Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Teacher training tantrums

Usual negativity around plans to have six month teacher training for mature professionals who want to teach. Union leaders throw hissy fits, what a surprise, and the teacher training establishment claim it’s not possible. But Brown was sticking to his guns on this one. He wants someflexibility and a change in the makeup of the teacher population.

Here’s 10 reasons why it’s not only possible, but desirable:

1. Teach First has being doing this for some time, placing teachers in schools after six weeks. They do this by being tough at the selection stage, something that many think is lacking in the normal route.

2. Select high calibre candidates, and the time can be halved. Many have proven, transferable skills and experience e.g. organisational management, HR, finance, projects and people management. Traditionally, few teachers have much of this.

3. Widens the profession to include more people with outside experience in a variety of jobs, something that must be good for the children.

4. All potential teachers have spent three, four or more years studying their subject and the higher qualified graduates have shunned teaching in the past, enticing them back sound like a good thing.

5. Quicker they get out of the lecture-heavy teacher training and into the classroom the better. Many of the skills can only be learnt by ‘doing’. Schools are the proper vehicle for this.

6. Current PGCE courses demand that you wait until September/October for a course start date. Even in the case of flexible courses such as the OU, you still have to wait months to start.

7. A year-long PGCE doesn’t make you a teacher. The idea that there’s some fixed period where you’re fed content, and out pops a teacher, is hopelessly outdated. Smart, experienced people with existing skills can certainly be fast-tracked.

8. I’d go further and argue for trainee teachers to go straight into schools and do far more distance learning and e-learning to support them in their probationary period. Don’t make this a fixed period; make it depend on reaching competency.

9. You can teach in a University without any teaching qualification.

10. We need good teachers – fast! The quicker we get people into the profession and classrooms the better.

Obama comparison

Compare this with Obama's speech today. Obama’s gloves came off in an attack on declining standards in education in the US. Poor grades and poor teaching were identified. On teachers, he pitted himself against the school unions, demanding performance-related pay, linked to results, and less protection for poor teachers. "If a teacher is given a chance but still does not improve, there is no excuse for that person to continue teaching," he said. "I reject a system that rewards failure and protects a person from its consequences." Urging an end to "the soft bigotry of low expectations," Obama said states needed to stop "low-balling expectations" for students and urged longer school days and years.

He got booed on this when on the campaign trail, but he’s sticking it out.

Can you imagine Brown making such a speech? I think not.

 

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26 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'm doing a PGCE at the moment, and it's an entirely school-based course with distance learning from a university. It's very tough to get onto compared to most PGCEs for primary. And I still don't think it's anywhere near long enough. I don't think even if I had spent years running a business first it would be long enough. There is so, so much to learn and in a year it is so rushed. So, I don't think 6-month PGCEs are a great idea.

Having said that, it may well be different for secondary teachers. I have an excellent degree in biology, but that doesn't equip me all that well to teach all the subjects in the curriculum. If I were a secondary biology teacher I'd already know much more of the subject knowledge required to teach that. I think you do need a really in-depth knowledge of the curriculum areas you are going to teach, and how best to teach the different elements of them, and in a 1-year course there is far too little time to acquire this knowledge.

Especially if we want to move towards a more skills-based curriculum, it's going to be essential for teachers to know exactly what skills need to be developed, when, how, and why, and how progression will be ensured.

For all of the foundation subjects my training is basically - read the national curriculum for that subject, read a bit of some book about it, teach a lesson in it.

My preferred option (for me, not for everyone) would be an 18 month or 2-year course that combines a lot more school experience with the PGCE proper. I agree that PGCEs should be more flexible in start dates and duration, and also that the induction year should be flexible and depend on competency.

10:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While some of your points are perfectly valid, I can't see that any of them actually support the argument for a reduced period of training for teachers. There are already teacher training programs that claim to achieve some of the aims you refer to. My experience is that the length of time needed to become a confident and capable teacher varies enormously depending on the individual. I am all for positive changes that support the profession and raise standards. However, it would be difficult to argue that anyone, however intelligent, committed and naturally talented, can become competent in an entirely new profession in 6 months. Never mind what that says about how much we value teachers and recognise them as being highly skilled professionals. Oh... and it's a PGCE. Usual negative rant over.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Anonymous x2
You both agree that there is no fixed time course that solves this problem, as people are different.

