13 Dec

I’m a classroom teacher. The Lead Teacher for Science in a reasonably sized MAT. I’ve had to work with two schools over two years where CAGs & TAGs have been a the model of assessment used to decide the future of two cohorts of young people. I’m not so naïve as to pretend I’m the most experienced educator working within the system, I’m far from the most educated one too. Yet I’m pretty representative of those of us working every day in schools across the country. At times this doesn’t seem to matter – in my Twitter parlance; my opinion means nowt to some folk. Here I have outlined my epistemology for my blog. I am very much viewing things through the lens of the classroom teacher, and how things look to me – I don’t think I am alone in these views.

We’ve seen over the last few months that the ITT market review has been met with strong opposition from our university ITT providers. Commentators and statements form the establishments themselves tell us that change can’t be accommodated in such a short time-period, it is unfair to expect them to make these changes, and their provision is already of a really high standard.

I believe trying to change any system rapidly, without real consideration, to meet a consultation’s recommendations is unwise; lasting change is measured, and has stakeholder buy-in. ITT providers are adamant that the work they do is entirely fit for purpose, and despite comments from NQTs (ECTs), mentors, and teachers in the first five years of their career, our feedback and criticisms of the ITT system are ignored. From my perspective, the ITT system does need an overhaul. Not every establishment has the same reputation for teacher training, and the quality of delivery is very different across the board. I would even argue that subject specialisms are of different standards within the same institution, therefore it stands to reason that this will also provide differing experiences across the ITT providers we have in this country.

If we look at commentators across Twitter, we are told that the academics in charge of these courses know what they are doing, there’s expertise and research that underpins the work being done in their establishments, which feeds into the ITT provided in them. Us teachers on the ground needed worry about such things, despite many voices saying change is needed, because NQTs (ECTs) aren’t feeling prepared for their first school role, a shared view supported by many mentors.

None of this detracts from the hard work being put in by ITT trainers, trainees, and mentors. So why are the voices of those on the chalk-face being ignored, even dismissed in a manner that removes the collegiality of our profession? This is a genuine question – I have no answers for this, just suppositions.

If we look to the call for assessment review that has been high on the agenda for organisations such as Rethinking Assessment the call seems to be coming largely from academics, pressure groups, and to an extent those with long periods of time in the classroom, but without skin in the game at hand. This time it is teachers, those working on the secondary school chalk-face, who have dealt with the last two rounds of GCSE and A-level are pushing back, with talk of the timing being opportunistic, idealistic, and based in blue-sky thinking. The practicalities of things on the ground are very different. Yet again we see academics telling teachers what is best for students, and education.

There is a persistent trend where academics tell teachers what works, and what won’t work. Almost a paternalistic manner in which this is carried out; I say paternalistic, but sometimes it really doesn’t make it past patronising. There needs to be both open and frank conversations about these current issues. Both affect teacher and academics, directly and indirectly. The dialogue needs someone to mediate our dysfunctional educational family, because communication is challenging at the best of times. Anyone that has sat at a family get-together know that there can be some strained conversations – I believe this is where we are at.

Remember, I am viewing this from my position as a teacher. I have recent experience of the ITT system, personally, and through my work with our NQTs. The things ITT providers are telling us doesn’t happen, really does. I’ve nothing to gain by making this up – hell, I quite fancy working in ITT at some point in the next 23 years that I’ve left in the education sector – so why are teacher voices being ignored?

Now we can argue that the use of union representatives, and CEOs of MATs, members of the Chartered College of Teaching governance, representatives of Teach First and other training providers means that “teachers voices” are being heard, but in reality these are a filtered, somewhat diluted voice of what’s thought and said on the ground, if they truly do represent our voice at all. Unions, by nature, have a political stance. Teach First and other independent ITT providers are commercial enterprises with elements of their business-sides reliant on the influx of trainees every year. I’ve not seen any communications asking classroom teachers or those in HEIs about the ITT reforms or call for changes to assessment – perhaps there’s a chance I missed the memo with all the excitement I have had this year. So just who is prepared to allow teachers, wholesale, to have a voice? It appears there’s a real problem of our own making.

From my short-time in teaching it really is clear that just like any sector, there are differences of opinion. The trouble is, ours largely fall into the realm of either philosophical or political ones, so it really does suit governments to keep the sector in our little factions. So I’m trying to step back, and look at the bigger picture. We have lots of finger-pointing at the moment, with little actual action in the best interests of education.
As far as I can see, we need to have more time to listen and understand the differences between Primary and Secondary – why do we often have different educational philosophies and ideas? Where do these meet up? Talking to folk at teach-meets etc, I am always amazed that people agree with this, but we never seem to do it.

The same applies to ITTE and Teaching. The Army and Logistics sectors have changed since I left them behind. It stands to reason that classroom teaching changes the longer you are out of the 22/25 periods a week in the classroom. Now we can address this when SLT move away from classroom teaching by having working groups, and candid conversations with middle-leadership. How can we openly and honestly discuss things with experienced teachers, now in ITTE, who need this really up-to-date link to the classroom? We need to have ITTE and schools working together to ensure that the future of teaching is secure, and can improve – We need to have a real understanding of each other’s needs to reduce the amount of political football played by governments.

This leads me to the unions and the Chartered College of Teaching. I recently left one union, partly because of how ineffective they were representing locally, and because I couldn’t get behind some of their national campaigns – they just didn’t represent me. Now I fully appreciate that union meetings would be the first place to go and have my voice heard, and feel represented. Truth be told, like most, my diary is too full to dedicate time to attending lots of union meetings. I also struggle with the very political nature of it all – the discussions I have had are very us-and-them with regards to school leadership. So I chose to put my efforts into the Chartered College of Teaching, as a Council Member. I sit and consider the impact of this sometimes, and wonder how we can have this organisation, which I believe is well-placed to represent teacher-voices on national issues, not be affected by the elevated profiles of some members. The best way for this to happen is through local area meet-ups, but these can be expensive and require more voluntary work. So, how do we manage to get candid and open feedback on issues with a quick turn-around? I’m all ears here.

Whatever way I try to view education, the problem is always brought back to perceptions. There are engrained attitudes, ideas, politics, and to some extent snobbery throughout the sector. Those I look to for leadership are the ones that want to look at a bigger picture and talk to all involved.

“Knowing the enemy enables you to take the offensive, knowing yourself enables you to stand on the defensive.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

While I am sure one of the greatest military minds didn’t have the educational sector in mind, these are wise words. If we know how all the other factions work, what their intrinsic goals are, and how we’re linked, it is far easier to step back, as a General surveys the battlefield, and look to how we can tackle a shared threat to our sector – those that treat it with such contempt that we see education reacting to ‘kicks’ rather than evolving and developing as we should do, under our own expertise.

 Originally posted in the "pintsizedpedagogy" wordpress blog - August 2021 

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