Tag Archives: teachers

So why aren’t teachers treated like doctors?

Here we have two different groups of well-educated, hard-working public service professionals, both providing invaluable front-line services to their local communities. Each year millions of pounds of public money is invested in preparing tens of thousands of new entrants to each role, for the challenging and technical careers ahead of them. Time and again surveys find that these two long-established professions are the pair that are most trusted by the public.

So why is it than one group can be told, sometimes in considerable detail, how to do their jobs by the least trusted profession – politicians? Why is it that one group has a lower bar to entry, is trained less, gets paid less, is given less autonomy and as a result is less likely to be satisfied, want to go for a promotion or to stay in the job long-term?

The first and perhaps most obvious answer to explain this difference is to do with evidence. A doctor can draw on their many years of structured training (including a grounding in science and maths), and also upon a largely-accepted body of peer-reviewed journals and multiple randomised trials to inform what they should do with a patient. They’re often then able to test and quantify the difference their intervention made, sharing the data and approaches with their peers, then telling a patient their temperature is normal or that they are ‘no longer sick’.

Compare that to teachers, who will have experienced less and more varied training, and who are presented with a far more complex and contested landscape of evidence about the best way to achieve different learning outcomes for different students. Those outcomes themselves are also complex to achieve, personal to each student and only measured in the crudest of terms currently. The resources and insights generated from teaching are often not even shared across the school, let alone wider. It’s also not really acceptable to say to a student your learning is normal or that they’re ‘no longer thick’.

This isn’t an argument for apathy or hand-wringing, the teaching profession is already taking hold of evidence, standards and outcomes for itself – most promisingly through the emerging College of Teaching – but also through the efforts of the Education Endowment Foundation, universities, ResearchED, CUREE, teaching schools, the Teacher Development Trust and others.

To an extent these differences between the two professions could be to do with the challenges of trying to improve (and then prove) your positive impact on the mental, rather than the physical state of others. Teaching is a relational and holistic process, involving a personal, long-term connection with each ‘whole student’. Some doctors rarely meet conscious patients, some only meet them once and others see the greatest ‘efficacy’ by prescribing medicines. I suspect child mental health practitioners find a way to overcome all these challenges and don’t face the same challenges as teachers.

I’ll leave the debate (for now) about what we value as a society and the emphasis on the quantitative over the qualitative, the rational over the emotional, but it’s perhaps just worth mentioning that what is easier to measure is not necessarily more important.

I also wonder if doctors can’t learn a thing of two from teachers, with the growing emphasis on prevention over treatment, and upon health and wellbeing over just avoiding illness. Teachers know how and when to go beyond ‘narrow’ learning, to teach students holistically, such as using an exercise on the twelve times table to teach about working together and celebrating differences.

The other reasons that explain the difference between teachers and doctors are more systemic. Everybody has had extensive personal experience of education, but not necessarily of healthcare. It is also an inherently political activity, with values often necessarily bundled in with the learning. These two factors probably go some way to explain the bankrupt, high-stakes accountability system we’ve ended up with. One that can incentivise teachers to shy away from some pupils, and leaders from some schools.

Teachers deserve a more nuanced and sophisticated approach, one that prioritises helping them to teach, rather than holding schools to account. Even a brief glance at NHS choices shows a more nuanced approach to what hospitals, GPs and even individual consultants have to report publicly. High stakes testing, simplistic grading and league tables aren’t improving standards, they’re harming our most precious resource, the school workforce. Would Google or John Lewis treat their staff this way?

There are alternatives though, with some lessons to be learned from doctors. For starters we should be making far more of peer-review, so that teaching professionals are holding each other to account, driving improvement for themselves.

We can also learn from the clear, structured and well-supported career pathways available to doctors. Our current salary structure in schools is a mess, we should be compensating teachers in line with other professions. Why does a qualified teacher earn about half that of a General Practitioner (GP)? Again these are decisions that we’ve made as a society and not necessarily what other countries have chosen.

There’s also scope to link greater responsibility and accountability with more recognition, autonomy and pay. We can learn much from the medical profession when it comes to offering a variety of motivating incentives and rewards to high performers. Our research shows that many middle leaders in schools are crying out for the meaningful development opportunities that doctors’ experience. For instance why don’t all teachers get ‘electives’, to go and teach, research and learn in other countries?

