I am currently working through a weighty archive of documents and interview transcripts about the development of the Oxford Internship Scheme from 1973 to 1987. My friend and colleague Ann Childs and I have been doing this, on and off, for over three years now since we first talked about it at the BERA conference in 2013. It is utterly engrossing and has generated some surprising ideas about how we have come to be where we are now in initial teacher education in England. But more on that later….
One document has stuck in my memory more than many others – and it has resurfaced again this week as most English universities are thinking about the latest ‘Buster Keaton rides again’ dictat from government about the allocation of student teacher numbers from 2017. It is a paper from 1979 written by Harry Judge entitled ‘Teaching and Professionalism. An Essay in Ambiguity’.
Harry had been Director of the University of Oxford Department of Educational Studies for nearly six years when he wrote this paper. He had arrived at the department in 1973, fresh from headship at Banbury School, then a large and pioneering comprehensive in north Oxfordshire. He was keen to change the department and he led the development of the then highly innovative Internship Scheme which started in 1987. The years between Harry’s arrival (and the arrival of another colleague, Peter Benton) and the Internship Scheme starting in ’87 are the focus of Ann’s and my research.
The paper shows both the depth of professional experience Harry brought to the role of Director and his scholarly approach to the study of teacher education. The paper (circulated as so many others were in mimeographed form to his academic colleagues, friends and supporters in schools and the LEA (led at that time by Tim Brighouse)) is informed by a recent trip to the USA to look at successful Schools of Education there and was written as a contribution to an American yearbook.
Reading the paper now, it is notable for the way that Harry identified an enduring tension in the way that university Schools of Education work, a tension that has perhaps reached yet another peak of volatility today. He says:
The tension is increased when forces outside the Universities, or outside the whole teacher training world or even outside the educational establishment itself, call for a return to basics, emphasise the importance of competency in some practical and measurable sense, show clear signs of anti-intellectualism, and seek to impart a sharp note of accountability into the training as into the employment and promotion of teachers. At the same time, professional associations of teachers claim that they – and not the Universities – know how to specify the knowledge and skills required by teachers, and moreover know how in a context of school-based training to impart them. (Judge 1979, 12)
I sat up when I first read that!
In the final part of the paper, Harry puts forward his view about how university Schools of Education should be organized and what their purposes should be. He rejects Education as an undergraduate discipline and is sceptical of what was then called the BEd. He says ‘Schools of Education should seek rather than fear smallness’ since they can never hope to ‘dominate’ the professional concerns of teachers. Schools of Education should choose their place in the system ‘with particular care and discrimination’. It is clear that Harry was writing before the expansion of higher education in the 1990s but the argument (whether you agree with him or not) that Education should be studied in Graduate Schools of Education only is an argument that is very much alive in many Russell Group universities.
The future of Education in universities was therefore in small Graduate Schools that gave a ‘high priority to research and to the training of research workers’. But at the same time, they needed to ‘seek urgently and continuously for ways to demonstrate that they take seriously the practice of education and respect the practitioner’. A ‘strong’, research-based version of graduate teacher training was, for Harry, one way of doing that. Some 8 years later, the Internship Scheme materialised, in large part as the realisation of that aim.
It’s a fascinating and in some senses timeless paper. It is, however, full of gendered language so be prepared for talk of ‘able men’ and hearty back-slaps! Harry is nearly 88 and lives in north Oxford where he still takes a keen interest in education and cares about the future of teaching. You can download the paper to read it for yourself by clicking here.
If you were a newly-qualified teacher of English today, would you know who James Britton was? If you had done a PGCE, it is an interesting question. As an English graduate, it would have been unlikely for you to have encountered Britton in your EngLit course. But would your PGCE tutor, at any stage, have made you aware of Britton’s contribution to English and literacy teaching (a truly worldwide contribution, at that)? Would you have looked at the Bullock Report, for example, even just Chapter 4? Or Language and Learning? Or would you have read his piece ‘Vygotsky’s Contribution to Pedagogical Theory’? For it was Britton, perhaps above all others, who first made the teaching profession in England aware of Vygotsky’s work, soon after the first English translation of Thought and Language in 1962.
Britton was more than a populariser of Vygotsky, however, if indeed he was that. Britton was then and now, in my opinion, the exemplary academic educationist: once a teacher, always fully engaged with the work of school teaching and motivated by educational questions; hugely supportive of the profession developing its own leadership (through subject associations, for example); intellectually ambitious in ways that crossed the academic humanities and social sciences – in today’s grotesque parlance, a writer of ‘four star’ papers; and a researcher with huge impact, both in today’s reduced ‘REF-compliant’ terms but also over longer timescales and across continents and disciplines. Britton shows the way you might, as someone who works in a university Education department, do good work in every sense. It’s an aspiration many of us struggle with and fail at – but it’s worth the struggle nonetheless. It is ‘the Blob’, otherwise
The London Association for the Teaching of English (LATE), the longest-standing subject association for primary and secondary English teachers, is organising a day conference on Saturday 12th March at the Institute of Education in Bedford Way to look at the legacy of Britton’s work and what it means for the teaching profession today. A flyer for the event is available here. The organisers of the event – Tony Burgess and Myra Barrs (themselves highly distinguished teachers and researchers in the same mould) – have also produced a really lovely anthology of extended quotations of Britton’s work which they will introduce at the conference. The selection gives you some real insights into the depth and reach of Britton’s thinking.
If you are interested in finding out more about James Britton in the context of teacher education and the HE discipline of Education, he features prominently in an article I wrote called ‘Disciplines as Ghosts’ which is available to download from the Articles page of this site. Karen Simecek and I have also drawn substantially on Britton’s work about the poetic mode of language use in an article that will be published shortly in the Journal of Aesthetic Education.
In May 2013, I travelled north to Lancaster, in the north of England, to a conference at which a senior civil servant from the National College for Teaching and Leadership was scheduled to speak. Like most civil servants at his level of seniority, he had been around the block a few times and carried both the world-weariness and brittle charm necessary to survive at length in that environment. Faced with the (what was then) new-ish policy of School Direct and the general uncertainty around higher education’s involvement in initial teacher education, I took the opportunity to ask what seemed like a pertinent question: does the National College or the Government have a view as to whether a PGCE (or other academic award) is a desirable qualification for new teachers or is the license to teach (QTS) sufficient?
