Posted on 04/05/2016

Guest Blog: Raising the Profile of our Profession

Despite the media furore surrounding the recent education white paper, underneath the academisation controversy (which I, like Alun, believe has been grossly exaggerated) lies what is probably the most teaching and learning centric white paper published during my career.

Educational Excellence Everywhere brings the spotlight back to the quality of teaching and aims to raise the profile of the teaching profession to where it should be, and indeed is in other countries around the world. The UK has long been seen as a stalwart of global education but the irony for many is that teaching as a profession has been looked down on, often viewed as a second choice or a fall back option for those who can’t make it in law, technology or business; ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’.

The white paper pledges to replace the current qualified teaching status with a “stronger, more challenging” accreditation based on a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. As a teacher who trained on the job as part of the old graduate teacher programme I could not be more of an advocate for this. Teaching needs professionals who can perform in the classroom, adapting their practice to meet the needs of the young people in their charge, inspiring learning and creativity, not those who are well schooled in theory with impressive qualifications but are not able to transfer this to the classroom. As part of this, schools will be given more scope to bring in experts from other fields (for example, musicians or coders) to put them on the path to accreditation, something we have been doing at FBS since we opened and will continue to do as we grow.

As a Free school we have taken advantage of our freedom to employ artists, actors and unqualified teachers who are passionate about their subject: what better way to inspire young people? Credible teachers make a real difference. This has been proven in John Hattie’s ‘Visible Learning’ research which shows that teacher credibility has a 0.9 effect size on students’ progress (that’s almost twice as high as classroom management or parental involvement).

Teacher credibility will also be strengthened by the proposed independent College of Teaching, a voluntary membership organisation designed along the lines of the royal medical colleges. Isn’t it about time that teachers in this country were recognised alongside doctors, lawyers and engineers? The College of Teaching is set to launch this year and will support a new, peer-reviewed British education journal. Teachers teaching teachers, engaging in action research, sharing their findings and learning from one another in the real world of education. There is not one set way of teaching, there isn’t a best curriculum, there aren’t right and wrong ways of planning lessons. For too long the government has been trying to prescribe a one size fits all approach but now, finally, we live in a world without levels, with Free schools able to make their own choices, avoiding the stagnation of the National Curriculum.

So now is the time for teachers, more than ever before, to be sharing their ideas, discussing the results of their experimentation in the classroom and working together to see what works for the children they teach. Real collaboration. With real impact.  According to John Hattie’s research, which has involved over 80 million students, collaborative teacher working has a 1.52 effective size – which means students making 1.5 years’ progress for 1 years’ input.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system and collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of those teachers. At FBS we continue to work hard in sharing best practice both within our school and across others. We have recently become a Global Learning Programme (GLP) expert centre and are currently recruiting up to 25 schools to join our network of like-minded practitioners who are committed to equipping their pupils to succeed in a globalised world by helping their teachers to deliver effective teaching and learning about development and global issues.

Nicky Morgan has also promised to consider the feasibility of incentivising (potentially paying) teachers to publish their research and continued professional development (CPD) on an “open-source” basis, something doctors have been doing for centuries. In my opinion this level of collaboration has been missing from our profession since local authority funding was slashed, subject specialists and Advance Skills Teachers disappeared from the landscape and left a black hole in school to school partnerships. A national forum for teacher research and sharing best practice is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. The white paper also states that a new Standard for Teachers’ Professional Development will be established to help schools improve the quality of CPD, something that until now has relied on individual school enthusiasm. High quality CPD is a bit of a lottery in teaching: what one school may do well, another patches together merely to tick a box. Surely putting CPD for teachers on the national agenda can only be a good thing?

For all these reasons I believe the white paper is putting teachers first. Ross McGill, AKA @teachertoolkit, the most followed teacher on twitter, tweeted on 30th April: ‘Students appreciate great teachers, but are intolerant of mediocre ones’. Educational Excellence Everywhere sets out what I consider to be real steps to ensuring more ‘great’ teachers in our classrooms.

Sam Johnson
FBS Deputy Head 

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