Lastly teachers should be helped to safely plan and trial new approaches. Nobody dies if a lesson goes badly and everybody can still learn from the experience if it’s evaluated properly, yet it’s the medical profession that has managed these concerns to industrialise innovation. Nobody wants their children to be guinea pigs but if done right, a more structured approach to trialling different teaching and CPDL methods could be powerful, both for students and teachers.

So next time the doctors vs teachers debate comes up, I hope you’ll have a good answer to the question. It’s an important and complex one, going to the heart of why education is so compelling and challenging.

 

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job, for Schools Week)

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#CollegeofTeaching (part one): what might the college of teaching mean for middle leaders?

Many of the middle leaders I’ve spoken to recently are uncertain about what’s happening with the college of teaching, what it means for them and how they might get involved. There have been various announcements by government, including some start-up funding and a front-runner group to set it up. There’s also a lively debate happening via blogs, Twitter and beyond.

To set the scene and encourage discussion, I’ve listed 10 questions below for you to answer about what the college of teaching may look like in time and the benefits it could bring to the profession.

  1. What would encourage you to join such a voluntary association of teachers?
  2. Are there useful approaches that work in other countries or walks of life?
  3. How could the college of teaching include both middle and senior leaders without being dominated by them?
  4. What would create a genuine grassroots movement that’s authentic and accessible to teachers everywhere and not just to those in the Westminster bubble? TeachMeets, ResearchED and the various Twitter chats are good examples of how this could be done
  5. Who would ensure the college of teaching is independent of any particular organisational interests, including government, unions and others?
  6. How could it be as transparent and consultative as possible, and engaged with and answerable to a broad membership base across the profession?
  7. How could it be funded in time and would this create the right incentives?
  8. Should it be focused first and foremost on classroom practice and explore leading teaching and learning in time?
  9. What would ensure it’s informed but not dominated by research, data and other forms of evidence? [What gives doctors and their colleges clout is an unassailable grasp of the evidence about what works in their profession. This doesn’t mean they know everything, but it does mean they know best (and certainly more than politicians) .]
  10. How could it raise the standards and capacity of the whole teaching profession?

(a version of this blog first appeared through my former day-job)

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New year resolutions. How many teachers will be entitled to develop this year?

When we asked middle leaders in schools what was holding back their development, the most common answers were time and money. This may seem unsurprising, but it’s also unnecessary and wasteful when there’s this talented group of individuals in schools who are ready for more responsibility if they can get the right support and professional development. In 2015 a new national entitlement to development could start to give emerging leaders in schools the support that professionals in other industries enjoy, helping them to reach their potential. Surely that’s a resolution worth sticking to?

Even though we invest thousands in ‘golden hellos’ for graduates to get them into teaching, we do little to get them to stay in the profession or to transition into leadership roles. Too often time spent on continuing professional development (CPD), including at INSET days, is focused on short-term information-giving and regulatory compliance, rather than sustained personal development that leads to better leaders, teachers and student outcomes.

The government-backed accredited qualifications are one important part of this puzzle. And although we’re waiting to see the latest projections from the National College about the number of school leaders completing the three accredited qualifications (NPQML, NPQSL and NPQH), our own research shows some potentially worrying trends, especially around the former.

Despite seeing the value in such qualifications, the incentives to enrol don’t always seem to be there in many schools. Too many promising and talented teachers aren’t being supported fully when they take on greater responsibilities beyond their own classrooms. This puts their careers, their colleagues and their students at risk.

Why is this the case when doctors can take up to 10 paid days of study or professional leave a year, with all expenses paid and regardless of their employers’ financial position?

The reasons why this group of emerging school leaders aren’t always properly nurtured are complex, involving a mix of in-school and system-wide factors. For example, circumstances don’t always encourage some senior leaders to let go of their staff, or they struggle to find new opportunities for people to step up internally. Middle leaders aren’t always properly recognised, given the right responsibilities or rewarded accordingly. It’s also hard for anybody to spend time and money on meaningful personal development in a context where schools are still adapting to such an intense period of reform and change. The whole area of professional development is an ongoing focus for NAHT Edge. We’re pursuing the issue on all fronts to help improve the situation.

Although they’ll play their part, schools and unions can’t do everything. Whoever governs after May’s general election could help by ensuring sufficient time and money are ring-fenced for emerging school leaders who’ve started to prove their potential. A national entitlement to development could initially feature, say, a modest five days and £5,000 of government-backed funding a year for each TLR one or two post holder who has served a year successfully and met their performance objectives. Making this statutory would ensure a minimum level of support for all emerging school leaders, regardless of in-school circumstances.