Clearly irritated by a question so clearly emanating from the despised ‘Blob’, his lip curled and he spat the answer back: ‘The market will decide’.
Over two years later and with the days of Coalition government well behind us, the answer now, of course, is that the market will not be allowed to decide. The reform philosophy of Michael Gove – and Gove advisors and hangers-on – has prevailed and, albeit channelled through the weaker medium of Nick Gibb, we are experiencing a concerted attempt at the deliberate destruction of some of England’s national educational infrastructure – its highly effective and successful (at least according to the OECD) system of initial teacher education .
Educational reform as disruptive innovation
In a speech on 26 June 2012, Michael Gove (rhapsodising about Tony Blair and Blair’s views on public sector reform) talked about ‘learning from other nations like Sweden which have pioneered disruptive innovation’. Disruptive innovation is a concept developed by Clayton M. Christensen. While Christensen was talking of business and technology, it was surely not coincidental that Gove referred to these ideas in connection with education reform. It is useful to look more closely at what is involved in this concept: the Christensen Institute explains that:
The theory explains the phenomenon by which an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost are the status quo. Initially, a disruptive innovation is formed in a niche market that may appear unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents, but eventually the new product or idea completely redefines the industry.www.christenseninstitute.org/key-concepts/disruptive-innovation-2/#sthash.dzJwR4jm.dpuf (my italics).
At the same time, the Coalition government introduced many radical reform ideas across both schools and higher education, often on the basis of the supposedly necessary austerity following the 2008 global economic crisis. One of the most significant reforms in the arena of initial teacher education was the abolition or contraction of many of the regulatory agencies that had accompanied the developments of quasi-markets in education (quasi-markets being a consistent feature of the social welfare policy landscape in England since Margaret Thatcher). In what became known as ‘the bonfire of the quangos’, the successor body to the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA; formerly the TTA) was abolished and merged with another to become the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) and a programme of redundancies implemented at the organisation as well as within the Department for Education (DfE) itself. One of the key functions that was lost in this process was the national workforce modelling that the TDA had conducted in order to inform the allocation of places to teacher education providers on a regional basis to ensure stability in teacher supply. Teacher recruitment and supply was one of the key regulatory functions of the TDA and a means by which some control over the quasi-market of providers was ensured.
At the same time, following the Browne review of higher education (2010), the Coalition changed the funding model for higher education by increasing the maximum tuition fee chargeable to £9000 and removing all direct state funding to courses in the arts, humanities and social sciences (including teacher education). Additionally, Coalition policy supported new private providers of higher education in order to ‘stimulate’ the market. One such new private provider of initial teacher education was Hibernia College UK, an off-shoot of a private college in the Republic of Ireland, based in Weybridge, Surrey and led by a former employee of the TDA, Jeremy Coninx. Overall, these changes introduced by the Coalition transferred the funding of initial teacher education to students’ loan debt, debt necessary to pay the increased tuition fee. Although significant financial support was provided for student teachers with first class degrees in some shortage subjects such as Mathematics and Physics, the majority of student teachers had to take out loans in order to pay their tuition fees and living expenses.
School Direct emerged in this highly complex situation where fundamental changes to the funding regimes were taking place, where the strong regulatory agencies that had emerged to monitor welfare quasi-markets in England were being abolished or contracted and where, for the first time, state funding could ‘escape to the private sector’ (as Glennerster put it). School Direct therefore represented a challenge both to the principles of welfare quasi-markets that had dominated neoliberal education policy in England since the late 1980s but also a challenge to the Secretary of State’s espoused commitment to ‘disruptive innovation’. The introduction of School Direct did not simplify, make things more convenient, affordable or accessible. On the contrary, the disruption caused by School Direct and subsequent policies might be more properly understood as a case of ‘creative destruction’.
‘Creative destruction’ as an experiment in radical reform
Christensen had developed his theory of disruptive innovation in relation to digital technology entrepreneurship and a theory of change premised on rational choice. Technological innovations that make technology-mediated human interaction simpler, more convenient, cheaper and more affordable will displace earlier (more complicated, less convenient and more expensive) forms of technology and disrupt existing value systems. A key example is that of media storage devices where history shows us how Betamax, VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray disks have each made their predecessors obsolete and are now being challenged by the Cloud and streaming technologies. Although Christensen, writing first in the 1990s, was aware of the idea of ‘creative destruction’, disruptive innovation and creative destruction are somewhat different concepts.
Creative destruction received significant attention from Marx in Volume IV of Capital. Creative destruction was the signature characteristic of capitalist free-markets – an inevitable and necessary strategy for capitalism to attempt to thrive: ‘the destruction of capital through crises means the depreciation of values which prevents them from later renewing their reproduction process as capital on the same scale’ (Marx 1863/1969)
The effect of continuous innovation […] is to devalue, if not destroy, past investments and labour skills. Creative destruction is embedded within the circulation of capital itself. Innovation exacerbates instability, insecurity, and in the end, becomes the prime force pushing capitalism into periodic paroxysms of crisis. (David Harvey)
In other words, in the end, consumers become so confused and worn down by continual change they put their collective foot down and stop consuming (or stop spending their loans on teacher education). Rather than a technological innovation that makes consumers’ lives simpler and more convenient (Christensen’s disruptive innovation), creative destruction involves a continual revolution in structural values and a continual challenge to stability and, therefore, a continual challenge to the efficient operation of any market. For Marx, the point would come where society would see capitalism for what it was and would actively choose socialism.
The idea was taken up in the 1940s by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter with whom the concept of creative destruction is now most closely associated in economics. Schumpeter talked about creative destruction as a ‘perennial gale’, one that ‘incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one’. Although Schumpeter originally theorised it in the context of a discussion of capitalist business cycles, he nonetheless was broadly sympathetic to Marx’s view that creative destruction would lead to a crisis of capitalism and the advance of socialism.
