Last week, out of nowhere, government added a proposal to the Education Act update that would allow Teach First teacher trainees to be in the classroom unsupervised.
Yes, that’s right – a trainee with no qualifications in teaching would be allowed to be in charge of the whole class unsupervised.
You have to wonder why that would be proposed? What’s the justification?
Before getting to the education issues, I first have to ask, how is it acceptable to add in such an important change to the proposed Education Act amendments without informing people so we have a chance to submit? That’s not democracy; it’s underhand, disingenuous and it’s railroading.
You have to wonder what the process was that led to it being put in at the very last minute, too. The cynic in me can’t help but wonder whether it was purposefully held back just long enough to leave no time for people to put up submissions about the plan. If that’s not the reason, then why the last-minute appearance? Something’s fishy, and this time it’s not MPI’s catch quotas.
As with any proposals, we should ask who this proposal benefits and who it impacts.
We have a glut of well-trained, qualified primary trained teachers as it is, so where’s the need to lower the bar this way? What’s the imperative to have trainees in front of classrooms with no supervision?
I’d love to hear how unsupervised time in the classroom is better for the trainee than supervised training and co-teaching, where a teacher with years of experience observes and gives feedback and where the student can see the teacher at work and reflect on what works well and why.
Good self reflection on one’s pedagogical practice is something that develops over time, guided initially by mentors and becoming deeper and more meaningful as you grow as a teacher. It’s not something you can just do. After all, to begin with, you don’t know what you don’t know.
So how is being unsupervised/unmentored /unsupported a good move?
Teach First often cites that its trainee teachers have high degrees or Masters qualifications. But being a good teacher isn’t just about knowing your subject, and even more so at primary level where your subject will be only a tiny part of what you teach anyway.
Just as important as book smarts is knowing how to engage students, how to create a productive environment, how to plan effectively, how to adapt planning on the fly when you have to, how to deal with upsets, what to do to support those who struggle or who find a task easy, how to spot those who are not pushing themselves and what to do to help them, how to deal with parents’ concerns, what to do about the wriggler or the weeper or the kind that has a tendency to disrupt things. How to teach kids to analyse their own work and improve it, what to do about the kids who never push themselves and the ones who are too hard on themselves. How to help the kid that has started stealing things. How to stay calm and deal with vomit, wees and a’code brown’so that the child involved isn’t stigmatised. What to do when a lunch box is empty or insufficient. Or when a child is taking other kids’ food. How to stick to timings, how to teach students to care for their environment and pack up the classroom equipment properly and efficiently. How to encourage and support reluctant readers. And what to do when the fire alarm goes or when a kid suddenly runs out of your classroom and keeps running.
While you’re learning those things, you need a mentor on hand.
Most pertinently, it is important to ask how this impact students.
Government keeps telling us that to give students the best change of success teachers must be excellently trained. How is this excellence?
I’ve seen some good and great initial teacher trainees but also some absolute shockers, including ones with lots of classroom experience, so it concerns me that this proposal allows not just seasoned trainees but also brand new trainees to go into classrooms unsupervised. How someone with no teaching experience or training (practical or theoretical) can be expected to do a good job of teaching without guidance is mind-boggling.
As a teacher it concerns me: As a parent I am fuming.
My child is not a guinea pig. My child deserves a qualified teacher. And so does yours.
Education reformers like to say they are doing it for the kids. That the reforms will improve the education system. Mountains of evidence shows this is poppycock and that education reforms overwhelmingly lead to profits being more important than the children’s education.
In England, the government has ruled that by 2020 Academies (charter schools by another name) will take over ALL state schools. Forcibly.
Whether parents and students want it or not. Whether the staff want it or not. Whether the school board wants it or not. Whether the school is doing badly or brilliantly.
It’s been mandated: ALL England’s public schools will be handed over to Academies.
If Academies raised standards, perhaps it would be understandable that the government wishes to hand all schools over. Acceptable, even. But they don’t.
Pro-reformers will point out this school or that as being improved under the charter school model. But the truth is, they are the exception. Under this model, there is a raft of bad practice: Suspensions rise. Inclusion goes down. Cherry-picking of students takes place. And when similar cohorts are compared between public and charter schools, it is clear that charter schools do not improve results.
Even the UK Department of Education’s own analysis shows that, overall, England’s state schools do better when run by the Local Education Authority than by an Academy Trust.
Which surely begs the question of why this is being done.
If you want to know the reason for reforms, follow the money.
Ask yourself, who benefits from these changes?
It isn’t the students: England’s national and international test results have fallen since Academies were put in place.
It isn’t teachers: Classroom teachers’ work conditions and pay are often far worse in Academies.
So just who is raking in the money? You might want to take a look at Academy Trusts’ CEOs. And while you’re at it, have a look at the misappropriations and frauds that have already happened in Academies. (A reminder – that’s your tax money they are taking. Money that is meant to be used to educate students.)
And where are savings being made, to pay these CEOs? Excellent question.
Are Academy CEOs such brilliant businessfolk that they are able to use money so much more wisely than LEAs and school principals ever did? Is running a thriving carpet empire or a successful mobile phone business what it takes to make an education system great?
No, not so much.
UK Schools Minister Nick Gibb recently said, in a speech championing Academies, that “[n]o child should have to spend one day more than necessary in an underperforming school and as an urgent matter of social justice we are determined to spread educational excellence to every corner of the country.”
But does the rhetoric match the reality?
So what is really going on?
Let’s take this Academy school as an example.
Hatfield Academy primary school was, in 2015, rated inadequate at many levels. The OFSTED report specifically said that teaching was inadequate and stated that the school must “[u]rgently improve the quality of teaching”.
And yet this failing Academy is happily advertising for someone with no training at all to teach its students:
No knowledge of pedagogies. No research of good practice. No understanding of child development or psychology.
To put this further into context, this is a school where a school survey of parents showed that:
This is global education reform.