Scottish Teacher Education Committee Conference, 20/4/11
Had an interesting day at the annual STEC conference. Highlight for me was the opening keynote, delivered by Tara Fenwick of the University of Stirling. Looking at the issue of teacher education with an “outsider’s” point of view – she’s Canadian, and had worked mostly in workplace research rather than teaching per se – she looked at the issue from the perspective of globalisation, with trends in the blurring of boundaries, conflicts over territory, authority and rights and mobility and migration which characterise the global flows that present us with new challenges. She posed various questions: why prepare teachers only for school when most will end up in some other form of education job at some point in their lives?; what do we do to counter the damaging stereotypes of teachers as, for example, hero-rescuers or healers which limit the ability to respond to a variety of contexts? ; how do we prepare true professionalism, which often works between the codified criteria of “professionalism” imposed by an accountability culture?; why on earth do we flog Kolb’s learning cycle to death?
She presented a far-sighted vision of what we can do that was really refreshing; I couldn’t help wondering, though, where, in our current bureaucracy, the leadership for such a vision was going to be found.
The rest of the day was fairly predictable. Graham Donaldson spoke to his recent report, a document in which a lot of sense is talked. However, he still persists in some of the old prejudices about the way teacher trainers do their job. For instance, he keeps saying that schools need a central role in the assessment of student teachers when they already have that role: students spend half of their time in schools, where they should be exposed to high quality formative feedback and clear assessment of strengths mapped on to the Standard for Initial Teacher Education (SITE) benchmarks, and where they should receive a detailed report that is at least as important as university tutors’ assessments. Whether or not they are doing it well enough is the real issue.
In addition, he parroted an insult I have heard from senior academics about university tutors “tootling” around the country to visit their students. Our own research into this clearly indicates that students value this visit more highly than any other feedback they get while on placement, and I suspect schools want us to visit more, not less. I’m all for finding ways of communicating better with students, but I haven’t seen an improvement on the present system yet, because most alternatives are driven not by pedagogical reasoning but by a cost-cutting university-driven agenda which has little sympathy for professional education courses or for what the paying students want.
The day finished up with some words of wisdom from a panel of the great and good, though there were worrying signs of the Newspeak flimflam so beloved of a cynical managerialist culture. For instance, I am all for the re-accreditation of teachers; everyone (including me) should be regularly assessed to ensure we haven’t become obstructive, lazy and ineffectual, and we do the greatest harm to education when we allow incompetent teachers to remain in the profession. However, even given that, it worries me when we are invited to view re-accreditation as a teacher’s “entitlement”. We are entitled to a pension scheme, to holidays, to sick pay; to say we are also “entitled” to have our competence assessed is simply disingenuous, especially when that assessment brings with it no “entitlement” to bonuses, promotion or other forms of professional recognition. Let’s call it for what it is; dressing it up as something it is so patently not will only create suspicion and resentment.
Similarly, the phrase “reinvigorating professionalism” seems to me to be a non-sequitur. Isn’t professionalism always vigorous? If the powers that be believe that teaching needs to be reinvigorated so regularly (McCrone, anyone?), can it really be called a profession at all?
So – good and not so to be taken from the day. Tara Fenwick, though, provided the freshest breath of air when she warned against being too “up ourselves” about the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF) in case it obstructed our engagement with the real world. And she’s a Professor of Education. Good for her.