School Direct was distinctive as a policy intervention in the historical struggle for control of teacher education in England in that it attempted to introduce free market principles into an environment shaped by nearly thirty years of quasi-market principles. In practice, this meant creating more freedom on the supply side of teacher education programmes by encouraging schools and private organisations to offer provision and, on the demand side, by making the student a genuine consumer with choice among a diversity of providers and also a choice whether that provision led to an academic award or the professional accreditation of QTS only. These changes, in theory at least, created opportunities for price differentials to grow between the various providers as competition for students/consumers increased. At the same time, the strong regulatory agencies that once intervened and managed the quasi-markets in schools and initial teacher education over the last three decades have been abolished, merged and contracted with the aim of encouraging new entrants to the market and re-organising the market along consumer-led lines. Hence, when asked about the relationship between academic award and professional accreditation, the senior civil servant from the NCTL understandably replied, ‘the market will decide.’ Overall, School Direct was intended to destroy the old economic order underlying teacher education in England and replace it with a new, market-based one.
However, as Stephen Ball and colleagues remind us, policy enactments are never simple and linear and are instead mediated by complex, historically-evolving, cultural and economic structures. The creatively destructive intent of School Direct was confounded by several factors, not the least of which is that when individuals are made ‘real’ consumers and the transaction is genuinely one of purchasing a service, they will make that choice tactically and, usually, on a well-informed and cautious financial basis. So when School Direct did not have a mass appeal to prospective teachers, the government intervened in the market to encourage applicants for university-based courses to switch to School Direct with a somewhat controversial email campaign to prospective teachers registered on the NCTL recruitment advice website as well as a well-funded national advertising campaign. The underlying issue is that when the state is no longer the main funder of teacher education (or indeed of higher education generally), it cannot guarantee the success of its policies in that arena without direct intervention in the market of purchasers.
Second, although there was increased freedom on the supply side, control of the numbers of students permitted to study and train through each provider was still controlled by the state through its residual regulatory functions. So choice between higher education-led provision and School Direct was only permitted among those providers who met the NCTL’s quality threshold. While this might be seen as a sensible constraint, it nonetheless limited the numbers of student teachers allowed at providers to the extent that their provision might become financially unviable and some providers would withdraw from the market. Withdrawals of this kind were routinely made by schools leading School Direct salaried schemes for other reasons – for example when they realised that the salaried route required an investment of around £10,000 from the school’s budget for each trainee (unrealistic for most primary and small schools) or when the administrative burden of operating the recruitment and selection process for very small numbers of places became apparent. School Direct as an idea did not consider the operation of the market in relation both to economies of scale and brand prestige that privilege the more established and larger providers of teacher education (i.e. the universities).
Third, although student teachers through their loan debt now directly fund teacher education courses in general, in School Direct this funding was channelled through the schools who had been awarded places through the NCTL allocation mechanism. These schools then had to make a choice with which university they work with and whether this partnership would lead to an academic award (the PGCE) or not. As many headteachers recognised that the PGCE and the accompanying Master’s level credits are recruitment incentives to prospective students and teachers, many opt for the PGCE route and end up transferring the majority of the fee they are paid by the student to their university partner to offer the training and supervision that leads to the academic award. Participation in School Direct is not a form of income generation for schools but is now being recognised more as a commitment to developing the profession. The possibility for a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of both fees and quality of provision persists but genuine consumers with graduate-level qualifications tend to make careful choices.
Finally, the significant reduction in regulatory oversight that accompanied the introduction of School Direct meant that the careful modelling of future teaching workforce requirements did not take place in the way that it once did and that regional disparities in teacher education provision became marked. So, for example, few secondary English teachers were prepared in South Yorkshire, Humberside and London while very many indeed were being prepared in the North West. There were (and still are) school-level consequences for teacher recruitment in these regional disparities, especially in shortage subjects where it is hard to recruit teachers.
The ‘non-allocations’ allocations methodology: creative destruction takes one step forward
School Direct on its own did not deliver the expected outcomes for what were now Tory Education ministers, for the reasons I’ve outlined above. Freed of Liberal Democrat constraining influences and emboldened by a five year fixed-term parliament, the Conservative government pushed forward with a new intervention into the supply-side of the market: limit the availability of options that are attractive in a genuinely free market (the established brands of university-led provision) and continue to expand apparently school-led provision. For entry to teacher education programmes in England in September 2016, the National College implemented a new methodology for awarding places and therefore channelling income to providers with funding (prospective student fees) separated into different ‘pots’ so that apparently non-university-led provision was more plentifully available (I say apparently non-university led as School Direct and, indeed, Teach First are delivered by universities but behind a convenient curtain).
Under this ‘non-allocation allocation methodology’, providers would be allowed to ‘express their capacity’ and, under certain conditions, be allowed to recruit up to that capacity. Significantly, however, all providers within their particular funding pot (university-led and school-led, basically) would be competing against each other and as soon as the national pot was consumed, all recruitment activity would have to stop. Chaos was predicted and has indeed ensued. There have been some skirmishes around the right of certain elite universities to retain small, high quality courses and these skirmishes (due to some useful connections, as you might expect, with the Department for Education) have led to some changes and revisions to the model. Depending on where you sit and how you recruited in 2015 – 2016, you may think some stability has been put into the system. But the reality is that the late changes further complicate a destructive model, one that will undermine this and any future government’s attempts to have sufficient teachers standing up in front of classes never mind of sufficient quality. It will be particularly interesting to look at the quality of the 2016 – 2017 cohort recruited to postgraduate courses if the anecdotal evidence (clearly believed by the NCTL given their now regular warnings to the sector) is true of providers gaming the system.
In the October 2nd-8th edition of the New Statesman (2015), Ian Leslie presented a careful analysis of Gove as an education reformer, an analysis unusually sensitive to nuance. But Leslie’s argument about Gove, key advisors (or ‘daemons‘ – Gove’s word) such as Dominic Cummings and those that have followed him is that the driving belief is that real education reform (the kind that Tony Blair, by his own admission never achieved) is messy and leads to damage and destruction (in the short-term and perhaps medium-term, at least). As Leslie put it, the view is: ‘revolutions are messy, and mistakes are inevitable: the radical accepts this as the price of speed’. The radical right does not plan for coherence; it does not design a system; it actively destroys what it sees as ‘vested interests’ and believes that – as in the case of the media storage device business – amidst the chaos and confusion, someone will invent a new product that will attract private capital (and/or in teacher education’s case, student loan debt) and create its own market. We would be quite wrong to view the chaos and destruction in the arena of teacher education policy now simply as ‘mistakes’ along the way or unintended consequences of a grand and laudable, designed plan. Leslie quotes an unnamed advisor to Gove who described the work of education reform as ‘walking along the cliff edge and stamping their [the Blob’s, the vested interests’] fingers off’. Destruction is the thing.
