What's worse than being a teacher in this system? Being a child at the mercy of it

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31 March 2017 by Alison Ryan
“Seeing those lightbulb moments, helping children to achieve.” This is what our members say teaching should be: but workload pressures and government’s heavy hand in curriculum, assessment and accountability means that the reality is often very different. 
Excited child in classroom

For teachers, support staff and the children and young people they work with, those “lightbulb moments” are few and far between. As one teacher recently observed, “Worse than being a teacher in this system is being a child at the mercy of it.”

Against this backdrop, we must rethink what being a teacher means and set out a vision of a teaching profession that meets the needs of our young people and is attractive to join and to remain in.

Our new vision statement starts with a definition of teacher professionalism. It describes a deeply knowledgeable and learning profession, which uses and adapts a wide range of practices and methods and draws on theoretical understanding and research evidence, and which has the authority to speak for education in relation to its impact on the life chances of young people.

This model of teaching is supported by initial teacher education (ITE) that is based on strong school and higher education partnerships, a nationally recognised professional qualification, and an entitlement to CPD which strengthens a continuum of professional development from initial stages onwards. It supports a range of career development routes, linked to teaching mastery, specialism and institutional leadership, appropriate levels of professional autonomy, and a leadership which make ethical and evidence-informed decisions.

This vision is increasingly important as the government moves towards the introduction of teacher apprenticeships (which look uncannily like the School Direct (Salaried) model), further increases school-led ITE and proposes a ‘strengthened QTS’ which will delay QTS award and add further responsibility to headteachers with the workload and quality assurance issues that this will bring. And of course, the impact of workload continues to interfere with the teaching that our members wish to do.

The government's workplace-focused models of initial and early-career training are increasingly out of step with high-performing education systems such as Canada, Shanghai, France, Germany, Singapore, New Zealand and Japan, where HEI-led and accredited programmes often lead to Masters level qualifications.

Not only are ministers ignoring evidence of what works, but their myopia extends to the capacity of the school system to bear this additional burden. With retention levels falling, an ever-decreasing number of specialist teachers and a workforce where only 48% have been teaching for over 10 years, where is the capacity to provide the support that trainees and early career teachers need?

To provoke thought and comment, our vision provides some possible solutions around making the teacher qualification, ITE, becoming and remaining a teacher, and taking on a leadership role/responsibility more attractive. 

For example, in order to address the issue of subject specialism whilst recognising the scale of the graduate recruitment challenge in some subjects (eg teaching needs to attract one in every five maths and physics graduates, in contrast to one in 25 history graduates), we propose a re-focus on the Bachelor-level route, where the competition for undergraduates might not be as fierce. This would provide room for additional initial teacher education content including subject pedagogy, which Stephen Munday’s working group and many others believe is necessary, without adding that content into the already workload-laden first year(s) of teaching.

Recent statistics show that applications for ITE and levels of retention continue to fall. It’s never been more important to think about what we need to campaign for nationally, as soon-to-be part of the biggest teachers’ union in Europe, and to work for locally, in districts and schools, in terms of what we want teaching to be, for our members, the profession and the children and young people we work with.

So please engage with us in the exciting months ahead, sharing your views, ideas, experiences of good practice, attending training course and teachmeets, and joining our policy networks.

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