense to at least introduce teachers to these questions during their training, especially if linked to other aspects of their experience. If not, how else could they really know what they should be doing?
If it is agreed that teachers should be more than unthinking operatives, working within a received idea about what school education is for, then another way, or ways, must be found of equipping them to tackle these underlying issues with some degree of competence. How is this to be done? Are there lessons here for continuing professional development (CPD) as well as for pre-service work?
John White is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Education at the Institute of Education.