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This isn’t the way to support teachers

February 2nd, 2008 by Graham Attwell

An interesting article from the Guardian newspaper on teachers in the UK.

“Around 17,000 “substandard” teachers are struggling in classrooms and failing to inspire their pupils, according to the head of the body responsible for upholding teaching standards.

Middle-aged male teachers are a particular worry, and teachers need retraining throughout their careers to prevent them becoming disaffected, Keith Bartley, head of the General Teaching Council for England, said.

……. Bartley said: “It is not unreasonable to assume that in a workforce of half a million there is a proportion that is probably around that 17,000 that are in practice substandard.

“If we want to make more of a difference in more classrooms it’s probably not the incompetent teachers that are the problem. It’s teachers who are struggling with their classrooms day-in day-out – part of that is behaviour management in increasingly difficult classrooms.”
It seems top me a bit odd and not particularly helpful to come up with such a precise figure as 17000 and then justify that by saying it is not an unreasonable assumption. Neither am I sure that the emotive language of failing teachers is the best way to approach a discourse over what more can and should be done to support the practice of teachers. The most likely result of such an approach will be to stigmatise anyone seeking more support. However discussion with teachers and more particularly with trainee teachers suggest there are issues which need addressing. Firstly I am unconvinced that there is sufficient emphasis on applied practice – including classroom management within the teacher training curriculum, at least in the UK. And whilst trainee teachers do undertake placements in schools as well as serve a probationary year, part of which is supposed to include further ,earning with support, anecdotal evidence suggest that the quality of such support is at best highly variable. Neither am I convinced that we have sufficient research on what exactly comprises good practice in the field.

The second point is that all teachers – not only those deemed to be ‘failing’ should have access and time for continuing professional development. Once more form limited knowledge of UK practice, what on-going staff development is available seems all too often to be either concerned with overall school management or with the introduction of of new schemes, assessment programmes etc. once more the assumption is that classroom practice and classroom management will will take care of itself.

Existing progression routes are not helpful. Although Scotland has introduced a Chartered Teacher scheme to reward experienced practitioners, in England and in wales, promotion is through becoming managers outside the classroom.

The problem with statements like Bartley’s – and the inevitable popular press reaction – is that it hinders a proper discussion of any of these issues

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2 Responses to “This isn’t the way to support teachers”

  1. Joachim Dittrich says:

    Graham, I agree with all what you wrote. However, I would like to add one aspect.
    Here in Germany sometimes it looks like that not those teachers who are considered “substandard” need retraining, but that their environment needs retraining. We see that joung teachers enter service highly motivated, with innovative ideas which they learnt during their professional education and/or are due to their enthusiasm of making things better than their own teachers. Then they often are confronted with concrete-type structures in the institutions: older colleagues who promote “approved” methods, inert school management, that does not support innovation. How can you manage not to get frustrated?
    School management that is targeting innovation, and that reintegrates the frustrated “substandard” actors in the developments might help, and would also give staff training on “overall school management” a meaning.

  2. Graham Attwell says:

    Thanks Joachim – of course you are right – and i think this is often the problem encountered by young teachers in the UK. They come full of ideas but those ideas are stifled at birth. One thing which annoys me is that teachers are getting so much of the blame for the obvious failings of our existing educational systems – no-one blames the systems.

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