Friday, 11 November 2016

What the College of Teaching should do for me

Like Jose Mourinho, the College of Teaching needs some goals. The College has talked a good game and, I’m sure, has put in a lot of honest toil in pursuit of…well, whatever it is they’ve been pursuing. But the results have been, as far as I can see, pretty limited. The College’s stated aim of “championing higher standards” by “promoting the wider professional use of evidence to inform teaching practice and policy” is laudable, but this need is already being filled by bottom-up initiatives like ResearchEd and Northern Rocks which continue to go from strength to strength. So, I’ve got an idea: the role of the College of Teaching should be very simple – to make my life (as a teacher) easier.

A major problem with being a teacher is having to do lots of things which I’m not sure really make much positive difference to the children I teach, but not being in a position where I feel empowered enough to refuse to do them. And, I suspect, this goes for people in actual positions of power. Things get done so they can be seen to be done. Accountability has become king and being able to provide evidence for something has replaced a focus on actually doing the thing. Properly. On more than 4 hours sleep.

So, this is what I’d like the College of Teaching to do: 
  • Give the teaching profession a sense of itself and an understanding of its importance and power in society. Instead of giving teachers access to information which we can access ourselves in 10 minutes on the internet, teach us how to get our hands on the means to shape our own destinies, our own lives. 
  • There should be training for teachers, people who have actually been an adult in a classroom, to develop political or advisory careers so more people with experience of doing the job are making the decisions about how to do the job. 
  • There should be pressure brought to bear on the people who make those decisions to ensure that the education system is recognised as being too important to be left to blow in the wind of the political storm. 
  • There should be someone trying to make sure that there’s at least one newspaper headline a week along the lines of, “Teacher works really hard, quite often in their own time, trying to improve the lives of people other than themselves”, rather than the endless barrage of reports about falling standards and recruitment drain. 
  • There should be a celebration of the brilliant work which goes on every single day, in every single school, for which the people doing the actual work barely get a thank you (of which more, perhaps, another time). 
  • There should be a body working to make teachers feel good about themselves. And that body could be the College of Teaching.
And here’s one thing they could do to make a start with that immediately. Most schools have a marking and feedback policy which specifies how and how frequently books should be marked. Certainly the schools I’ve worked in all have. The College should announce a recommendation that every school’s marking and feedback policy be changed to this:

“There should be clear evidence that pupils and teachers have considered, and taken action on, pupil work on a regular basis”.

I know why I mark books. I understand why it’s important. I want my pupils to get better at what I’m teaching them. I suspect that most teachers are the same. And I suspect that most teachers would appreciate being trusted to provide feedback to their pupils in the manner which best suits them, the work being studied, the current workload of the teacher (and the pupils) and the nature of the feedback. Sometimes I’d like to give whole-class structured feedback on a piece of work. Sometimes it might make more sense to give detailed individual feedback to each pupil. I’d like to have the choice. What I do know is that, every time I read a piece of work, in fact practically every time I ask a pupil a question in class, I reflect and take action on it and try to do something about the mistakes and misconceptions I notice. And, because I understand that it is important that I am accountable for what I do, I’d be happy to provide evidence for that, because it would be easy: “Dear HoD, none of my class used quotes in their recent piece of work, so I’m going to focus on that next lesson. That ok with you?”. My teaching would improve and, I’m sure, my pupils (and my family) would benefit.

I don’t have anything against the idea of the College of Teaching. Quite the opposite in fact. If I hadn’t been so worried about how much time it would take up, I would have applied to be a Trustee over the summer. But, College of Teaching, there it is, my request to you is simple: your goal shouldn’t be to point me in the direction of some research papers; it should be to change my life. As anyone who has had to watch Manchester United play this season will tell you, Jose spent £200m and, essentially, has no idea where his goals are coming from. College of Teaching, I’ve just given you one, and it’s not cost you anything!