Saturday, 3 February 2018

Guest Post - Teaching 1977 and Now by Andy Ballard

What a change there has been. When I was at school myself most of the “masters” were Oxbridge graduates who were allowed to teach simply because they had a degree. They had no formal training or supervised practise, and their work was rarely if ever monitored or assessed.

My own training included a wide range of educational theory and loads of practise. In my three year course I spent nearly 30 weeks in schools, on a full time-table and being watched, guided, and advised.

During my first two years as a teacher things were rather laissez faire, in stark contrast to my training which required me to prepare thoroughly and to reflect and adapt as I went along. In fact no one did any formal observation or assessment of my work in the classroom, but there was lots of mentoring and discussion with more experienced colleagues.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s there was a clear understanding of professional autonomy and of professional duty to attempt to excel.

Over a period of a few years government interference in the profession, partly on the back of unsubstantiated claims of a general malaise in the profession and an assumption of widespread incompetence, teaching as a profession was transformed. This transformation was accompanied by an increasingly narrow focus on exam success and an abandonment of the idea of learning as an enjoyable adventure.

Not content with demanding the impossible, that is that all pupils should achieve above average exam results (meaningless rubbish by definition) successive governments pushed a targets and testing regime so that even very young children were tested and tested again. Teaching was driven by an exam focus, with teaching to the test the norm. All of this was in the face of mounting opposition from the teachers themselves with their professional associations commissioning research and attempting to use the findings to pull politicians away from their ideological models towards an approach based on sound pedagogy.

This has continued since I finished my time at the “chalkface” and politicians continued to drive change based on ideology rather than research evidence. This policy based evidence making has removed the safety net of local accountability and handed control of schools to entrepreneurs, faith groups and frankly anyone who can persuade the government that they should be allowed to run schools. Teachers are micro-managed and must stick to a rigid formulaic approach to their work. 

Everything they say or do must be recorded or there is a default assumption that it has not happened. Politicians and school leaders drive an obsessive culture of measuring everything. They forget that much that has value cannot be measured and often that which can be measured has no worth. Teachers are driven frantic and worked half to death for fear of being caught out for not having recorded the day to day minutia of a craft and skill which is almost infinitely complex. Pupils are frantic to get good GCSE results and parents buy in private tuition and even move house to get into the right catchment area.

When it suits politicians they will claim huge school improvement, but if the political climate requires it they will lambast teachers and pronounce new initiatives to turn round failing schools. 

Politicians with no experience of teaching and no formal training in matters pedagogical make decisions about education, even to the extent of determining which books children should read (so Gove for example removing 20th century American literature from the GCSE curriculum and replacing it with Dickens), and they remove safeguards for children with special need so that their much vaunted Academies are not obliged to provide the sort of support that these children need. It has escaped the politicians notice that it is not possible to define a body of knowledge to be given to children now which will serve them through their lives. Skills of accessing and assessing information are not highly regarded despite there being a growing need for these skills. Vocational education continues to be the Cinderella and schools are once again facing very significant funding pressures.

I’m not suggesting that there was a golden age of teaching but unless teachers can look forward to being treated as autonomous practitioners ( in the way that physiotherapists are for example), and all the time they are under such intense micro-management then they will continue to leave the profession. The attrition rate for new teachers should be the only alarm bell any sensible government would need.

But perhaps I am being naive, and maybe the plan is to privatise state education and for the privateers to reap a tithe from the billions of pounds spent on education. 

Certainly teaching as a profession is nothing like what it was when I started back in 1974, when I would be expected to do a good job and my reward was lifelong connection with my pupils and the enjoyment of seeing them regard education positively.

Thank you Andy Ballard for this rather interesting post.

Seeing It Through: The Story of a Teacher and Trade Unionist

Andy Ballard comes from quite a humble background; being a working class boy from a council estate at a middle class grammar school left its marks. A career teacher with nearly twenty- ve years in state education, he forged a second very successful career as a local, regional, and national of cer of his trade union. His story includes how his work at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers would secure the future of ATL and lay the foundations for the formation of “The Education Union”. Ballard describes the interplay between his private and professional lives, and bares his soul when the pressures of a lifetime of commitment brings his story to an unexpected conclusion.

Purchase from Amazon UK

About the author: Andy Ballard has enjoyed an extensive career in the education sector including twenty-five years as a science teacher before transferring his efforts to being a trade union official and advocate for teachers and their pupils at local, regional and national level rising to become national President of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. Since then he has spent several years as a Senior Regional Official, covering the South West peninsula with a role as spokesman and advocate on employment issues for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. Now retired, Andy enjoys spending time at Weston Rugby Club where he occupies the role of first team manager, as well as taking long walks in the Mendip Hills with his dogs, and writing the occasional comment article for his regional newspaper. He lives in Somerset with his family.

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