Since 1988 the government has been ‘reforming’ education: to make provision and attainment nationally uniform and transparent equally for the government, schools, employers, parents, teachers and, yes, pupils. Since 1997 the government has ‘managerialised’ education: it has dismantled the semi-autonomous remit of the teacher to practise h/er vocation, it has redefined ‘professionalism’ away from vocation and value and into process and productivity in the name of ‘accountability’, and it has quantified this process and productivity and called it ‘professional development’ (soon to be ‘licensed’). This has left teachers estranged from, and distrustful of, the very dynamic that makes teaching happen: the skilful, adaptive, speculative, compensatory, dancing, alternative, bargaining, creative, tentative, controlling, releasing, playing, explorative, human dialectic of communication between teacher and pupil.
How is this ‘reform’, this ‘professionalism’, experienced?* The National Curriculum has been defined – and is periodically juggled with – into core/foundation/statutory subjects, clearly and simply, so that they could be listed in a pamphlet. Very quickly these subjects became disseminated out into national/local/exam-board subject syllabi – what needed to be ‘covered’ in each subject, especially when the need to level/grade the content became compulsory as well as statutory (‘so amusing how the syllabi, at this point, became known as ‘specifications’ rather than syllabi). When the syllabi arrived in schools they had to be managed into a fit state to enter the classroom, so they had to be disseminated again (perhaps, better, ‘dissected’), (or even ‘disembowelled’). Each syllabus topic to be broken down into differentiated tasks, mapped cross-curricular-ly, and All/Most/Some’d. The fragmentation going on from the simple National Curriculum to the classroom has been almost exponential. What was simple at the essential level (government) became overwhelmingly complicated at the practical level (classroom) – it was pamphlet-able at the government level, it became incommunicable, unlearnable, at the classroom level.
* We were having a nice game of football one day. As with all games there were hard bits, exhausting bits, unfair bits, but we were holding a 1-1 draw. Then – while we were playing – there were new rules to the game introduced. The goalposts were left where they were, actually, but we now had to move the ball around the field …on a trolley! We all had to have trolleys ready for when we had possession of the ball. The trolleys were fitted with directional wheels to aid mobility around the field, baskets to hold the ball, racks to hold the football boots that we’d need when we had to pass the ball, shoot or defend a negotiated tackle. We were told, ‘We have given you all this equipment. In return we want a fast, exciting, entertaining game.’ So we pushed these trolleys around the field. The wheels mostly got stuck. The ball usually fell out of the basket. No one scored any goals.
The pupil thereby received curricula which were overwhelmingly broad and complicated. They received them in restricted amounts of time (in an ever-squeezed timetable with up to fourteen different subjects including drives on technology, IT, Citizenship alongside the drives within the Big Three subjects) which, even for the most able, required them to develop guerrilla tactics to learn – in, learn-something, get out, next. The pupil has lost the sense of studying (exploring, wondering … mastering) a subject, it now just receives – it consumes. The pupil has become passive, incapable of developing h/er skills of independent study – not enough time for it (or rather, not enough perspective to develop any motive other than ‘getting’ it). The pupils have become overwhelmed, even, with the simple ‘getting’ of education: overwhelmed by content, they have no perspective, or will, to link their knowledge together (to ‘stand under’ their studies to see how they all fit together), and they will become satisfied with a factual-based appreciation of their subjects at best (making A-level teachers scratch their heads at times wondering why on earth some pupils chose their subject). At worst they will ‘can’t be bothered’ with it all because there is more to be gained in self-esteem by publically rejecting it all rather than the impossibility of trying to master it.
For the teacher: s/he might have been able to rationalise and deliver the disseminated monster that education has become, but it was decided that teachers are fundamentally a-qualified to do the job (certainly, any profession which strikes over pay in the early 80’s needs to be sorted out)! The nobility of the teacher has therefore been systematically (and publically) dismantled. Professionalism has been re-defined by questioning the received image of teacher as authority-by-role (both in discipline and knowledge), and even questioning the ‘semi-autonomous professional’, by infiltrating the hallowed ground of the classroom to ensure … measurability of what they do. ‘Measurability’ of what the teacher does is now quantitative: by input (the production of the paperwork for the lesson which proves that it was planned, what can be seen to be ‘in’ the lesson to be ticked off), and output (professional development is now linked to a performance which is measured statistically – there is so much that needs to be ‘reduced’ and screened out of consideration to make a statistic measurable – even pay is now linked to that same extracted performance). Teachers are no longer respected but are now accountable (as well as ‘accounted’) to their Head of Department, their Head of Year, their Senior Management team, their School Governors, parents, the government, the public… The overwhelming proportion of a teacher’s energy has now to be focussed on making sure that they are justified to all parties, before they can start to communicate. Teachers are now taxed by needing to manage their curricula fit for process and attainment (managing ‘within’) in response to a pervasive management from ‘outside’. The management of courses has become more important than their delivery. It is difficult for these courses to be coherent or stepped; it is easy for them to be overwhelming for both teachers to deliver and pupils to receive. In the past some teachers were inspirational because they could provide the portal to the world of their subject by skill of communication – they knew, through their teaching, what the seed of the subject was that drew a child’s eye. Now most teachers have a ‘seed catalogue’ and no ‘field’ in which to sow. Teachers have been ‘accountability’d’ and ‘consistency’d’ out of their skill of communication – out of the skill of drawing the child’s eye – by having to focus on the (measurable) process of teaching rather than the communication of teaching. Communication has become a rather indulgent distraction in the face of ‘hard’ realities like (selective) statistical results, finance, the school’s PR with parents. Teachers are left actively paralysed in having to meet impossibly (impractically, needlessly) wide and widening curriculum and (summative) performance indicators.^
The centipede was happy quite
Until the toad, in fun
Said, ‘pray, which leg moves after which?’
This raised her doubts to such a pitch
She fell distracted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.
– Marion Quinlan Davis
So how is Assessment for Learning a solution to the atrophying of teacher professionalism? So many curricular and cross-curricular teaching schemes have been floated during the last twenty years that have shown that attainment (no matter how you measure it) is not affected. It was necessary to look at the learning in education as much as the teaching. It has emerged that Assessment for Learning is the mechanism which links the teaching (delivered) to the learning (received) and still enable the measurability so desperately needed (needed, needed) when education has become the political potato that it has. How does it connect teaching with learning? It provides a template through which topics can be taught and learnt using the same language. Topics are delivered broken down into levels 3-8 or grades E-A* and pupils apprehend them at whatever level/grade they can develop. Both teachers and pupils understand the language of levels 3-8 or grades E-A*. The skill of the teacher is in providing the ‘field’ of endeavour, the work of the pupil is to cultivate 3-8/E-A* as far as they can. This co-working, through a commonly understood language and purpose, is called a dialectic; the working of this dialectic is called … teaching and learning. Assessment for Learning enables that dialectic so that the power to teach and learn can be returned back to their rightful owners. When Assessment for Learning happens the whole of the edifice which has become education becomes workable rather than impossible – education becomes what it always should have been, an enlightenment.
communication & performance management & professionalism & teaching craft wormhole: I don’t think I could do it anymore
learning wormhole: across the room / through the patio doors / through the conservatory windows / at the bottom of the garden / the still bifurcated trunk of / the oak / before the let-grown hair and fringes / of the fir tree / blown every lifetime in a while by the winter sun // actually
management wormhole: Teaching career: much like Monet’s ‘Impression: soleil levant’
politics wormhole: The Future of Teaching: performance or capability (‘oh, not ‘teaching’ then?’)