The teachers’ dilemma: Professionals or technicians


Freedom, it’s a tricky thing. With years of increasing control and structure over schools (from National Curriculum to Strategies to use of league tables) it feels like the teaching profession have been crying out for more trust and responsibility for ever. Now the government introduces a slimmed down curriculum, allows the 12% (and increasing) of schools who are academies to leave this entirely, and announces that the previous system of assessment based on levels is gone and teachers are free to devise their own system

We could quibble over the whys and wherefores, we could take personal potshots at the secretary of state because we disagree with his attitude or approach, but ultimately his department is in many ways giving teachers what many have been asking for; professional autonomy.

In my discussions with teachers and school leaders there have been some positive reactions, seeing it as I did as an opportunity to explore the most beneficial ways of assessing children for contributing to their progress and providing accountability that the considerable public money spent on teachers is making a difference.

However there have been many negative reactions, many questioning what they will do, why the government hasn’t specified a replacement, and what Ofsted will say if they stop using levels. Given the proclamation that “this system is complicated and difficult to understand, especially for parents“, I would say they should be more concerned with the view Ofsted will take if they continue to use a system that the Government has stated to be unfit for purpose.

In the comments on my last post, Connor Galvin shared an interesting quote:

“Go to Old Delhi, behind the Jama Masjid, and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. […] The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they’re next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop.”

Aravind Adiga

We have a generation of teachers (of which I am one) who have been brought up with a system in which they were largely told what to do. Success has been predicated on following these instructions and working within the closely prescribed systems. I for one am fascinated by learning, one of the reasons I am now working in a University is to conduct research into how this works and how we can continue to develop the way we support it. Teaching is about learning; surely the chance to take some control over the direction our institutions of learning are going in is exciting?

I recognise there is a lot of change happening, and that teachers are often pressed for time, in the modern world who isn’t? There is an opportunity here to take control of something that is fundamental to the teaching and learning process, and there is appetite for change. It needn’t be done by the lone teacher in their classroom with no support. I am already discussing with a school how we can design a system of assessment based on interpretive research methods exploring learning as an emerging process rather than a set of criteria to tick off. There are researchers with far greater expertise than me who I am sure will jump at the chance to work with schools to co develop ways of assessing learning that can represent and improve the impact on children that can be made.

It will be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to result in drudgery and it really shouldn’t result in fear. At least no more than is appropriate when you are responsible for activities that affect the futures of signficiant numbers of children.

What I really fear is that if we stick to the old system that the government has denounced, or fail to demonstrate our capability as a profession to create some of the tools with which we work then we will be deemed to have proved to not be capable of wielding the professional freedom which is so often called for. It will be back to a status of technicians; simply carrying out the instructions we are given with no thinking or contribution as to how the field of education develops.

All the recent government changes to UK education are a challenge: step up & be the professionals you speak of or sit back and become technicians. Which way will we take it?


Image: CC BY Kevin Utting





2 responses to “The teachers’ dilemma: Professionals or technicians”

  1. Teresa Avatar

    Teachers’ professional freedom is most welcome. It is an opportunity to hear the teachers’ genuine voices. I hope that some over prescribed controls that are going to be put in place don’t compromise this freedom.

  2. Julia Skinner (@theheadsoffice) Avatar
    Julia Skinner (@theheadsoffice)

    Really thoughtful post Oliver that I will share with Bristol Governors to get them thinking.

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