003.1416 – License to Teach


Tristram Hunt MP, the Labour shadow education secretary has today released details of his proposals for a system of regular re-licensing in a way that he envisions will improve professionalism to bring it in line with other professions such as Medicine and Law. Done with care, funding and well thought out systems this has the potential to be very beneficial but I want to examine why it may not be as useful as it appears to be on paper.

Much of the current Continual Professional Development (CPD) within teaching is delivered as a tack on at the end of a day to already exhausted teachers after a full day of contact time with young people, often by other teachers who are equally as worn out. It is quite often planned with minimal time and resources allocated to it, more often than not to meet a statutory requirement (such as in the case of Safeguarding) or to ensure that the school can tick a box to say staff have been trained on how to deal with a particular learner group, initiative etc. This isn’t because schools don’t want to provide good training but the reality is there isn’t the time, or the budgets to do so. With external courses often running into hundreds of pounds a day for attendance, alongside the cost of a supply teacher for the day, the costs become prohibitive and mean that internal, staff delivered training is often the only option.

In a time when budgets are being squeezed, this formalised CPD requirement is going to do little more than create another box ticking exercise that will create paperwork trails and requirements that will do little more to benefit teachers than the way things currently operate in many schools. If, however, he is proposing to fund every teacher to the tune of £1000+ per academic year to ensure they can attend quality, external training, then that would be a good thing, however I doubt in an age of austerity, this is a viable pledge.

The other part of the plans involve assessment of an individuals teaching by other teachers, something that happens as part of performance management already, so really nothing new. The issue, however, is that there is the potential for adding another layer of paperwork to an already stretched workforce to ensure this is reported to the proposed Teaching college, again for very little benefit over the current scenario.

However, what for me is the most worrying part is the repetition of the Govian rhetoric that teaching is something that is currently unprofessional and broken. Actually when it is pulled apart, what Hunt is proposing already happens to a great extent, just not with the level of bureaucracy he intends. Maybe before MP’s make sweeping statements and generalisations they need to start to re-assess the realities of life in teaching and how things really work before attempting to propose more reform.


The Gove of Schooling Past


One of the main reasons for my chosen transition out of the classroom into other areas of education has been the retrograde changes in education policy such as the move away from developing independent learning towards a focus on assessment performance. I feel developing independence is central to an education system that prepares young people for the future. 14-19 Diplomas and their emphasis on thinking and learning skills were not perfect, but certainly heralded a step in the right direction. It seems, however that the government has run thirty steps in the other to compensate and in this blog I will outline why this is a dangerous mistake.

Firstly, I must make clear, It is not that I am opposed to change, in face much change can be good, but basing change on historical and anecdotal experiences is not the way to make progressive change, nor is changing things without talking to the professionals whose job it is to work with the change. In 2011, In their book entitled From exam factories to communities of discovery, Frank Coffield and Bill Williamson constructed an excellent argument as to why the educational system we have and the goals that tweaks in policy attempt to reach are deeply flawed. They argue that the system is not in need of repair, but by replacement. One of their primary arguments is that it is too simplistic to believe that having a ‘world class’ education will automatically improve the education system. I want to extend this argument and examine it in terms of some of the recent changes in Govian policy making. 

There was much noise in the media surrounding England’s recent fall in the PISA tables whilst countries such as China excel in these measures of education. As a result, it seems that many changes have been proposed to teaching and assessment to address this in hope of securing a higher position in the rankings, but for what?  So that it can be said can say that England has a better educational system than other countries? Whilst this may re-assure those in power, what use is this to those students going through the education system? After all, it is not their success in testing that is important, but how education prepares them for their next steps in life.

It is no secret that the world is very different to that of a post war Britain. Jobs are no longer for life and occupations are very different to those of even a generation ago. It surely, must be a primary concern of schools to build initiative, resilience and a love for life long learning then to help them continually retrain and up skill for all those future jobs. Seemingly, in the eyes of policy makers, no. They would much rather we developed the ability of our young people to excel in tests and as pools of facts and knowledge. When I came into education a few years ago, I was excited to see how much had changed in the classroom, the emphasis given over to thinking and learning skills and the encouragement of interdisciplinary working. It comes then, as a disappointment that these are exactly the things that changes in policy are weeding out of education due to their limited utility in preparing students for testing.

I have already seen at the coalface what this does for the starting point of many children in Secondary education. They spend so much time in Year 6 preparing for their SATs in English and Maths that often other subjects are marginalised or given cursory time in the curriculum. Yes, some have scored that hallowed level 5, but that’s about where it stops and often the curiosity and excitement of learning has been drilled out of them for a fill in the blanks approach to learning.

My true worry is what these retrograde steps will mean for the futures of those entering into a landscape of learning based predicated on success in assessment. Will they have the independent learning skills needed for university, The life skills for employment, or the resilience to face repeated employment change through their lives? 


Coffield, F. and Williamson, B. (2011). From Exam Factories to communities of discovery, London: Institute of Education

Underachievers at GCSE: Why a critique of the data is needed


After reading this morning’s Guardian article on Ofsted’s reaction to the number of level 5 students (higher achievers in primary schools) not reaching A and A* grades at GCSE, I felt a need to respond. You see, I teach a great number of these so called level 5 students each day who, according to the data can write well, have good spelling and have a secure grasp of sentence structure. Yet within their daily tasks, the level of literacy is barely passable as literate. For my money, the main reason for this is coaching. The SATs are so important to primary schools that in year 6, many hours are devoted to developing their skills related to the SATs, not general literacy skills but how to answer the sort of questions they will be presented in the test and ,it is fair to say, for many this approach works and they do indeed do well, achieving level 5.

The problem, comes when they move away from formulaic literacy into a secondary education where it needs to be applied within specialist areas such as Art, here they struggle as they haven’t been taught in that way and, given the focus on the SATs, their practical art skills often are lacking so to fill both gaps is setting them up to fail. From professional conversations, I know Art isn’t the only problem area. Therefore tackling the performance of e most able isn’t the solution to this problem but making sure that those that are assessed as attaining level 5 during key stage 2 actually are functioning at that level and haven’t been coached to pass a test at that level is the key.