By Tom Perry, Lecturer
School of Education, University of Birmingham
“Now is the time to rally behind and support the already-brilliant teachers we have and ensure all have the resources and support they need to nurture, educate and inspire. No one benefits from burnt out, vilified, and poorly-supported teachers in the cross-fire of political and social conflicts.”
There is a lot of talk at the moment about new eras. While our surreal, narrow world of Covid-19 restrictions drags on, the geopolitical, social and cultural tectonic plates are shifting under our feet. I don’t know what the post-Covid, post-Brexit, post-truth world will look like. I don’t know if and when the world will unite to solve the climate catastrophe and whether it will be too late when it does. And I am not sure what happens when AI gets better at driving cars, arguing court cases and marking university essays than humans are (although, if this year’s exam debacle is anything to go by, I don’t think we need to worry about the algorithms taking over just yet).
With all this epoch-making change about, now is the ideal time to talk about teacher education. Teachers and teaching are not peripheral concerns for the country at this time. They should lie right at the heart of our response.
Investing in our teachers and schools
A crisis leads us to reassert what matters. But our rally to defend our education system has not been as unified or wholehearted as that for the NHS. In fact, amidst some shows of support, the summer has seen widespread teacher shaming and vilification around grading, reopening and lock-down provision. There has been a collision between the political and media demands and the reality of schools. None of which is helped by chaotic, last-minute and confusing government guidance, nor the context of over a decade of dwindling funds, challenges around teacher retention and recruitment, and the wholesale fragmentation and re-organisation of the education system.
But schools build the future. And the challenges facing our society, our democracy, our economy, our ecosystems, are going to be with us and for generations to come. Schools also provide common cultural reference point for a society that has never looked so divided. Our teachers and our curriculum can build bridges: Let’s help all children understand their communities, other communities, their country and their world in all its beauty, opportunity, trauma and tragedy.
Most importantly, (and with a recent surge in numbers for teacher training programmes) now is the time to recruit, train and retain the greatest generation of teachers we have ever seen. Now is the time to rally behind and support the already-brilliant teachers we have and ensure all have the resources and support they need to nurture, educate and inspire. No one benefits from burnt out, vilified, and poorly-supported teachers in the cross-fire of political and social conflicts.
That’s my manifesto. So I’ll get off my soap box, and outline some practical concerns we must wrestle with to bring about a golden age of teaching and teacher education.
A more flexible approach to teaching
First, remote and blended approaches to teacher education represent an opportunity. In our recent rapid review of online and blended teacher education we have explored the advantages and limitations of remote and blended approaches, as well as the evidence of their efficacy. What we found was encouraging: in short, there are some navigable challenges, some advantages and it seems mostly to be about how well things are done rather than the particular mode of delivery. There are also opportunities as teachers innovate and hone their skills in teaching their students remotely; this matters as Covid disruption continues – but perhaps this is also an opportunity to strengthen home learning and home-school-community links.
Second, the Early Career Framework (ECF) may prove to be a good vehicle for supporting early career teachers (ECTs). There are a few bear traps to avoid however: first, I worry about an overly-standardised, decontextualised (i.e. generic), transmission model; providers and mentors will have to work hard with ECTs to contextualise the materials for the problems schools and teachers are facing and embed – rather than transplant – learning into their contexts. Second, the government model seems to be to award large contracts to powerful organisations and position these as ‘core’ in a centralised cascade model. ‘Roll-out’, ‘cascade’ and scaling are easier said than done; for me, there are questions about ensuring that all schools and ECT mentors have the capacity to ensure successful integration of the ECT in the professional learning community and processes in the school. Finally, I have questions about the lack of perspective diversity, balance and criticality in the ECF training resources. Efficient transfer of information into children’s long-term memory is one thing… I am not seeing much about values, character and community.
I do hope we navigate these challenges and many more besides. Now is the time to ‘think big’ about education and teacher education, and invest in and support our teachers, children and young people for what lies ahead.