Friday, 11 April 2008

'Being the best' for children means being an educated, and not a just a trained, teacher says Dennis Hayes

There is a new OfSTED consultation paper on improving inspection of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) which is an odd title as the TDA – the Training and Development Agency for Schools that funds what OfSTED inspects – only talks of Initial Teacher Training (ITT). Some university departments talk without hesitation about training teachers while others cling to the word ‘education’ in the titles of their programmes. One national body representing university departments of education calls itself the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers (UCET). Another body representing the unions and professional associations calls itself the Standing Committee for the Education and Training of Teachers (SCETT). So are today’s teachers educated or trained? Before anyone gives the easy answer that induction into a profession requires both education and training, let me make a clear distinction between the two.

Teacher Education can be easily distinguished from Teacher Training. Teacher education is built around the study of ‘educational theory’ or what the disciplines – psychology, philosophy, sociology, history – tell us about education. Educational theory in this sense is essential to pedagogical and professional understanding. Teacher Training – as devised and required by the TDA - constructs initial professional development around the achievement of competencies or standards and has often only fashionable and faddish notions such as ‘learning styles’ or ‘multiple intelligences’ as ‘theoretical’ content. Structuring any course around ‘objectives’, whether you call them ‘competencies’ or broad ‘standards’, transforms that course into training.

What teachers get today is this training and, as if to make the implications of this clear, the government has even removed ‘education’ from the titles of the government department dealing with schools for the first time since 1870.*

But what children deserve are teachers who are educated. New teachers’ obsession with practical matters and ‘getting the buggers to behave’ is the result of the philistinism of ‘teacher training’. What else is becoming a teacher about when nothing theoretical appears on the PGCE curriculum?

Many teacher trainers – let’s use the correct term - might believe that the government’s new proposals for a master’s level qualification for all teachers might signal a change of direction**. A master’s level qualification taken over a period of time might enable a generation of teachers to study theory and be educated as professionals. This was always the sanguine intention of those who wanted a longer period of initial professional development. What teachers will get is a Master’s degree in Teaching and Learning (MTL). Much of the detail, beyond the title of the award, is not worked out but it will not be a Master’s degree in education. It looks like an extended set of competencies is going to be required.

I am not collapsing, unlike some of my colleagues in university- and college- based teacher training, into the philosophical fantasy of nominalism – the idea that if we give something the name ‘education’ it will become a reality. The real task is not changing what things are called, but it is to bring back teacher education. That is why getting into an abstract debate about what practical ‘pedagogy’ teachers need to supplement theory avoids the main problem when attempting to 'be the best'. All teacher training is now entirely practical and it’s just not good enough for our children. The message to the children's secretary is to be the best, to be the ‘Education Secretary’, and put the education back in to preparation for teaching and into our schools.

*The Manifesto Club petition to the PM to put ‘education’ back in the titles of government departments takes up this issue. Read about it here, and sign it here.

**The DCSF document 'Being the best for our children: releasing talent for teaching and learning', was published in March 2008. Read it here.