If that time is a variable, then why can't people who know their subject well, have managed people. conflict, possibly taught adults, presented to audiences and had to coach/mentor others, not be in an accelerated position?

There seems to be an assumption that no teaching or learning takes place outside of schools. In fact, most learning takes place outside of schools, largely taught by people who know their stuff and are good with other people. PGCE teachers don't have a monopoly on teaching and its associated skills.

I also recommend less of:

"my training is basically - read the national curriculum for that subject, read a bit of some book about it, teach a lesson in it"

That's my point 8 about competency not the simple attendance of a course.

Would you both recommend that we stop ALL University lectures and MOST Further Education teaching on the grounds that they haven't done the year long course?

11:20 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Anonymous x2
You both agree that there is no fixed time course that solves this problem, as people are different.

If that time is a variable, then why can't people who know their subject well, have managed people. conflict, possibly taught adults, presented to audiences and had to coach/mentor others, not be in an accelerated position?

There seems to be an assumption that no teaching or learning takes place outside of schools. In fact, most learning takes place outside of schools, largely taught by people who know their stuff and are good with other people. PGCE teachers don't have a monopoly on teaching and its associated skills.

I also recommend less of:

"my training is basically - read the national curriculum for that subject, read a bit of some book about it, teach a lesson in it"

That's my point 8 about competency not the simple attendance of a course.

Would you both recommend that we stop ALL University lectures and MOST Further Education teaching on the grounds that they haven't done the year long course?

11:22 PM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

I worked as a secondary teacher for 15 years, after doing a PGCE, and then worked for 8 years as a director of a PGCE course.
I would agree that a year-long course doesn't make you a teacher, and I've never met anyone in teacher education who claimed it would. What it does do is enable the trainee teacher to engage with the nature of teaching and learning, observe some excellent (and not so excellent) pratitioners, get to grips with the demands of the curriculum, make some mistakes, plan and execute some extended schemes of work, get used to the rhythms and demands of the school day and year, etc etc.
A year isn't long enough, true- and in other parts of the world, two years is the norm. The Finnish system, for example, requires a degree and two years of training. That system is frequently held up as a model for us. The government is saying on the one hand that it thinks teaching should be a masters-level profession, and on the other that a fast track six months would be enough to qualify. Joined-up thinking?
I also wonder about the recruits for this new scheme. The targets seem to be bankers newly out of a job. Well, presumably, they are out of a job because they aren't very good at it, as the appalling state of our economy would seem to testify. Why are we confident that these people, who have failed at one thing, and who have doubtless never even considered teaching, are suitable entrants to the profession? And are they really going to be attracted to a job with a salary 90% less than what they are used to?
There are so many holes in this scheme I really don't know where to start. It is like so many of the govt's "initiatives" in education- half-baked, contradictory, not thought-through.
Oh, and on the university teaching business: yes, you are quite right, lots of lecturers have no formal training, and that's not acceptable. Now, though, every university I know is requiring new staff to go through a training course in teaching and learning, and most universities encourage staff to pursue membership of the Higher Education Academy, which recognises and develops teaching skills in HE.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Hi Rob
There is a lot of focus on the six months versus one year issue, but the scheme is not as black and white as this. It actually shifts the balance between theoretical teacher training at a University and training in a school. Interestingly, these instituitions do NOT require teachers to have a teaching qualification. The Sector Skills Council responsible for skills in teaching (LLUK) has given up asking, because they know it won't happen.

To focus on a 'year' or 'six months' is to focus on the wrong thing. What matters in teaching is competence. This is why I argue for a school based course that demands competence before you become a licenced practitioner.

As for Europe, it's a mixed picture. Some countries don't demand University level courses at all - Belgium and Denmark. The majority of countries demand less training than the UK and Finland. In fact the majority of European countries demand less training than the UK, the exception being Scotalnd (more could be said on this as their performance is plummeting). In other words, it's a mixed bag. We even have one country that demands teachers to work for six months of the year in a non-teaching role (Austria).