Perhaps the funding could include existing CPD-related bursaries and scholarships for Teaching Schools or accredited NCTL qualifications. This would save a lot of new money being required and ensure all middle leaders are supported. Qualified individuals in all schools could then spend the development time and money they’re entitled to as they saw best, including but not exclusively on accredited qualifications. That could make for a much happier new year.

This blog was written for the Teacher Development Trust.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job)

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When it comes to technology in schools, remember skilled teachers are the only ‘killer app’

All around the world, education technology (or EdTech as some people like to call it) is an increasingly booming business. But we’ll only realise its potential if we focus on upskilling teachers to be at the heart of leading its use (or not) in schools.

Billions of pounds is being made by private investors and companies out of education hardware and software. This is primarily through sales to state-funded schools though increasingly directly to parents and learners too.

This is still relatively small change compared to public and charitable funding for education, but it’s growing rapidly. In 2014 the amount of education technology investment in the US increased by 55 per cent to almost two billion dollars (£1.2bn). To give a sense of pace, that’s about five times the $385m figure of 2009.

Silicon Valley is full of stories about EdTech start-up businesses raising hundreds of millions of dollars, with some UK companies starting to see success too. Most of these companies have international growth plans and are already active in the UK as the average teacher’s inbox will probably attest.

Around the world some national school systems are diving right in, aiming to quickly provide education technology to every child in the country, notably 400,000 laptops in Uruguay and nearly a million tablets in Thailand.

In UK schools it’s estimated that by April the total number of computers will have increased by 38,000 to around 2.72m in total. On average that works out to be about 86 new machines in each school and a total of 429 machines per school. This rapid growth even accounts for the falling number of desktop computers.

The British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA), which is the trade association for education suppliers (including ‘EdTech’ firms), estimates UK schools will spend about £716 million on software and hardware this year, the highest figure since records began. That’s about £14,000 spent in each primary school and £65,000 in each secondary school, with particularly rapid growth in the latter. This is all within the context of flat or falling funding for schools as well as an increase in learners.

OK, so what? Is all the money schools are spending on these apps and widgets helping students to learn, grow and flourish? The answer is we don’t really know yet and, despite what some people might say, we probably never will. Yes we need more data and evidence about what helps learning and what’s good value for money, but you can’t measure everything that matters. Above anything else, when it comes to education technology what we really need is the engagement, judgement and leadership of skilled and confident teachers.

Regardless of all the marketing and hype, some technology, if used in the right way, can probably really help. However, some of it might do nothing, and some may even be harmful by wasting precious time and resources. The point is schools need to be able to decide which tools are best for their students, and support and develop their staff to use and test them. There’s no silver bullet, no revolution and no killer app. Education is a long-term, messy and complicated business. At the very heart of it we need really great teachers and principled leaders. They need to be able to pick the best tools for the job whether that’s something new and exciting, or something old and tested.

It’s important we give our school staff the support and development they need to make the most of education technology for their students, so we can work out what’s great value for money or digital snake oil. They also need to be able to manage issues like parental engagement, student data privacy, technology equality and fairness, and what’s a good return on investment (ROI).

This is already happening in places, with some amazing and inspiring examples that engage learners and equip them for the (digital) future. I was particularly struck recently by the way special schools are making use of technology, for instance through games, visual learning and touchscreens. But there’s a long way to go; we’re all on a journey that includes both technology and learning. We need good guides on that journey.

Schools are at the heart of our communities and should be able to experiment with new things, be open about successes and failures, and get support in spreading good ideas. So whether you’re one of the 35,000 people going to the Bett show next week, you prefer your personal development online or you just like a good book – I hope you’ll remember the best education technology is a teacher’s brain. There’s no app for that.

NB: The UK figures quoted here are based on analysis of 2014 BESA research. Any errors or omissions are the author’s sole responsibility.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job)

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We know Ofsted is more than willing to let us have its views – so what could Ofsted learn from us?

Middle leaders have generally become so good in their own classrooms they’re now leading across the school too. But you don’t have to be a middle leader to know that fundamental to helping students progress and flourish is understanding each of them properly and helping them on their individual ‘learning journey’.

