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Teacher Training: Professionals or Parrots?

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The Guardian today published an article about teacher training by former teacher, Phil Revell. It makes interesting reading. The rest of the article can be found here:


In 20 years there have been four major reforms of the school system: two versions of the national curriculum, one set of A-level reforms and now the 14-19 white paper. Each time, teachers were either not consulted, or saw their views watered down.

Are other professions treated like this? Can the government ride roughshod over their views? The simple answer is no. Reforms in health and law have focused on structure and funding. Doctors retain much of the professional power they acquired in 1858, when the medical registration act granted them a monopoly in the practice of medicine. There's no comparable statute for teaching.

How did teachers find themselves in such a weak position? Looking for the answer to that question has taken me two years. I've followed more than 40 would-be teachers through their initial teacher training and spoken to parents, headteachers, academics and politicians.

I've discovered some uncomfortable truths. Teachers are inadequately trained for the job they do. And they lack a professional career structure. It is the combination of these two problems that allows politicians to set the education agenda.

Most new teachers enter the profession via the one-year route, completing a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE), or training on the job through the popular graduate teacher programme. But it takes seven years to become a doctor, six to become a solicitor, seven to qualify as an architect. Nursing and social work are both direct entry from university, but the degree is vocational, equating to three years' professional training. To qualify as a chartered civil engineer, candidates must have an engineering degree, complete an initial period of professional development, then pass a professional review interview.

On the PGCE route into teaching, students spend 24 weeks in a school, on what is effectively a two-and-a-half term course. Induction for newly qualified teachers theoretically adds a year to this process, but in practice teachers simply have to satisfy their headteacher that they can survive in a class room. The fact is that teaching has a shorter qualification route than any other profession.

The training is overwhelmingly practical, concentrating on curriculum delivery and the ability to cope with a class. But much of the time is spent on observation and team teaching. Some students in my research group were four months into their course before they taught a solo lesson.

"This seems crazy," said one. "I'm close to qualifying and I've hardly taught on my own at all."

There are wide variations in the quality of that initial school experience. A quarter of my sample group were offered no tour of the school, no induction process, no introduction to the school and its procedures. One science trainee was not allowed to use the school car park and found senior management "particularly unwelcoming". She was expected to cover for absent teachers after just two days of training.

Most of my group faced behaviour problems; two were assaulted. About 10% were threatened and one in six were sworn at. Nearly 70% had pupils who refused to do as they were told.

As Ofsted reported last week, poor behaviour is a big problem. In a school where I used to teach, three 15-year-olds recently settled a grudge by running into a lesson and laying into a boy with baseball bats and hockey sticks.

Any reasonable observer would expect behaviour management to be a high priority in teacher training. But they'd be wrong. The majority of those I spoke to, representing 43 different training providers, said behaviour management had been barely covered.

"Sometimes it's merely crowd control," said one. "It's hard work trying to focus on the children who want to learn when the children who want to disrupt things are so good at it."

"College sessions regarding this have been little use," said another.

Even those who were supportive of their training institutions in other contexts were critical on the issue of behaviour. "The course of study seems remote from the realities of the classroom," said one mature student.

Lecturers apparently suggested that schools were the best places to learn about classroom discipline. But the assumption that dealing with bad behaviour is best modelled to students by their teaching mentors assumes that schools are on top of the problem. Is that the case? Are training schools like training hospitals, chosen for their outstanding practice? Apparently not. I asked students to comment on the effectiveness of the behaviour management in their placement schools.

Most were good or very good. But one in five were only adequate, and 12% were poor or very poor.

There's evidence that students do pick up the skills they need in the classroom: from mentors, from each other, and from brutal trial and error. But this haphazard process surely can't be the best way to prepare graduates for what many of them see as the biggest challenge in teaching.

"I would like to see some of the people who lecture us [on these issues] actually teach a lesson," said one.

Behaviour management was not the only area where the teacher training process was weak. The government's inclusion agenda means that a typical class will contain children with some challenging special educational needs. There may be children in wheelchairs, others with conditions like autism. Some will have sight or hearing loss.

But students said these children were often missing from their lessons. When a student takes over a class, many teachers use the opportunity to remove a few children for small group tuition. This is common practice and is completely rational - at least from the regular teacher's point of view. The student teacher will have an "easier" group and children will get much-needed individual attention. For similar reasons, learning support staff are often deployed elsewhere. But both these practices deprive the student teacher of vital experience.

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Above is link to the new Inquiry into Teacher Education which has just been announced by our federal govt. It's about the 4th in the last decade and won't produce anything greatly different from the previous ones, because they won't put any extra resources in, they'll just blame the unis, the states and the teachers.

The age profile of our teachers, including many women having to stay till they're 65, means that older teachers are loathe to take student teachers as they see them as just another burden adding to their stress, and one for which the payment is token and not worth the effort. This is a great shame, but unfortunately true. We cannot find enough places for our student teachers at the moment, yet the unis are training more and more to get bums on seats. The result is that we do not have a shortage of teachers, but the quality of some graduates is questionable.

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