Showing (a) Little Respect for Teachers

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It’s been a while since I wrote about the UK Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. I seemed to be getting a little fixated upon him a while back, but he does have a knack of making controversial statements, whilst facing both ways, so he takes some getting to know.

He’s been at it again this morning. On the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, he warned teachers planning to take part in industrial action on June 30th that ‘they risk losing respect for their profession’. By telling teachers not to go on strike he was ‘treating them as professionals’. Er, just run that one by me again Michael. This is the profession that he respects so much that he apparently thinks that parents going into schools on Thursday could enable schools to stay open – though without being specific on what parents might actually do. He stopped short of suggesting they could teach, preferring to see them ‘going in to help, certainly’.

Mr Gove further demonstrated his respect for teachers by announcing that, in future, students applying to become teachers who fail maths 3 times will not be allowed to become teachers (hitherto they’ve been allowed unlimited attempts). At least he’s being consistent here, because he’s also doing away with ‘modular’ examinations for students – which allow coursework to be submitted – in future. His reasoning for this is that it allows children repeated attempts to pass, and that this doesn’t reflect real life.

Excuse me? In real life, we’re allowed repeat attempts all the time. How many cars would there be on the road if you were only allowed one attempt at a driving test? Or even, like the teacher’s maths exams, three? I know of one prominent politician who hadĀ seven attempts before he was judged fit to drive a car. His name? Michael Gove. Come on, Michael, hands those keys back…….

And, in ‘real life’, we submit coursework all the time in our working lives – they’re called projects. So, preparing students for the world beyond school (and he defended his decision by saying that’s exactly what countries who are outperfoming the UK excel at doing) should surely emphasise the importance of project-based learning. By chance, yesterday, I saw some terrific project-based learning, at a school – Cramlington Learning Village – that is regularly judged ‘outstanding’ by our schools inspections agency. In developing more project-based learning, Cramlington have been supported by one of Mr Gove’s much-admired US charter schools, High Tech High, in San Diego. High Tech High’s approach (which results in 90% of their students attending university) challenges students to produce professional standard work, through critique/feed-back, multiple drafts and re-drafts, and very high expectations.

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Cramlington students were yesterday presenting their learning to hundreds of parents. They talked articulately about the need to refine their work through critique, so that they could feel proud of their work, and that it would gain the respect (that word again) of the visiting experts who were working with them. I wish Mr Gove could have heard them talk about their commitment to work long hours, correcting their mistakes, and being challenged by their teachers to do another draft. Here’s just one example: a group of students created a series of cycle excursions around their region, took high quality photographs along the routes, and built a website, ‘Suscram‘, which is already being used by keen cyclists. These Year 9 students did all this in 5 days, working to tight deadlines, justĀ like in real life. Check out the project director’s blog, for details of how they did it. Darren Mead‘s postings show a real hunger to innovate, share, and innovate again – relentless, and passionate, professional enquiry.

The student presentations followed Cramlington’s perennially sold-out ‘Festival of Learning’ where their staff share all of the successful (and some of the not-so-successful) innovations, with teachers from all over country. One might expect delegates to exhibit a little professional cynicism when faced with a barrage of impressive presentations. Not a bit of it – the feeling in the workshops echoed the period ‘bell’ they use at Cramlington (Aretha Franklin singing ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T).

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And if all that wasn’t enough, the Festival was preceeded by a TeachMeet event last Thursday. If you haven’t come across these self-organised professional development ‘sharings’ (explain what you’ve done that works, in either 2 or 7 minutes) you really should – they’re a profound sign of the dedication of a profession that is no longer looking for answers from above, but finding its own solutions, from within. I felt honoured to be asked to present at both the TeachMeet event and the Festival of Learning.

So, Mr Gove, if you’re encouraging the public to show teachers a little less respect for going on strike this week (and I suspect you are), then it’s not going to work on me.

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