9:45 AM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

Hi - not sure what you are referring to in your comment that " these instituitions do NOT require teachers to have a teaching qualification. The Sector Skills Council responsible for skills in teaching (LLUK) has given up asking, because they know it won't happen." If you mean people in charge of teacher training at university depts of education, then it's an absolute requirement that they are qualified and experienced teachers, with GTC status. They often, in my experience, have HEA fellowship status too, indicating an ongoing commitment to developing teaching competence. LLUK is a sector skills council (and as you said recently "this organisation is almost invisible")and has had very little impact on universities, in my view. The programmes I mentioned, that most universities now run, are usually in-house affairs, where senior staff (usually with a background and experience in teaching and learning issues) lead new staff through a course designed to enable them to teach at university level.
I absolutely agree that the length of time isn't the crucial issue, and teacher-training has been led by the concept of developing competence for years now. In order to achieve a teaching qualification, trainees have to demonstrate competence in a very comprehensive list of classroom skills. If they can't, they are typically required to do another teaching practice, and if they are still not up to scratch, they can't qualify. What I would say about the length of the course is that a year seems to me the very minimum amount of time necessary to engage with, and understand, the very complex world of the classroom, and to reflect on what education means in practice.
Regarding practice elsewhere, I would suggest that a characteristic of systems we are often told are superior to ours is that they have very rigorous and demanding teacher training regimes.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Hi Rob
My point about Universities is that the very practical art of teaching is not best suited to a University, with its 'lecture-based' approach to learning. The LLUK has given up on Universities because they are largely deaf to the idea of compulsory teaching qualification for University lecturers. The duplicity here is that the very institutions that offer PGCE don't believe that the qualification, or any qualfication for that matter, is necessary for teaching. LLUK gave up because they're impossible to shift.

The differences elsewhere in Europe seem to focus on less rigorous demands on subject expertise. This is another interesting area. I'm not wholly convinced by this. I know the GCSE curriculum quite well and don't believe, that in all subjects, a graduate level of knowledge is required.

Big weaknesses, that don't seem to be tackled at PGCE level are ICT, and the the psychology of learning.

I suppose, for me, the proof is in the pudding. My school publishes all sorts of pseudo stuff about the Mozart effect, R/L brain theories and other nonsense on their website, which has been backed up by half-baked INSET CPD courses, yet basics such as producing autonomous learners, homework, good feedback and classroom management are at times woeful. Many are lost when it comes to iCT, a problem identified in the recent OFTED report on the issue.

I don;'t want to demonise teachers but I don't see why innovative approaches to their training should be rejected on the basis of the 'it must be an academic year srtating in September' model. There must be better alternatives.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Mick Landmann said...

I am ambivalent about Teach First. It appears to me to have something of the ‘do-gooder’ about it. At a time when there is considerable debate about education, about testing in education, about ‘personalisation’, about ‘pupil-voice’ this seems to be an organisation that aims to simply support the status quo, targeting the ‘disadvantaged’ through ‘leadership’.

This is not the future I am looking forward to.

In fact looking forwards I think your arguments will lose some of their relevance when the role of the teacher changes, as I believe it inevitably will. When teacher becomes facilitator, there will, I think, be a more natural selection process.

The best ‘facilitators’, those most in demand, will be the ones who make learning the most interesting. In fact as the ‘control of learning’ changes hands (building on the precedence that with ICT, for example, many young people already know more than their teachers) those that do not come up to muster will drop out of the bottom.

This judgement will not be by league tables, exam results or any other such criteria but by the simple criteria of popularity (a strange idea, I know and one that you would think would be open to much abuse, but not if you believe as I do that young people ‘want’ to learn).

In this environment the nature of qualifications required will, I believe, be much looser and just as the best teachers today, in my experience, are those for whom the profession is truly vocational so this will become a key factor.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Hi Mick
I'm a BIG fan of Teach First for the following reasons, straight from their OFSTED report:

Teach First Ofsted Report 2008

25th January 2008
Ofsted released their report on the Teach First programme, the result of an intensive twelve month inspection held between July 2006 and July 2007.