Or at least it would be if the business of teacher education was like the business of media storage devices. But it isn’t. Or not as like it as Mr Gibb and others have been led to believe. By destroying the infrastructure, you damage the overall provision of education to the population, presenting serious risks to the quantity of new teachers being prepared as well as the quality. Ultimately, by destroying public service infrastructure, you damage society. The political challenge for the radical right is how close to the edge they will allow the reform to go – will they stamp on everyone’s hands and watch the whole edifice fall into the ravine? Will they then blame the catastrophe on the vested interests themselves (‘unwilling to reform to the will of a democratically elected government’, blah blah)? Will they resort to direct tenders for all initial teacher education provision – a national franchise bestowed by Mr Gibb and monitored not by Ofsted (far too impartial however wonky) but by battalions of Gove-ian edutwitterati? How many voters will they need to keep on side for 2020? That is perhaps the key calculation; it a calculation that saw the end of Gove, for sure.
Universities have not acquitted themselves with much honour throughout this destructive reform process. On the whole, they have been defensive of their position; leaders of Education departments have not usually seen initial teacher education as important, other than in terms of income; the Russell Group has made cringeworthy pleadings to the NCTL to be made a ‘special case’. A few university people have tagged along or been co-opted with the Tory reforms believing, as many good people have done in the past, that by ‘staying in’ it is better (to use a rather horrible phrase) to be ‘inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.’ Too often, good people get damaged by this approach and just end up covered in piss. They become convenient but torn window-dressing for a political class that is primarily interested in the election cycle and having demonstrable ‘achievements’ to tout in future campaigns, no matter how fragile or even false.
Likewise, bodies funded by and supposedly representing the interests of universities in teacher education have been too self-satisfied with small wins over tactics in conversations with DfE and the NCTL and have failed to develop and advocate for a strategy for the importance of higher education in the preparation process on revised and reconfigured lines. (Just for the record, I am not and have never argued for the status quo – it doesn’t work for anyone. See my book with Jane McNicholl, Transforming Teacher Education, for why). It simply isn’t good enough to advise that universities should start up SCITTs (school-centred schemes in which universities take the Ofsted risk) or that we should ‘hoover up’ School Direct places. Vice Chancellors (with some notable exceptions) and sector bodies have maintained a position that deliberately puts universities behind a curtain, preferably invisible to government but nonetheless useful in delivering the teacher education system. Children, parents, schools and teachers deserve better than that. One problem with this approach is that being behind the curtain and advised to be silent on matters of principle, it is easy to replace universities with much cheaper private providers (like Hibernia College, UK) without the general public knowing or, for that matter, caring.
The job for universities and sector bodies such as BERA and UCET, it seems to me, is to start to make the arguments about why it is important to have universities involved and to make those arguments in the public sphere and not only in negotiations with the Conservatives; to argue why it is important to plan the preparation of teachers properly and with due care taking into account regional workforce needs; why pretending universities don’t exist or are just interested in returning to the past is just plain wrong; to show how successful school systems around the world rely on higher education and the teaching profession to work together on teacher development; to argue that we are the only developed country in the world that is wilfully destroying its national teacher education infrastructure for plainly ideological reasons; to argue that it is the Conservatives and their radical right cronies and fellow-travellers who are the real enemies of promise.
The challenge for any government in having a world-class education system is to challenge universities to do what they do better and to reward them for innovations that put research-led collaborations with the teaching profession and with schools as community organisations front and centre. We need creative reinvention – transformation – not destruction of England’s teacher education system. Gove’s advisor Cummings was apparently fond of the Facebook motto ‘Move fast and break things’. We probably have about eighteen months to come up with an alternative to the creative destruction of teacher education in England. It is not only Mr Gibb that needs to move fast.
This post is extracted from a forthcoming book on leadership and the global teacher education reform movement to be published in 2016. Please reference this page if quoting.
I will be talking about these issues (among others) at the TEAN conference in Birmingham in May and at the Comparative and International Education Society conference in Vancouver in March.
Last week saw the annual summer angst-fest that is A-level results day in England and Wales. At a slow time for news, you can guarantee TV news crews will be asking kids to jump up in the air holding slips of paper. Every year, the images and the quotes are pretty much the same with the occasional outburst of ‘standards are falling/exams are getting easier’ from the anxious middle class when working class kids and their teachers really work hard.
In New York State last week came the results of this year’s common core standardised tests. Common core is a federal initiative from the Obama administration, the aims of which are consistent with an essentially shared Democrat/Republican national educational reform agenda. As with all U.S. educational reform policies, although nominally national, the national, federal dimension is one of influence, with the more or less subtle threat of being denied federal grant funding if the states don’t comply. The actual implementation is at state level and, in New York, the implementation has run into trouble with a movement of parents, teachers and activists who have drawn attention to the poor quality of the tests (compared to the tests in other states, for example) and the time taken out of children’s education through test preparation and taking the tests themselves. Click here for a Wall Street Journal blog post on the topic by an award-winning New York school principal.
The most startling feature of the results of this year’s common core tests in New York was that 20% of eligible children were ‘opted out’ by their parents or carers. I believe that is over 200,000 children, children whose parents decided that they did not wish them to become ‘guinea pigs’ for the testing industry (lovely old Pearson runs the NY tests, of course) nor did they wish their children to become data in someone else’s battle.
According to figures put together by the New York Times, the parents doing the withdrawing or ‘opting out’ of their kids were not just those from the wealthiest sections of society. If you take free school lunches as a proxy for poverty, there were significant levels of withdrawal across most social groups. The exception was schools serving the very poorest communities where opt-outs went as low as 2%. As one member of such a community put it, there isn’t a lot of time to debate test design and the ethics of participation if you don’t know from day-to-day whether you can feed your children. Once again, then, the education of the very poorest children in society differed.
