“Not all teachers and students deserve prizes but they do deserve self-esteem, opportunity and fulfilment and moreover fair treatment.
A prerequisite of this is a properly funded education system which genuinely seeks to meet need and does not penalise and denigrate students simply for starting the educational process with very little, and denigrating and punishing staff for having to work harder and more effectively in these contexts than in any other.”
A recent UK report, Supporting Outstanding Pupil Progress In Schools In An Area Of Social and Economic Deprivation, looked at a schools in disadvantaged areas to analyse what behaviours make an “outstanding” teacher, contributing to outstanding student progress. The report speaks to questions asked by and of educators worldwide, and is as pertinent to our own situation in New Zealand as it is in England.
The report’s findings will not surprise most teachers, citing social and economic deprivation as a major factors in students’ chances of success. Neither will it surprise many (any?) teachers that they are often expected to act as surrogate parents for those without support and stability in their home lives.
Professor Bridget Cooper, Director of the Centre for Pedagogy at the University of Sunderland, UK, who led the report, says: “It is obvious from this report that schools in socially and economically deprived areas need more generous and more appropriate funding. Those in power need to understand and take into account the effort teachers in those schools have to make to counteract the multiplicity of needs of their students for their entire school lives.”
“It is completely unfair and irrelevant to compare these schools, teachers and children throughout their academic life unfavourably with schools which do not have to meet such great need as the teachers have work even harder.”
The Danger of an Overbearing Review Office
The report also looks at the role of OFSTED, which is the UK equivalent of ERO, and raises concerns that reviews are often barriers to good teaching practice, being so very prescriptive that teachers find it hard to harness their own creativity and create engaging learning for students.
Whilst in Aotearoa differentiation and personalised teaching is still, quite rightly, seen as good pedagogy even by the review office, the report found in England OFSTED insisted on “having objectives at the start of the lesson which does not always work with each student”. It went on to say that “[s]everal staff said that always having the objectives at the start of the lesson goes against ideas of discovery and student-centred learning (both secondary and primary) and can make lessons dull and mechanical.”
Far from allowing teachers to do what they know works or to experiment with new resources and pedagogy in order to engage students and inspire them, “teachers are constrained by the structure of the school day and the push for conformity is hindering progress in “deprived” schools.”
Of course, things are made even worse when you consider that in England teachers are subject to performance pay. This means that there is pressure to jump through whatever hoops OFSTED deems important, as your wages depend on it. It doesn’t mean teaching better or responding to students’ needs more appropriately, though.
And there’s the rub.