The report, which focused on the 2006 cohort during their first year in schools, but also looked at the 2005 cohort during their second year, as well as the impact our Ambassadors are making in their schools, finds:

Half of the 2006 cohort achieved the Standards for QTS at an outstanding (the highest) level, while some "were judged by inspectors to be amongst the most exceptional trainees produced by any teacher training route."

At least one Teach First school "attributed a rapid improvement in its standards almost entirely to the contribution of Teach First participants."

Our participants are highly committed to our mission of countering educational disadvantage and "have a markedly beneficial impact on the schools involved."

Participants staying in their schools a second year or more were "starting to have a notable impact, for example, in transforming underperforming departments."

The "central management of the programme was exceptionally strong.

The commitment to improving the programme and building on its success was impressive."

The full report is really worth reading - and remember they only have 6 weeks, not six months of training.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

Hi Donald
I don't think we are too far apart on school teaching. And if the school you mention is spending time and money on nonsense like the so-called Mozart effect, then the head should be joining the many who have been sacked of late.
The "course beginning in September" business isn't rigid. My own institution offers a flexible programme with several starting points in the year. To some extent of course, teacher training is contrained by the academic year, which itself is an irrelevant relic of a bygone age.
I have to disagree on the university teacher angle. My university, and many others I know, have invested a lot of time and money in providing programmes for new entrants to the profession, and in many it is a requirement of employment (as it is where I work) that they get their certificate in teaching and learning.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Hi Rob
Yip. I suspect we'd end up agreeing on most things. It still puzzles me when I see the widespread adoption of oddball theory in teaching. Brain Gym, Mozart effect, L/R brain theory, muti-tasking kids - you name it, someone's adopted it.

I'd be interested in knowing how many standard University PGCEs have staggered starts - few I suspect -certainly not the two Universities in Brighton.

I'm still not convinced on the University issue, especially after chatting to a LLUK Board member, who was openly dismissive of attempts to bring standards into this area. However, I agree that things are improving dramatically - from a very low base.

PS
Captain Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen! - got to agree there

Good luck tonight!

4:03 PM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

Hey, that's *Commander* to you. Good luck tonight? Are you implying I'm a United fan? You're way off if you are...

4:28 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

LOL
Yip - my memory for old monikers failed me there.

Your Topsyturvy profile says Manchester United on one line, because the United of 'United Kingdon word wraps to the previous line! Hence the confusion!

City fan then?

4:48 PM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

Arf! Yes, armchair City fan (obviously, since I actually come from Manchester...)
Are you with LINE?

7:38 PM  
Blogger Rob Alton said...

I used to be a teacher. I did a PGCE in Sussex, an experiential course where we spent half the week in schools and half at college with two long TPs. The school part was the most useful as it taught me how to plan, how to pace lessons, how to manage a classroom.

I think you can teach and learn the theory in a few months, but you need extended time in the classroom to reflect on what this means for your teaching and the childrens' learning. It takes many years to become good at teaching. Not sure if the 10,000 hours practice line is applicable here, but I'd imagine it's close.

This comment by Rob S. made me chuckle:"Why are we confident that these people, who have failed at one thing, and who have doubtless never even considered teaching, are suitable entrants to the profession?" Teaching has always been a last resort for a minority of student teachers in my experience (Miller & Armstrong do a good done on this). Can't you be a teacher if you fail at something else?

Six months is about right, but it won't work without having a mentoring system in place in schools and the time set aside for mentors to help, observe, comment and team teach with newbies.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

This sounds reasonable. The plan is indeed to supplement the six months with more support in schools.

Miller and armstrong:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwDknTtkVdc&feature=related

7:06 PM  
Blogger Rob Spence said...