As did the relationship between them, their parents and carers, and the state.
For the poorest children and their families, there were fewer opportunities to debate the appropriateness and value of the tests and a greater acceptance of the right of the state to determine the kind of education provided to them. In effect, the state compels these parents and their children to participate in public education on terms decided only by the state. Hardline ‘reformers’ will naively insist that such parents have the opportunity to vote for their representatives – conveniently ignoring the fact that many of the poorest parents don’t register to vote and also missing the point that a democratic society isn’t about donating absolute power over all aspects of public life to a small elite.
It would be hard to conceive of a situation in England where 20% of parents withdrew their children from public examinations or national tests or screening tests. The only recent precedence we have for non-participation in the examination and testing system comes from the private sector – from schools like Summerhill, for example, where participation is a choice or other schools like the one set up by actor Tilda Swinton. So, again, it is the well-off who get to choose.
But it does make one reflect on the fact that we have had resistance to state compulsion from parents in England – when a favoured local school is forced to become an academy, for example, and removed from local democratic oversight. Parents who protested against such forced academisation were often positioned as dangerous radicals by the last government, neglectful of their children’s education and mere ideological puppets of ‘the blob’. They may be the children’s parents but they don’t know what’s good for them, the argument went. So they can be declassified as parents and denied the right to choose. Because they will make the wrong choice. And the state knows best.
Educational reform in the U.S. and in England has raised important and difficult questions about who decides how our children are educated. Although it is true that neoliberalism as a constellation of ideas about the efficiency of markets has taken hold over much of the public services, in education and in terms of schooling, in particular, the market (‘consumers’ of public services, the people) will not be allowed to decide if the choice is to abandon markets, to deny Pearson and others the opportunity to create new income streams and to dismantle democratic oversight of one of society’s great public duties. In England and the U.S., over the next few years, it will be interesting to watch how politicians negotiate this particular minefield.
Bloomsbury have commissioned a new series of books on teacher education to be edited by Marie Brennan, Meg Maguire, Peter Smagorinsky and myself. Entitled Re-inventing Teacher Education, the series will publish books that have the potential to change the way we do teacher education, from initial preparation through continuing professional development. We are not looking for the ‘same old, same old’; we are looking for the kinds of books that will startle, infuriate, challenge, provoke and lead to a combination of ‘here, here’ and ‘how dare you’! Books you’ll want to read, throw at the wall or cuddle – perhaps all at once.
The first titles will see the light of day, we hope, in 2015 and we are working with potential authors now to identify topics and timescales. The series description is below. If you are interested in proposing a book in the series, please get in touch.
Bloomsbury have once again won the trade’s own ‘Publisher of the Year 2014’ for its academic, educational and professional list.
Re-inventing Teacher Education
Series editors: Viv Ellis, Marie Brennan, Meg Maguire and Peter Smagorinsky
The series aims to present robust, critical research studies in the broad field of teacher education, including initial or pre-service preparation, in-service and continuing professional development, from diverse theoretical and methodological perspectives. The series will become known both for its innovative approach to research in the field and for its underlying commitment to transforming the education of teachers.
Teacher education is currently one of the most pressing and topical issues in the field of educational research. Around the world, in a range of countries, there is strong interest in how teachers are prepared, the content of their education and training programmes, measurements of their effectiveness and, fundamentally, the role and function of the ‘good’ or successful teacher in society, either as a professional or, more recently, as a social entrepreneur or ‘leader’. The associated question of whether and how teachers should be developed professionally is also high on policy agendas around the world as teaching comes to be seen, in some jurisdictions, as a short-term mission rather than as a professional career.
In some countries, teacher education is seen as a vital tool in the building of national educational, scientific, cultural, technological and economic infrastructures. In others, teacher education has become a means by which those countries’ human capital can be improved, economic competitiveness leveraged and status as knowledge economies ensured. International educational ‘league tables’ such as PISA and TIMMS become strong drivers of teacher education policy and practice in national contexts. Across countries, private philanthropy takes its place alongside the resources of the state in funding and influencing the direction of policy.
While many of the drivers are common across these contexts, the direction of policy and how policies are enacted in practice varies considerably and the role of higher education in teacher preparation is often a significant variable. In many successful schools systems in east Asia and northern Europe (successful in terms of PISA ranking as well as other outcomes), universities play an important role in preparing teachers with up to five years’ study needed to qualify, and with a strong theoretical and research component. Meanwhile, in other countries, policy-makers seek to emulate the PISA success of, for example, Shanghai and Finland, by diminishing the role of universities, shrinking the attention to theory and research and, as in England, abandoning the requirement that teachers need to be qualified altogether. Contradictions in policy, practice and curriculum design are increasingly apparent and are, in part, related to the underlying cultural identity of teaching (as a profession, for example) as well as the distribution of wealth across those societies.
At the same time, renewed attention is being given to how teachers learn and where they learn most productively. Sociocultural theories of learning derived from psychology and cognitive anthropology have come to influence teacher education programme design as well as studies of workplace learning and from the field of organizational science. Increasingly (although still fairly rarely), consideration is given to the link between the development of teachers (individually) and the development or improvement of the school (collectively). Movements such as the Professional Development Schools in the US are one such example of attempts to bridge individual and collective development. Similarly, interest in Lesson Study, a model of teacher and school development popular in Japan since the nineteenth century, has taken off in many countries in the west. The same is true of Education Rounds, or Instructional Rounds, in Scotland and the United States – another means of stimulating individual teacher and school development by promoting opportunities for collaborative learning in schools. In China, Teacher Research Groups (a 1950s Soviet import) are common in schools with the purpose of stimulating collaborative inquiry with the support of external experts.
Books in the series will address the following key areas among others:
Teacher learning and development;
The idea of the ‘good’ teacher and teaching as a profession or craft;
Teacher education programme design, pedagogy and content, including the relationships and division of labour between schools and universities;
Teacher education policy in local, national and global contexts, including ‘travelling ideas’;
Reform in teacher education – the meaning of reform as a concept in the field and its connection to broader political issues;
Histories of teacher education and of teaching;
Teacher education as a form of global higher education.
