Education policy matters and, as the electoral dust settles, our new government will have some vital issues to address, particularly regarding school funding and the training of more teachers. Policy, however, has its limitations and there are currently a number of things that need to be done in our schools that a government can not or will not do. It is here that teachers have a vital role to play and, if we are not to miss out on some of the benefits of the reforms that have taken place in recent years, then these are the things that need to be done.
(1) Textbook writing
It does now seem to be more widely (if not universally) accepted that textbooks matter. It is also clear that textbooks in the past have tended to be of a poor quality (with some notable exceptions). My sense is that most textbooks are (a) pitched one Key Stage too low and (b) little more than revision guides for GCSE and A-Level. Teachers, teaming up with academic subject specialists, are the best people to write textbooks: ideally, this can be done through a mainstream publisher, but if you cannot get a publisher then why not just write one and put it out as an eBook that schools can print themselves? Currently we need more aspirational textbook writing showing what a textbook can be like, rather than more conservative publishing that continues with the status quo.
(2) Shared curricula models
A great deal has been written in blogs in the last year about the importance of curricula. I think it is a shame that the National Curriculum is not compulsory in all schools, though given the compromises that have to be made in putting together a National Curriculum it is I suppose helpful that schools can produce a more challenging curriculum if they so wish. This is what I would like to see networks of schools now doing, whether these be academy chains or other networks. A network of schools (say 5-10 schools) could easily collaborate on producing a curriculum for a subject, including all of the resources (and a textbook – see above) that could then be use by other schools (preferably for free) should they wish. The benefits in terms of curriculum coherence, shared standards and reduction in teacher planning load would be considerable. For an idea of how quickly something can be achieve, take a look at James Theobald’s recent call for ‘knowledge organisers‘.
(3) Shared common assessments and exemplar work
I shall say little here other than to point you towards Daisy Christodoulou’s recent blogs on assessment. In short, if schools are using a common curriculum model then it follows logically that schools can also share assessments and exemplar work.
(4) An ITE curriculum
We do not need another set of standards in teaching: we really don’t. What we need is a clear account of what we expect trainees to learn during their training. For too long the only common thread weaving its way through ITE has been a set of generic standards that are so broad that they are almost meaningless, and they provide very little guidance to ITE providers as to what ought to be taught. Government policy will determine how we fund trainees and who gets to provide that training: the Government will not, however, provide us with a curriculum for ITE. This is something that we need to do.
When I was in primary school, I used to love creating ‘clubs’ and ‘societies’. I liked making membership badges, giving people roles and making posters. These clubs invariably did very little and within a few weeks I was on to my next one. This will, no doubt, be a controversial statement, but I wonder whether at the present we are in a similar place in teaching: are we spending too long obsessing over the creation of professional organisations and not enough time producing the things that actually matter (such as textbooks)? It is probably more useful for a teacher to write a textbook or an ITE curriculum than it is to become the trustee of an organisation that might one day encourage teachers to write textbooks or ITE curricula.
We have work to do.