Sustaining ‘the best generation of teachers”
Chris Waterman de-constructs Michael Gove’s approach to teachers
Michael Gove’s attitude to teachers is multifaceted, to say the least. On the one hand we constantly hear that we have the best generation we have ever had: no speech to a conference is complete without naming and acclaiming outstanding teachers, who normally are in the audience. On the other hand, he bangs on about getting rid of the worst teachers and continually attacks the teacher unions, who seem to be entirely made up of “enemies of promise.”
The cleverest juxtaposition of these two extremes was on the day that the NUT and NAS/UWT announced their plans for industrial action. Later on the same day the Secretary of State popped up at the Policy Exchange (the
think tank he founded). He began with “above my desk there’s a simple slogan: If you can read this thank a teacher….. we have the best generation of teachers ever.. including the best generation of young teachers.” He went on to say that “teachers are the critical guardians of the intellectual life of the nation…. It is teachers, not poets, who are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind.”
He then identified four attacks on teachers: I will concentrate on the first and the last. The first was that the profession is suffering reputational decline. This attack is laid fairly and squarely on the leadership of the two biggest teacher unions: you guessed it, the NUT and the NAS/UWT.
Mr Gove quoted evidence from Tennessee (yes, not Finland, nor Singapore, nor Shanghai) about the impact of good teachers on pupil outcomes. He then attacked Rousseau, the Hadow Report, the Plowden Report and the Bullock Report (which at least shows there is one person left in the DfE with a perspective that goes back more than three years) as “conspirators” against teachers. His paean to didactic instruction, his answer to ensuring learning, was capped by “the great Texan President Lyndon B Johnson, who he quoted as saying “you aren’t learning anything when you’re talking.” Perhaps Mr Gove should stop talking for a while.
The fourth attack on teachers he identified was “the belief that teachers need others to validate the work they do – whether those others are university academics, or inspectors, or examiners – who have never been teachers.” (There is no data on the percentage of each of these groups that have never been teachers, of course. Perhaps Premier Inns are still analyzing the survey results.)
In the final section of his speech, he returned to his trusting teachers theme, saying that the evidence shows that “the best teacher training is led by teachers”. He referred to the work of Doug Lemov in the United States, but there is little information about Mr Lemov’s research available. I did find this quote from an article in the New York Times in support of the author of Teach Like a Champion. “And while Lemov has faith in his taxonomy because he chose his champions based on their students’ test scores, this is far from scientific proof. The best evidence Lemov has now is anecdotal…”
Michael Gove outlined the steps he had taken to “put teachers and schools in charge of recruitment and training”. First, however, he claimed that “schools play a central role in all of the ITT providers judged to be
outstanding under Ofsted’s tough new regime”: a comment that is either deliberately misleading, incredibly disingenuous, or meaningless, or all three. Teachers and schools are pretty centrally involved in nearly all
ITT provision, as the outstanding providers are keen to demonstrate..
Key to his reforms is School Direct, which “gives aspiring teachers the opportunity to work in a great school from day one, just like student medics in hospitals – learning from more experienced colleagues and
immediately putting their new skills into practice.” School Direct, which grew ten-fold between September 2012 and September 2013, has not succeeded in recruiting more than about 60% of its target of 9,500
places and is getting very mixed reviews. Its exponential expansion has succeeded in de-stabilising postgraduate teacher training, with outstanding providers close to quitting ITT altogether. There is already evidence that the shortage of applicants to train as mathematics and physics has not been improved by School Direct: in September 2014 another 150,000 secondary pupils will almost certainly be taught by non-specialists. It is unlikely that graduates with a degree in history or PE, where there had been over-recruitment, will have skills so transferable that they will be able to plug the widening gaps for mathematicians and physicists. With applications for teacher training courses starting in September 2014 due to open within four weeks, the National College for Teaching and Leadership is still unable to say what bursaries are available and what they will be worth. This autumn we will probably see: the best teachers we have ever had going on strike; a decline in outstanding providers of ITT in higher education; confusion about routes into teaching; the list goes on…
Michael Gove seems bent on dismantling the infrastructure of teacher training in the way he has dismantled the role of the local authority in education. His expectation is that academy chains will take over the supply of school places. Some of them may also fancy taking over teacher training. Perhaps the master-plan is for one of them to take over the DfE, lock stock and smoking barrels. The Secretary of State and his coterie, including the odd ennobled venture capitalist, will have only to negotiate the contract – a seven-year deal might attract one or two bids.