The series seeks authored books as well as coherent edited collections that address these key areas . It will publish mixed methods as well as quantitative and qualitative research but each book will have to demonstrate both the rigour of the research reported as well as its critical and original stance.
A huge amount has been written over the last few months about alleged religious extremism among a group of schools in Birmingham – much of it nonsense, some of it deranged, very little that is insightful. And it is no surprise given that the whole affair played into the dispute between the Department for Education and the Home Office about the prevention of radicalisation; the turf wars between Mr Gove and Home Secretary Mrs May (it’s now clear who won that one); the volatile situation that Ofsted finds itself in after political briefings against it and as it fights for survival; the underlying Islamophobia in parts of British society; the attack on local authorities and their role in supporting and advising local school systems (a move that was really entrenched by New Labour); and on and on. And on.
I have no inside knowledge of what went on in those schools regarding extremism. I have no basis on which to know whether these schools’ managements overall were as they were painted in the Ofsted report and in the report from the former Met anti-terrorism police chief, Peter Clarke. That said, on the face of it, transcripts of postings to web sites do appear to support the Clarke report’s central claim that some senior staff at the schools expressed racist, misogynistic, homophobic and hateful views online.
But I do know that something quite special had been going on for years at Park View Academy, the main secondary school in the Park View Educational Trust. Something associated with the school’s excellent examination results which, even though the school’s critics and conspiracy theorists might try to undermine them, are quite robust and not connected to cheating or teaching to the test, as some reports have implied.
For several years, teachers across the school have been working with a form of language study called Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), a kind associated with British-born, Australian-based linguist Michael (M.A.K) Halliday and what became known as the ‘Sydney school’ of language and literacy teaching. In the UK, it was appropriated in part by the National Strategies in a somewhat vulgarised version and became associated with ‘genre theory’ and the teaching of writing based on ‘text types’. But SFL was far more than that, more sophisticated in its view of language and literacy and much more useful. When I helped to prepare English teachers at Oxford, I asked them to work a little with a brilliant multimedia package called Building Understandings in Literacy and Teaching (BUILT), developed by Kristina Love at the University of Melbourne. My students often told me they learned more about language and teaching by engaging with BUILT than they did with any of the National Strategy documents. (A paper by Kristina about the use of BUILT in teacher education is available here).
SFL offers a social view of language as a system of meaning-making in context. It is often organised around three key concepts: field (basically the stock of words available in a given situation); tenor (the relationship between the producer of an utterance or a text and the receiver); and mode (the specific channel of communication – at a fundamental level, for example, speech or writing; or within writing, specific genres). SFL regards genres as recognisable patterns of interaction rather than recipes. The word recognisable is important because it emphasises that it is a social process in which people see what other people mean.
Teachers at Park View have been learning about SFL for years (and not just the English teachers). They have incorporated the core ideas in their planning and have also taught some of the key concepts to their students. Teachers’ work with SFL at Park View has been recognised nationally and internationally, including at a conference earlier this year organised in collaboration with researchers at Aston University. A poster for one of these conferences is here.
Students’ levels of attainment at Park View have been consistently high for years. This situation was recognised in the current, post-controversy Ofsted report; given the strength of their results, it couldn’t be otherwise. It also led to the school being graded as outstanding in their previous Ofsted report. The school isn’t in an affluent area; most children have the advantage of being at least bilingual; most don’t have much money in their families. So the usual indicators (which of course we might question) suggest a school that might be doing much less well in purely academic terms.
There is huge expertise among teachers at Park View that has served its students well for many years. Whether it is a question of poor leadership, a real culture of hate and extremism or a set-up job by a compliant inspectorate or a hatchet-job by a former copper who never actually visited the school, it would a tragedy if the momentum of good work in language and literacy teaching was lost at Park View. As far as I know, it was more advanced here than anywhere else in the UK. And it has – and still does – make a difference.
Bob Bibby, former Chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) and English Advisor for the West Midlands borough of Dudley, died on June 6th. Another former Chair of NATE, Shona Walton, has written an obituary on the NATE website here.
Bob interviewed me for my first job as an English teacher at a ‘new school’ in Dudley (that’s all it said in the job advert). My training with Tony Adams in Cambridge had prepared me for the teaching of texts and the use of computers in schools (bloody big old useless ones attached to cassette recorders) but it was Bob, through his leadership of the borough’s English, Drama and Media advisory team, that gave me opportunities to develop as a teacher that were, I now see, literally priceless. It was the way that Bob worked with heads of English – such as the legendary Pat Montgomery – that created the conditions for the rest of us.
Bob’s Dudley team involved me in the National Writing Project (advisory teacher Chris Morris), the Language in the National Curriculum project and the National Oracy Project (advisory teacher Rachel Robinson). Through this involvement, I extended and deepened my knowledge of pedagogy – the art and science of teaching, at the same time both a practical and deeply intellectual activity. The children I taught (I think) benefited from increased attention to rhetoric and process in my teaching of writing; emphasis on the relationship between varieties of language and power, grammar in the proper sense of understanding and manipulating a meaning-making system; oral language development, the relationship between narrative and the development of higher level thinking. My students’ work appeared in books and reports and, horrifyingly, I appeared in Common Bonds, the Oracy Project video. I wasn’t special. You will see the work of lots of Dudley English teachers in these projects’ publications.
As an approach to teachers’ professional development, Bob’s style might be described as that of an organic intellectual who sought to transform the activities of the teaching profession by getting them to articulate their own scientific knowledge. These days a sentence like that can sound like a fine example of Blob-ism or simple wanker-dom. And that’s a problem with the times we live in and their dominant discourses. It’s not Bob’s problem or, dare I say it, mine. (OK, it may be mine).But an English advisor like Bob didn’t think that an MA would save your soul as a teacher. He didn’t indulge in cack-handed liturgies about epistemology and ontology and your ‘stance’ as a teacher-researcher. First and foremost you were a teacher – one word, teacher, that was good enough. You were given opportunities to read things you hadn’t read before; talk to people interested in the same questions; try out some new ideas in the classroom; reflect and engage in some robust dialogue. You learned new stuff; you grew as a teacher; your students were joint beneficiaries.
That’s an important point: they were joint beneficiaries, meaning you as the teacher benefited too. It wasn’t only about the students as data, their test scores, your performance targets. The assumption was that if you were enabled to flourish as a teacher it was more likely that your students would flourish and also do better in measurements of their progress.