Rob -"Can't you be a teacher if you fail at something else?"
Yes, of course. What I wanted to suggest was that these people will typically never have expressed any desire to be teachers, so why would they now seem good material for the profession?
And I just don't see them taking a huge salary cut for a job they would have considered beneath them. The best take on this, I think, is in this video.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

As Bernie Bassett would say - it tales all sorts. I've met teachers who are jaded and trapped in the profession, who would probably be better off leaving. I've met teachers who adore what they're doing and wouldn't want to do anything else. I've met people in all sorts of other jobs who feel jaded and trapped, who would be better off leaving. And people who loved wha they were doing but through no fault of their own were made redundant. Sometimes an enforced rethink makes people change course, the trauma is, in the long-term, good for them.

Do you think Teacher First has been a success? It was this that made me post this entry.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Karyn Romeis said...

Pardon me chiming in here late, off the back of your comments on my FB page.

Not sure I understand your point 5, though. My question is 'from whom?' Do you put these 'apprentice' teachers in with more experienced teachers from whom to learn by watching-and-doing?

I am a natural born teacher... although I prefer to work with adults for the simple reason that adults are more likely to be volunteers. Granted there are some conscripts and even a few PoWs. But schools, as far as I can tell, are largely filled with PoWs - people who have to be there, because the law says so.

I think in analogies and talk in allegories. Always have. I relate things unknown back to things known. None of those skills was taught to me.

However, I am fascinated to know more about *how* people learn, what the brain actually does with information received. No-one, as far as I can tell, has answered this question, yet. But we are getting ever closer. I find it interesting to learn about the outdated theoretical models of learning, because I can excercise critical thinking skills as I look aty them through the lens of what we know today.

What I do struggle with is when these models are presented as fact. For example, when I finally did get around to doing a Cert Ed in adult learning, we were taught learning styles as if it were gospel truth. It was years before I was rescued by the inimitable Prof Coffield (God bless him!) from this illusion.

For my money, regardless of how teachers become teachers, they should be learning critical thinking skills. Not only that, but they should be helping kids to learn these skills form the very moment they enter the education system (hopefully their parents will already have set that ball in motion, but I realise that is a faint hope).

With the plethora of information available to us as a result of web 2.0 technologies, much of it bogus, we really need to be learning early on how to separate wheat from chaff!

3:55 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Point 5 should be read with Point 8. I strongly believe that teacher training is trapped in old theory and old models, reinforcing a failed model (learning styles in only one of many).

Get teachers in front of kids as soon as possible as 'teaching assistants'. This puts them through the litmus test of survival. Do they have the personality and love of teaching to really handle young people. This should be a probationary period, under the wing of an experienced teacher, interleaved with online learning on the theory. The course should be much shorter and on-demand, not a once per year start.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

I'd like to know what you think about a six-month training period for Early Years and KS1 teachers, as in my experience a one-year PGCE was nothing like long enough!

9:32 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Cathy
I don't really know enough about Early Years teaching to comment. However, if, as I suspect, the course is laden with old and discredited theory, then I certainly think it could be shortened. If there's even a whiff of Piaget or Maslow or learning styles, tehn they can go for a start. Many of these courses have been designed to fit a one year course schedule and have grown by accretion. Many could do with a good pruning.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Well, my own course was 27 years ago, so I can't comment on current training. But it was the time spent in schools that just wasn't enough. I find it hard to believe that even six weeks spent entirely in school would be sufficient to learn about how very young children learn, to familiarise oneself with the curriculum and all the other stuff expected of teachers. I can see that a secondary teacher could perhaps learn the job in a short time, given good subject knowledge, but Infant teaching isn't just about delivering subject knowledge.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Couldn't agree more. That was my point 5. Teacher training needs to be redesigned around classroom experience.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Well, yes, but my point was that six weeks to turn a banker (or other professional) into an Infant teacher isn't enough, even without any college-based training at all. Looking after thirty under-sevens is complicated enough, let alone teaching them, planning (knowing how to/what to plan, how to progress learning, what the curriculum entails), assessing their learning, organising resources and the environment, dealing with parents and other adults and anything I've forgotten. I'm certainly not suggesting that it's somehow harder than other jobs, just not as obvious and common-sense based as some might think.

I like to think of myself as a reflective kind of teacher, and after all this time I know I haven't cracked this yet.

12:12 PM  

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