13 May 2015

...Knowing About Teaching - Professional Update

I'm currently in Birmingham, sitting in a seminar room at Conference Aston, for the Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Annual Conference.  The conference offers a menu of presentations, workshops, keynote addresses and 'read & review' sessions to delegates.  It is a chance for education professionals to come together and to share and discuss their evidence-based work and research, focussing on teacher training and development.  This post is essentially initial reflection on my time at the TEAN conference...

On arrival I'm quickly reminded that, whatever people's views of the complex, fragmented nature of teacher training and education across the UK, the delegates at this conference share some common values: Everyone wants what's best for pupils and teachers; a core desire which underpins everything that's done and discussed here.  And that may appear obvious but some current education policies and practices either limit - or completely fail - to support the educational develpment of children and young people in our schools today.

Take teachers' CPD (continuing professional development), for example. It means the same thing to many people, but in practice it looks very different from school to school and from teacher to teacher.  Recent reforms to England's intitial teacher education system have done little to address the need for teachers to go on learning throughout their careers.  And what if teachers stop learning from and about effective practice? Then they are more likely to fall into unquestioned habits, lack thorough understanding of current theories, use weak strategies with limited impact on pupils, or make mistakes which jeopardise learning or even the safety of pupils in their care.

For some staff teams CPD amounts to meeting once a week, to discuss procedural issues or hear about training which one or other staff member recently attended.  For others there are opportunities to  genuinely work with and learn from one another.  'Lesson study' is an emerging example of a collaborative, systematic approach to learning about teaching strategies and the impact they have on pupil learning and progress.  

According to Kenneth Muir, Chief Exec of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, plans are afoot to formalise teacher development into a scheme of supported 'professional update' in which teachers would be required to engage in career-long professional learning as actively enquiring practitioners. I can see such a scheme operating with variable effectiveness.  I'm sure in some schools (possibly the ones already promoting collaborative classroom inquiry or lesson study) school staff will rise to the challenge and relish opportunities to gain credit or reward for their work.  In other schools I can see it being used divisively, to limit pay, or to place unhealthy levels of pressure on staff.

In England the government funded Masters in Teaching & Learning was set up to serve such a purpose.  The removal of the scheme (in 2011, off the top of my head...) confliciting with assertions at the time that teaching should become a masters' level profession.  Of course, you don't now need a professional qualification to become a teacher (in free schools or academies).  And there's a strong, sensible argument that post-nominals do not a teacher make.  However the point of Scotland's planned 'professional update' is not master's level accreditation, the point is promoting and sustaining a teaching workforce engaged in master's level career-long learning.

That's all for now.  I aim to post again soon...

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Regards, DJA