Bob was one of the last, great English advisors, people of great expertise, close to the practice of teaching and with a license to help teachers improve it by understanding its complexity. There were quite a few stellar English advisors in the West Midlands alone. They are now virtually all gone. First, they were required to become inspectors. Then they were required to pursue a ‘school improvement’ agenda. By then, they were mainly handlers of ‘data’, meaning numbers not words. Finally, they were retired early, given voluntary severance or employed on fragile contracts subject to the political whim of councillors. If they survived, they focused on leadership and management – running NPQ franchised tick boxes, pandering to the narcissism of ‘future leaders’ who wanted to know everything about ‘leading’ and sweet FA about teaching.
If there were two positive aspects of the recent Labour Party policy review, for me they were the explicit proposals for regional connections between schools (Labour being unable to use the word ‘local’ after what they did to local authorities with the academies programme) and the tacit acceptance that CPD in England has focused too much on leadership and not enough on pedagogy. Advisors like Bob were the real experts in developing teachers’ pedagogical knowledge across networks of schools in a particular geographic area. That kind of person is now all but gone, human infrastructure lost in the service of a political goal. Professional knowledge and wisdom purposely evacuated from the system on the basis that we should always look to government and the political class for guidance..
RIP Bob. Thank you for everything you did to start us all off and for helping me enjoy the job so much. But how can we plan for a new generation of locally-embedded pedagogical experts such as you?
The Routledge Companion to English Studies, edited by Brian Street and Constant Leung, has just been published. My chapter (rather worryingly Chapter 1) is ‘English as a Subject’ and (in a measly 5000 words or less) tries to cover some of the history of the subject English in schools and universities, with a particular focus on how the language English figures in constructions of the subject in anglophone countries, especially in relation to the study of literature.
To try to achieve this near impossible feat, I chose to focus on two contrasting stories about the emergence of English as a subject: first, the story of English as an instrument of colonial and class domination; second, the story of English as a progresssive project of social transformation. The first of these will be familiar to many who know the literature on linguistic imperialism and the role of English in creating loyal English ‘subjects’ in different parts of the former empire. I also draw on the related research about the role of English in enforcing a social standard within the British isles, particularly in relation to the working class and the role of literature, especially Shakespeare, in establishing ‘middle class’ cultural norms. Alan Sinfield’s fantastic work was very useful in this respect.
The second story concerns the relationship between the development of English and the expansion of higher education towards the end of the nineteenth century and the transformation of secondary education for the masses in the mid-twentieth. I refer to the work of Australians Ian Hunter and Ian Reid but also that of John Dixon and, more recently, John Hardcastle and Peter Medway, who have been researching the histories of the practices of English teaching in a few influential London schools and its relationship to the work of teacher educators and researchers at the London Institute of Education. A key figure in their analysis is Harold Rosen (the father of Michael). The story here is one of a more democratic view of language and a consistently socially transformative view of pedagogy. It is story in which the language and the literature studied in English could be that of the students, the children themselves.
Neither story is ‘the truth’, of course. It’s about the stories themselves and where they came from and how they are told. But somewhere in the midst of this contradiction of domination and development lives English as a subject and, as I argue, the very model of a modern subject.
You can download a PDF of ‘English as a Subject’ in the Chapters section. It was incredibly badly copy-edited by Routledge with new sub-headings inserted against my wishes. So apologies in advance for that sort of nonsense.
First of all, have a look at this video, a poem called ‘Dear Mr Gove’ by Jess Green. It was uploaded to Youtube in March and caused a bit of a stir. I believe Jess Green is (or has been) a teacher and it is part of a show she will perform at the Edinburgh Festival this year.
It’s certainly passionate and performed with conviction. I’m not sure how good a poem it is but it is persuasive and engaging, especially given its author’s status as a teacher.
What I find most interesting, though, is the way that ‘Mr Gove’ has found his way into the popular imagination of the teaching profession (and perhaps more widely among the liberal-left) as a bogeyman figure. It has been a while since we’ve had a Secretary of State for Education who has aroused such strong and personal feelings – in my memory, probably only John Patten (a former Conservative Education Secretary from the early 1990s) and David Blunkett (the first New Labour Education Secretary) have figured so large. Can you even remember some of the others? We went through quite a few under Blair and Brown. Estelle Morris, remember her? Resigned because she didn’t think she was good enough only to write a weekly column for the Guardian in which she offered her advice to all and sundry. Ruth Kelly (who?), Ed Balls, Charles Clarke, that nice man who wanted to a pop star when he was younger? Remember them? Maybe – but for what?
But Mr Gove has achieved almost mythic status in his relatively long tenure as Education Secretary, a popular and courageous figure if you follow the right wing press (where he used to work and where his mates still do) and a bogeyman among the unions, teachers, university people, Guardian readers, etc.. Of all his predecessors, it is probably only David Blunkett in his early years that could claim to have had such a (positive or negative) impact and such wide name-recognition. And Gove shares with Blunkett one thing: a passionate commitment to improving schools, attempting to change the education system for the better (on his terms) and trying to make policy on the basis that poverty or disadvantage need not be a child’s destiny. With both Gove and Blunkett you get the sense that their own histories and experiences as children and pupils have had a lasting influence on how they think about education and schooling.
And the connection between the two is more than personal, of course. As John Harris noted (and as I mentioned in a previous post), much of Gove’s machinery of reform was bequeathed to him by New Labour and it was probably the zealous, even messianic fervour of that first Blair administration that has carried over most strongly into the Coalition’s policies. Gove listened to Blair when he said that he wished he had gone further and faster in the reform of public services and that he should have been prepared for the resistance of vested interests such as the teacher unions, local politicians and university education people (the latter memorably termed ‘the Blob’ by Mr Gove).
So why, when in Mr Gove we have a Secretary of State so clearly interested in education, one who appears so passionately committed to state education (and one who, unlike some New Labour figures, chooses a state school for his own child); someone who says he isn’t good enough to be prime minister but wants to stay on at Education and see things through; someone who is said to be funny, a good mimic, charming company on social occasions; why, when all these things might suggest that he would be a good choice to have oversight of an education system in a modern democracy, why is he so loathed by the profession and by Jess Green?
