If teachers don't drive CPD, then the government will...

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SecEd editor Pete Henshaw calls on the profession to ensure it is leading the agenda when it comes to raising the quality of teaching, lest the government takes over...

It was heartening to witness the discussions at the “Tweet-Up” on Raising the Quality of Teaching.

I say this not so much because our panel of experts included the likes of Sir Tim Brighouse and Professor Dylan Wiliam – although their contributions were, of course, fascinating. It was heartening for me because the event saw the profession, both in person and via Twitter, taking the lead on this most crucial of agendas.

I have long believed that while politicians spend their five-year terms tinkering with many aspects of education policy, the issue of teacher quality – of professional skills, pedagogy and teaching and learning – is one that only the profession can really have an influence on.

This is because raising the quality of teaching is an on-going and never-ending process. The approaches we use to educate our students are constantly evolving in light of the changing world around us, the changing needs of the modern workplace, and developing research into how our children learn and how our minds work.

And this is why education researchers and professionals on the ground – in collaboration with employers and others – are best placed to decide and develop the “how” of teaching. 

The Tweet-Up event was another step in helping the profession lead this agenda and also in the on-going collaboration between the Teacher Development Trust (TDT) and SecEd. The TDT is a wonderful charity that is dedicated to supporting evidence-led CPD in our schools I am delighted to be able to champion its work (do pay a visit to www.teacherdevelopmenttrust.org).

Furthermore, it is important we take this lead, because if we don’t, then the politicians will feel they must.

I don’t mean to denigrate politicians, but their policies are always constrained by time and elections and this means that their views on “teaching quality” are often too simplistic and lead to superficial policies, which the cynic might say are more designed for headlines than impact.

This is not helpful and politicians must acknowledge that the issue of teaching quality is on-going and deep – and beyond the ability of a five-year term government to meaningfully influence.

A perfect example is the current idea that by raising the bar of entry to the teaching profession and by aspiring to recruit more “top” graduates, whatever that means, we will automatically raise the quality of teaching. This concept is, of course, flawed because we all know the make-up of a great teacher is about more than intellectual ability.

As Prof Wiliam said in his Tweet-Up address, we are all scrambling to raise the entry requirements for teachers, citing Finland as a justification for this policy. However, if you look to Ireland, he says, you will find an even higher bar to entry, but an education system with outcomes that are comparable to England (a link to the video of his address can be found in the report on this page).

It’s a lesson that we must learn across a range of policy areas. Just because one approach works in Singapore or Hong Kong or Ontario or Massachusetts does not mean it will work here. And you can often find “lower performing” countries with the very same policies.

We can, of course, legitimately look abroad for ideas and inspiration, but we must remember that every country’s educational context is different.

Continuing this theme in this edition is Dr Newman Burdett, who in a fascinating article on page 13, argues that the real lesson from international comparisons is that the key to success lies in a combination of policies that suit the circumstances of our education system, with its diverse student and teaching population.

It is clear to me that we don’t need silver bullet policies from politicians. Instead, we need evidence-led, long-term and sustainable approaches to raising the quality of teaching which have been forged by the profession to meet our specific challenges as a system – and which are implemented with the support of our policy-makers and politicians.


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