For example, I don’t think an experienced middle leader would dream of ‘surprising’ their students with a high stakes test, especially without the class teacher present. Nor would they only pop up very rarely with long gaps in between. Unfortunately, that’s the current Ofsted approach.

If they manage other teachers, the middle leader wouldn’t threaten a teacher’s career because a handful of children achieved less than their counterparts the previous year, and they’d know not to assess or criticise a teacher without knowledge of their particular area. Plus they wouldn’t dream of using purely quantitative measures or crude data metrics alone.

They’d know that if they did these things each classroom would have a climate of fear and compliance rather than of creative learning.

If middle leaders know these things, why has Ofsted strayed so far from its potentially constructive role without heeding some of these common sense tenets of good education practice?

Who knows, but you’ve got until Friday to share your views on the future direction of Ofsted. This needs to be considered beyond next year’s general election because, whoever ends up in power in May (clear majority or coalition of some form), it’s highly unlikely that the expectations of schools would be reduced.

Submit your views – as individuals or in groups – because you should have the confidence in your expertise to know what’s best for each child in your charge, as well as supporting the senior leaders in school, and the teachers in your teams, to focus on what’s important.

Here’s a link to the consultation:http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/consultations/better-inspection-for-all

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job at NAHT Edge)

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How can we encourage more teachers to step up to become head teachers?

Would you want to be a head teacher? Like most of the heads of year, assistant head teachers and others we asked recently, the answer is probably no. More than 1,000 people completed NAHT’s survey. Of those, only eight per cent felt they could step up within a year, and 69 per cent said they needed at least five years before they could feel confident about taking on headship.

However, the British education system doesn’t have five years. The recruitment and retention of head teachers is increasingly difficult, especially in the most challenging schools which also happen to be those that need the best leaders. Demographics are also against us with a whole swathe of serving heads approaching retirement.

So why do so few teachers today fancy the top job tomorrow? The pressure put on head teachers in terms of their accountability was a recurring theme in our survey. It’s a high stakes job with few guarantees about security. Why would you take on a struggling school only to have it inspected before the changes you’ve made have had the chance to make a difference?

But it’s not just Ofsted. Local authorities, parents, governors, academy chains and many others have an impact on school performance. Yet the buck always stops with the head teacher, no matter what.

The aspiring leaders we consulted felt their personal lives were already suffering as a result of pressures at work, with 95 per cent reporting they commonly exceeded their contracted hours and saw their workload likely to increase if they were to become more senior.

Rising workloads are leading to stress and other health issues among this group, with 55 per cent saying their current job has a negative impact on their health. They talked about the difficulties of switching off from work, and nearly half saw their job affecting their relationships too.

It’s a similar story for those teachers trying to raise a family alongside having a successful career. Even though teaching is one of the few professions in which women regularly rise to the top, 40 per cent of our respondents (72 per cent of whom were women) said they have to choose between caring for their own children and making progress in their career.

Is the government helping the situation? Not really. If anything they’re making it worse. Not only are they walking away from the suite of accredited leadership qualifications by leaving NPQH, NPQSL and NPQML to the market, but they’re also asking schools to cope with an unprecedented volume, velocity and variety of policy changes.

This autumn term teachers are coping with major reforms to assessment, curriculum and special educational needs provision (just three of the bigger changes). This constant policy churn can leave teachers with a sense of frustration and fatigue.

So if, despite all of the above, you decide headship is still for you, how do you get there? Obviously, you don’t go from being a classroom teacher to sitting in the head teacher’s chair overnight. There should be a progression through middle leadership roles, like coordinator or head of subject, and then on to senior leadership roles (deputies and head teachers).

But continuing professional development tends to be ad hoc and reactive with a focus on compliance and information-giving about the latest round of reforms. As so many external sources of support drop away, is the school system ready to support itself fully, or is the scaffolding being removed too quickly?

It’s time we nurtured our middle leaders properly so they can grow into the senior leaders we badly need. Our research has found this new generation of leaders want a blended model of focused support tailored to their particular needs.

This means combining convenient 24/7 online access with top quality face-to-face learning experiences. Sir Michael Wilshaw, HMCI, recently called middle leaders the engine room of the school system. I think of them more as the glue holding everything together. As the cracks start to show, it’s time we give them a bit more TLC.

(a version of this blog first appeared through my day-job at NAHT Edge)

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