Subject teachers are paying the price for the top-down management model that persists in schools, says Yvonne Williams.
In the past few weeks, the main education story has been about desperate attempts to buy curriculum intent statements from consultants or off the internet, as schools face a new Ofsted framework that will be more demanding than a mere focus on results.
That we should have reached such a low point speaks of a disturbing lack of confidence within schools, and among their leaders and teachers.
Background: Schools buying ‘very poor’ online advice for Ofsted
Ofsted: ‘Curriculum is important, but it isn’t everything’
Opinion: ‘There are dangers lurking in the new Ofsted framework’
Surely, it’s time to review the way in which “expertise” is fed into the system. It is shortsighted to rely on so-called experts or consultants, or to restrict any opportunities for pedagogical and professional development to people in the upper echelons of multi-academy trusts. Subject teachers – the hard-working pack-horses of the profession – are paying the price for the top-down management model that has persisted for so long.
But how can the individual expertise of the classroom teacher be liberated and developed?
Interest in the curriculum
All too often, it’s assumed that managerial training is the way forward – certainly, it’s the kind most commonly funded. But we need to show more interest in the curriculum.
Within university education departments, there reside a number of highly influential researchers. But as the surprising results of a Year 6 experiment with Carol Dweck’s growth mindset only this week show, even her input has limited application. Good research takes place within classrooms and is replicable elsewhere, in as many contexts as possible.
But it needs self-confident professionals to evaluate the findings and decide how to make them work in their own classrooms – and professional discernment to distinguish the genuine way forward from the false dawn. The rise and demise of gimmicks such as learning styles and brain gym show how easily teachers flock round plausible initiatives, only to find them later debunked.
Expertise cannot reside solely with influential individuals, nor should it be left to chance. Cultural change is long overdue. If the current poor retention figures are anything to go by, young teachers have had enough of being the drudges, confined by workload and lacking opportunities for advancement. We need schools to stop being hierarchical businesses and go back to being learning organisations.
So what can be offered?
Open to experience
Ideally, every classroom teacher would be allocated a sum of money each year to put towards a developmental activity of their own choice. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, more enlightened companies did just that. Unfortunately, there is not enough money today.
Instead, schools and academy trusts should be much more open to the wide variety of experiences that teachers bring to their organisations, and more alert to the opportunities that these contribute to the school’s overall expertise. We have to shift from the narrowed vision of managerial hierarchies, which rely too heavily on ideas from the top, towards more collegiate structures, which contain expertise at every level. This is necessary if we are to keep education relevant, professionalise teachers and (one for the politicians) remain competitive in a global economy.
Yvonne Williams is a head of English and Drama in a school in the South of England