Last week, I read the Sutton Trust’s Report, What makes great teaching? with a mixture of delight and dismay. Delight because it affirmed my faith in the professionalism of teachers and dismay because of how difficult it remains for teachers to act on its recommendations.
I aim to be the consummate professional in everything I do: I seek to improve my performance and effectiveness through examining how research, data, practice, technology and perhaps even diet (more or less coffee?) can help me perform as a teacher in the classroom and to help my pupils progress.
The progress evidenced by the class was rightly identified as the key measure of success for teachers in the report. As teachers, our commitment to continual development is even more important and exposed than many others; our improvement takes place in the classroom in full view of pupils.
This report presents welcome suggestions for steps forward in educational research aiding informed professional development, such as reiterating the importance of teachers’ and pupils’ subject knowledge, skilful questioning, developing pupils' analytical skills and of course the important relationships between teachers, pupils and parents in teaching effectively.
In this, the report is in line with the views of other respected experts, John Hattie, Martin Robinson and Daisy Cristodoulou to name but three.
I was also pleased to see certain myths being partly dispelled in the report, not least that ‘ability setting’, sorting children into different development groups, is the panacea for all educational woes – a view briefly suggested by the Government in September. Setting may have a place in certain subjects and contexts but it is both undesirable and impractical to suggest it as a universal policy.
In terms of major changes to the way modern classrooms are run, the report interestingly lacked any reference to the impact of technology on teaching and learning. This, I suspect, is more a reflection of the difficulty of isolating and measuring its impact, than it is an indication tablets and laptops have no worthy place in the classroom. There was also no mention of performance-related pay as an ingredient to effective teaching.
So, armed with the new information and findings from this report, like all good professionals, my fellow educators and I would ideally set about integrating its findings into our daily practices: ’training harder’ and honing our technique.
There is, unfortunately, one slight problem – and hence the source of my dismay.
Despite the flood of welcome attention the report received, teachers at Haileybury, and all schools around the country, will have to park this excellent advice for now in order to focus on the more pressing issue: public examination reform.
Next week, my heads of department will, rather than addressing this report, continue discussions about how we are to implement the dog’s dinner that is the Government's A Level and GCSE reforms.
These are not just a one-off dramatic change taking place in September 2015 to specification and assessment. Rather this is a painstaking process dragged out over the next three years.
Pupils caught up in the transition will be studying a mixed economy of old and new courses, only to receive a confusing collection of letters and number grades.
We are only now seeing some of these new courses for first teaching next September. All these frustrations are compounded when we consider that all these discussions and planning may well be futile if a change of government in May results in postponement of all changes for at least another 18 months (as promised by Labour).
I am fortunate to teach in the Independent sector where we can consider other alternatives. The stability of the IB Diploma, Pre-U and IGCSEs offer some sanctuary and will, I suspect, become even more popular with parents and pupils.
These alternatives have long been available and won’t be offered out of ‘protest’ as suggested in the TES. Rather, they’ll be recommended because educational leaders, in their professional opinion, believe it to be right for their pupils.
Government reforms are, allegedly, designed to raise standards. I have no issue with this at all. However, I wonder how much higher those standards could be if teachers could be trusted as professionals to determine the best forms of teaching, incorporating the advice of educational researchers such as those of the Sutton Trust report.
This is surely better than having to act on the whim of politicians (on both sides of the House) who confuse the relative importance of assessment with learning.
It’s not all bad news, however. Schools Minister David Laws has called for an end to political interference in education and the introduction of an independent Education Standards Authority with subject specialists overseeing the detail of education policy.
This is largely how the IB Diploma is managed with curriculum reviews undertaken by teachers and other academics according to a fixed, regular, timescale.
While there is little detail in David Laws' proposal at present, I applaud its sentiments. Certainly such a body would allow teachers to concentrate more on the important work of the Sutton Trust, for example, and less on who will win the next General Election.
I wonder how many political hopefuls will have read Professor Coe's report. I sincerely hope they will. To not do so would be highly unprofessional.
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