Teacher knows best

Teacher knows best: who should we trust to educate our children?

ATL believes that teachers with career-long experience are better placed than MPs with two years in office to determine what is taught, how it is taught, how it is assessed and what skills they need to be able to teach effectively. Teachers work with children and young people day in, day out. They know those children and young people well, recognising their strengths and their interests, as well as knowing how best to challenge them to deeper learning and greater achievements.

Teachers know their subjects, how to teach in ways that engage with each pupil, build on what each pupil knows and challenge their misconceptions.

Teachers know the communities in which these children and young people live, and can work with employers, parents and the wider society to make sure that what they teach, and what children learn, is relevant to the worlds in which they are growing up.

Teachers are in this for the long haul. Teaching is a highly skilled and intense activity, requiring advanced technical knowledge. When celebrities try teaching, they discover they need more than talent or charisma, and politicians should not assume they are experts just because they went to school.

Teachers know the work they do is vitally important, and will rightly be held under scrutiny by parents, pupils, the local community and democratically elected bodies.

What is ATL's vision for education?

State-funded education is a universal right and a public good. Teachers and schools do and must work with young people to support them to be the best that they can. But schools cannot provide the only solution to overcoming society's challenges.

Schools, for example, cannot compensate for experiences at home which impact on young people's ability to flourish. Schools also cannot create social mobility. Students with the same level of qualification do not automatically enter a level playing field of job opportunities when some young people have doors opened for them by their interpersonal skills and their family's social and business networks.

Schools, however, make a huge difference to young people's lives, and teachers provide major inspiration for young people's choices. It is in the classroom, when they work with their pupils directly, that teachers make the most positive impact. What is taught in these classes makes the real difference.

ATL supports an outline national curriculum which is relevant for all pupils throughout compulsory education, with a broad and balanced content for all. This should include: physical, creative, communication and interpersonal skills; social and ethical understanding; and knowledge manipulation abilities. Experienced teachers become expert in understanding what their pupils need to know, and should develop detailed curriculum content locally in consultation with the community and other stakeholders.

The measurement of learning is an essential feature of everyday teaching, and should occur mainly in the classroom. ATL believes assessment should support and promote pupils' learning and measure their achievement when they leave school. Tests and exams have their place but research shows that teacher assessment can be at least as accurate. Tests can only ever measure a small amount of what pupils know and can do.

What is taught and how, and how learning is assessed, should all be open to scrutiny. ATL believes teachers and schools must be accountable, but less to central government and more to the local community. ATL knows that most schools are too small to be effective independent organisations and need support from a middle tier with democratic accountability to the community. ATL believes they need external monitoring, challenge and support, which is best provided by collaboration between local schools backed up by a local advisory service and local governance. A national agency should monitor and moderate this local function but should not itself conduct individual school inspections.

ATL believes national government should have responsibility for the overall policy framework, system performance, fair funding and fair access, but should not intervene in local provision. Its policies should focus on recruiting, retaining and developing the best possible quality workforce, because of their impact in classrooms. This includes attractive pay and conditions, status building measures, ensuring the availability for all of high quality and relevant initial training and qualifications, development and attractive career paths. Most of all, ATL believes national government should respect professional autonomy.


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