Protecting and Cherishing a Profession

I am in the process of putting the finishing touches to a paper for BERA 2012 next week so thought I would post a few snippets from the paper. In writing the paper I have been considering two rapidly changing landscapes – the teaching profession and teacher education.  So some points worth reflecting upon:

1. It took only fifteen years from the early stages of a the new Labour government consultation paper, ‘Teaching: high status, high standards’ (DfEE, 1997) and the establishing of a Code of Conduct, to the disbanding of the GTCE and the introduction of a set of Personal and Professional Conduct  (PPC) Standards as outlined in the Teachers Standards (DfE, 2012).  Under the original proposals the GTCE would be independent of government, but would also work with them to raise standards whilst providing teachers with ‘a clear professional voice’ in addition to ensuring regulation of the profession. As such, the GTCE would involve teachers ‘in determining the shape and future of their profession’ as well as having a significant role in ‘promoting high standards and raising the standing and morale of the profession’ (Blunkett, 1997).

2. Unfortunately, the GTCE became characterised by its Code of Conduct and as a consequence was recognised by many as merely as a disciplinary body for the policing of the profession. Such a sense of discontent and disapproval therefore aided a popularist move by the Secretary of State for Education to abolish the GTCE.  As a consequence of the removal of the GTCE and TDA, an independent review of Teachers’ Standards took place with a specific remit for them to encompass the standards of teachers ‘ethics and behaviour, both within and outside the school, including, for example, having tolerance and respect for the rights and views of others and not undermining UK democratic values’. As such the ‘Personal and Professional Conduct’ required of teachers are now embodied in the new Professional Standards (DfE) 2012 as part replacement for the CoCP.  The overall regulatory system, relating to teacher misconduct will in future be operated by the Teaching Agency on behalf of the Secretary of State and are outlined in: Teacher misconduct – Disciplinary procedures
for the regulation of the teaching profession (Teaching Agency, 2012). The new regulatory arrangements do not cover lower levels of misconduct or cases of incompetence or underperformance, as this responsibility has been delegated to headteachers and governing bodies. The distinction between serious and less serious cases of misconduct is clearly open to interpretation and it is within this context of a lack of transparency and ambiguities that we feel those new to the profession are most vulnerable.

3. The increasing demands and diversity of roles of teachers have also contributed to a sense that it is becoming more difficult to identify precisely the particular role of the teacher and the specific nature of the teacher’s expertise and therefore their professional identity.  Consequently, relying upon induction into the profession by senior and experienced colleagues as a reliable means of enculturation into professional norms may no longer be a reliable method, as experienced teachers themselves are emerging into newly formed identities. Within the construct of trainee teachers (and those new to teaching in state maintained and academy schools) it would appear that these changes are further magnified as whereas in the past trainees may have been inducted into a fairly stable profession by experienced colleagues, such an occurrence is now less likely given the changing demographic of the teaching population, the shifting identities of teachers, the fragmentation of the profession and the significant policy changes within recent years. Teachers, like other professionals, are also experiencing the impact of changing expectations within the general public, who now increasingly expect more personalised attention and responsiveness from those accountable for providing public services. Trainee teachers as such occupy an interesting position in such a discussion particularly related to their emerging sense of professionalism as they enter the profession through increasingly more diverse routes into teaching. A legitimate question would therefore be how does a trainee teacher or those new to teaching embody the bland undifferentiated statements of the PPC Standards?

4. Consistent with the previous GTCE code of conduct, the new PPC does not provide a set of professional aspirations to meet but a set of rules not to break – therefore the assumption remains that you are professional until it is deemed you are unprofessional. Political imperatives of the new coalition have been to move away from explicit guidance and bureaucracy in schools [1], yet within a context of an increasingly accountable culture and the shifting of expectations and identity related to being a teacher a lack of explicit guidance becomes problematic. The context for these changes are compounded by the increasing emphasis of moving teacher training (education) into the increasingly diverse  space of school based programmes; adding a further layer of complexity. As such the advocated apprentice ‘craft’ model carries the danger of de-professionalising through providing a limited reciprocal model of emulation (Kerry and Shelton Mayes, 1995).