Well, there are probably at least two main reasons. First, a very personal one. His way of doing politics is arch, to say the least, veering on the high camp and snickering. Listen to ‘Today in Parliament’ on Radio 4 and you will hear someone who likes to poke fun, sneer, spout hyperbole. Speaker John Bercow recently described him as a ‘very excitable man’ in a gentle ticking off for some unruly behaviour. I have heard him demean individual officers of teachers’ and subject associations in the Commons in a way that inevitably polarises opinion, whether designed to or not. This is the side of Mr Gove that leads people to describe him as a ‘loquacious sixth former at a minor public school’. Old enough to know better but nonetheless eager for popularity and advancement.
The second is more to do with the policy machinery and his way of operating it. Early in his tenure, he described his approach as ‘disruptive innovation’, essentially the same approach as New Labour. Disruptive innovation as a concept comes from technology entrepreneurship where the goal is always to make things easier, cheaper and more convenient for the consumer. But Coalition policy has rather been marked by what mid-twentieth century Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called ‘creative destruction’. It is marked by continual interventions into the system intended to destabilize it, create new opportunities for private capital, and change the system of values on which the system is built.
So in education, you undo the professionalization of teaching (no qualifications required); you open up the establishment of schools (the ‘provision of school services’) to everyone; you appear to denigrate those who choose to make teaching a career choice in preference to ‘elite graduates’ who teach-to-the-test for a while; you devalue professional knowledge (and its gatekeepers) in preference to ‘things that work’ (to improve test scores) as demonstrated by pseudo-randomised controlled trials or anecdotage from your preferred think-tank.
It is no surprise, then, why Mr Gove has become the object of disaffection for so many people, so many teachers like Jess Green. And of course, he will, he does, take all this in his stride. It is a mark of his success (to him and his followers) that Jess Green should upload a poem like this. Look at the comments beneath her videos on Youtube.
But if this is creative destruction, there is a risk that Mr Gove hasn’t planned for and that is because it can’t be planned for. The risk is that this creative destruction leads to …. destruction, in terms. The education system in England begins to truly fail – not enough teachers – shortages, especially in urban areas; idiosyncratic or even fanatical free schools that last for a few years then close; low-cost, perhaps for-profit schools that do a worse job than the very worst ‘bog standard’ comprehensive; PISA results on a decade-long, declining trend; 16+ qualifications that genuinely no longer mean anything; an eventual choice between state-supported schools for the poor that teach to certain gate-keeping tests and private schools that incorporate attention to the arts and culture, meaningful engagement in practical science, sport and extra-curricular activities – a genuine education.
The problem for Mr Gove is that he is Education Secretary in a country where not only has schooling been seen primarily as the responsibility of the state (the central state, especially since Jim Callaghan’s 1976 Ruskin College speech), it has since become something that the state seems to have the responsibility to comment on at a very micro-level. Only in England, I think, would the Education minister be expected to have a comment on the failings of a specific school somewhere in the country. So, if you destroy the system through your/the state’s ‘creativity’ – a system that politics demands you have the ultimate responsibility for – how do you comment on that? ‘I was radical in my approach to reform and, whoops, it all fell apart, sorry’?
Passionate commitment and fervent beliefs are not enough to make an education system function to its best. And wisdom is hard to come by when politics has been reduced to five-year election cycles. Who will write a poem about that?
A feature in the Guardian on the 15th March, by left-wing journalist John Harris, aroused a good deal of interest among teachers (still going if last Saturday’s letters page is anything to go by). But ‘Inside the A* Factory’ received little coverage elsewhere in the media and the underlying issues (teacher workload, teacher morale and the factory model of schooling) also continue to be ignored by the press and broadcasters. There is a national teacher strike this coming week and a lay reader would be hard-pressed to know it was happening let alone why it was happening.
The article was essentially a collection of stories of different teachers’ experiences of working in schools over the last 20 years or so. The age of the teachers reflected that but the majority of Harris’s sample seemed to be 30 or under and talking about the last five or six years. The picture, as presented, was one of relentlessly intense pressure from school management (and in turn from Ofsted) that required teachers to work increasingly long hours, be subject to increasingly bureaucratic monitoring and accountability processes, and to be complicit in a narrowing of the curriculum to ‘test-teaching’ and the narrowing of the school to an exam factory, with kids becoming specks of data to be manipulated.
I thought it was an excellent article for non-teachers who need to know what it is like to work in one of the great public services now and one well worth reading by everyone. But it raised two questions for me that were only partly addressed in the piece itself. First, as Harris said:
Much of the way state education now works is traceable to the last government, and a succession of Labour education secretaries who left teachers punch-drunk. But Michael Gove, secretary of state for education since 2010, is in a different league, and is using the machinery bequeathed to him to drive through a real revolution and defeat and educational ‘establishment’ he calls ‘the blob’.
So what hope is there for the future if neither Conservative or Labour offer substantially different policies? My sense is that similar questions arose in the US after the election of Obama: following however-many years of George W. Bush and ‘No child left behind’, President Obama gave them …. Arne Duncan, the increasing privatisation of public education, the ‘common core’ and experiments in inspection borrowed from Ofsted in England by way of contracts with dear old Tribal. I have become increasingly frustrated here over the last couple of months with the Twitterati who bleat on about Tristram Hunt (the Labour education spokesman and shadow secretary of state for education) not committing to reversing all of Mr Gove’s policies. Duh. How likely is that given his party started most of them off?!
Second, teacher retention – or teacher attrition, depending on the way you look at it – is a problem in many countries that have never heard of Gove, Ofsted, academies or Tribal. In Norway, for example, 85% of trainee teachers at one major university drop out before they finish their course. And many more do so in the first three years of work. So what is it about teaching in some developed countries that seems to lead so many young teachers drop out or change careers. The sad fact is that so many teachers leave before they achieve their peak effectiveness after around 8 years. As a society we seem to accept this fact nonchalantly as do our policy makers. But it is both incredibly wasteful in terms of resources and very short-sighted in terms of policy.
So, who will try to set a new direction for education policy where schools are not just exam factories and teachers are supported to develop to their full potential?