The ways that schools have changed in England since 2010 are pretty obvious to see. Ideas like ‘academies’, initially proposed by New Labour for ‘failing’ schools, have become (more or less) normalised as the preferred future for all schools and the marginalisation of local education authorities has been accomplished in many parts of the country, especially in terms of secondary education. Purely from the perspective of policy analysis, the Coalition and then the Conservatives have been very successful in changing how we think about schools and the school system and if it hadn’t been for a ‘little local difficulty’ like the result of the EU referendum and a failed general election, it is likely that their white paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ would have allowed them to achieve even more.
What is less obvious for people to see – especially those without ‘niche’ interests in teacher education and development – are the changes to the ways in which we prepare and the develop the teaching workforce, initially and then in a classroom. It is not only the well-known School Direct initiative that has been significant; indeed, perhaps what makes School Direct interesting is that, despite the political noise at the time, universities are/were still very heavily involved in School Direct, very often behind a curtain, still pulling many of the levers, rather like a cut-price Wizard of Oz. Or Chucky doll, depending on your point of view.
What is interesting about the changes to the ways we prepare and then develop teachers in the classroom is that a new eco-system has been emerging to replace the local education authorities, on the one hand, and in some sort of readiness to replace existing university provision on the other. I don’t want to over-emphasise the last part as I think those that might have aspired to replace the universities have realised just how hard it is to do that. But when you deliberately change the eco-system the way that Coalition and Conservative governments have, new entities (organisms?!) emerge to take advantage of conditions in the new environment.
For the last year, a research team across King’s College London and, for the first phase now completed, the Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, having been studying the new eco-system. Our first paper is about to be published from phase 1. We are now in phase 2 and focusing on the changing landscape for in-service/continuing professional learning.
‘Landscape’ is an appropriate analogy in a few respects: first of all, it suggests that even though the surface features may look very similar, the sub-structure can be profoundly different. Second, the surface features often have interesting relationships to the sedimented layers below. The new grassy hillocks of teacher development are nonetheless laid over geological structure that can lead to some surprising and unintended new features. Another interesting aspect of the landscape analogy is the mix of old and new features, some retained and conserved through protective regulation; others approved by a parallel, more or less systematic planning process. What you end up with in a landscape is never what you initially envisaged. But it is proving interesting finding out how new kinds of developments emerge, are either cultivated or starved of resources and, ultimately, where the energy is coming from.