5. As previously stated the GTCE aims were to shape the future of the profession; contribute to improving the standards of teaching and the quality of learning, and to maintain and improve standards of professional conduct whilst promoting high standards and raising the standing and morale of the profession. Such ambitions were never fulfilled but at a time when England’s GTC has been abolished the General Teaching council for Wales (GTCW) will be increasing it’s remit to be involved with teacher training; potentially closing the gap that we have previously identified in trainee teacher development in England.

6. Intrinsic to any initial professional teacher education programme has to be the development of new teachers understanding of students from diverse and multiple needs and perspectives which may be considerably different from their own. It is also about understanding the theoretical, ethical and cultural nature of the profession and  ‘altruistic service to the client’ (Cogan 1953, p. 33).  Developing in trainees a critical lens of political and policy, in a space that values independence and debate whilst also becoming aware of cultural and historical boundaries of any such debate, is also central to teacher education. Ultimately a central part of teacher education is development of an educator who ‘ought to know his specific and expected characteristics that will sustain him as a professional’. (Krishnaveni and Anitha 2007, 158).

7. Previously we have argued that a dualism existed representing opposing binaries of teacher development and teacher regulation, which identified trainee teachers’ vulnerability in a changing profession due to a lack of acknowledgement of their embryonic professional space. However, it is also important to recognize that in acknowledging a sense of vulnerability for trainee teachers we also have to identify our concerns for colleagues, pupils and headteachers who new teachers engage with; as regulation and development serves to both protect the individual and profession.

[1] Hansard – Nick Gibb [holding answer 28 June 2012]:We have removed over 21,000 pages of unnecessary guidance on the schools section of the Department’s website. We are making further reductions to provide a simple, definitive suite of guidance and advice which makes clear what schools must do, what they should do and what they can choose to do.

The pursuit of excellence – ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’…

Firstly – I do admire those bloggers who keep their blog up to date with daily or hourly bulletins – one day for me perhaps? However my lack of updates simply illustrates the fast changing world of education where fire fighting has become the norm and reflection a thing of the past – but perhaps more of that later.

Secondly – the focus of this update is in response to the the growing calls to increase school sport to two hours a day in order to secure a legacy of the UK success in the Olympics which are taking place at present. I need to note that I am a strong advocate of sport – in fact I think sport was was the best part of my own schooling.   However I want to focus on the decision making that surrounds the call for more sport rather than the need for more sport.

The decision making goes something like this: We have had an outstanding Olympics, we have done incredibly well for a relatively small nation – let the legacy be more sport so we can have even greater success. Whilst this may seem fairly logical – logic is not what produces Olympic champions and the outcomes of Olympic champions should not be the legacy of the Olympics. The legacy should be the pursuit of excellence which is characterised by every medal winner.  Almost without fail every athlete has commented on hard work and the support systems around them – most notably their coaches. In any competitive activity it is the attention to detail and pursuit of excellence that makes the difference. So increasing the amount of school sport is great – but it will only be through pursuing excellence and instilling a strong work ethic that you create the opportunity for success. It is only through the relentless aggregation of these marginal gains (a term I heard during the games) that you achieve success – simply increasing the numbers playing sport won’t do this as perversely you may end up with less success at the top end – which is a different form of success.

Therefore in recognising complexity you need to acknowledge not just the athletes but the whole infrastructure that operate within that  structure to produce success. This the psychologists, the nutritionalists, the physiotherapists, the coaches,  the designers,  technologists and so on – each has to be the best and has to pursue excellence.  So if the UK does want to have a games legacy let it be recognition of the diversity of  excellence needed to achieve success.

The parallels with education are all too clear. At present in England a relentless focus on  ‘notional success’ through PISA and other simplistic measures fails to recognise the myriad of factors that influence success. Failing to scrutinise what pursuit of that success may do  or failing to recognise the associated complexities merely distorts education in the pursuit of something that may not be achievable or desirable….