'The future of teaching needs to be shaped by teachers'

For too long we have been marching to Ofsted's drumbeat – but it's the teachers who are the experts, says Alison Peacock
18th November 2020, 1:24pm


'The future of teaching needs to be shaped by teachers'

Coronavirus & Education: Trusting Teachers Is The Best Way To Improve Schools - Not Ofsted Reports, Says Dame Alison Peacock

This year marks the 150th anniversary of state education. This should be a cause for celebration and reflection, but instead we find the profession grappling with some of its biggest ever challenges. 

The tentacles of the coronavirus pandemic have reached into every area of society, not least of all teaching. We have faced these challenges head-on, adapting to ensure that children and young people continue to receive the best possible education in hugely difficult circumstances. 

Our teachers and school leaders have shown true leadership. As the pandemic has progressed, it has become clear that the usual apparatus of school accountability is not fit for purpose. There must be change, and it must be the role of our teachers to drive this change. 

We all want to build a school system of high excellence, in which teachers and pupils flourish. However, for too long we have been marching to the drumbeat of high-stakes accountability pushed by Ofsted and league tables. 

Coronavirus has shown that teachers are the experts

With the year-on-year improvement of our schools, this has become too ideological, too heavy-handed. This has been the thinking of the NAHT school-improvement commission, which I am pleased to have been part of, and which published its Improving Schools report today

The best way to continue to improve standards is continuing to strengthen the knowledge, collaboration and expertise of our teachers, in recognition that the best local decisions will be made by those who know their pupils and understand their school community. 

Our teachers are experts. They know their pupils, their schools and their communities. It is of the highest importance that they are trusted and listened to. 

This seems like such an obvious and uncontroversial statement to make, but it clearly needs to be repeated. Throughout this pandemic we have been hearing: "Trust the experts. Our teachers are the experts. Trust them." 

For far too long now, our schools have been driven by the priorities published and examined by the inspectorate. While there has been valuable consideration of areas such as curriculum coherence, the world has moved on in a manner that could never have been predicted when the latest inspection framework was introduced.

Building a system that benefits teachers

It makes no sense to continue judging schools one against another, at a time when regions and individual schools have been impacted by circumstances way beyond the control of their leaders. 

The continued pretence that we can judge schools in January 2021 the same way we might have prior to the pandemic is fooling no one. And it is putting unnecessary stress on our teachers, who are already carrying a great deal of anxiety

We want to get to a point where our teachers can say: "I know this works. I know what I am doing is right." To get there, we need to give our teachers and leaders the tools to develop, to confidently hone their skills of pedagogy, curriculum design and assessment. 

This is not the time to be searching for quick fixes. This is about having the confidence to know what works, going beyond intuition, through exploration of evidence-informed approaches, and building a solid foundation for improvement over time. That is why we launched our chartered status, to enable schools to drive excellence based on the knowledge and confidence of what works for their setting, and to celebrate this expertise. 

We know that this is not easy. It is a collegiate rather than a competitive approach. The Improving Schools report sets out the steps needed to foster a system that  strives for excellence led by the profession. 

We have an opportunity now to build something that benefits teachers, their students and wider society. It sounds obvious, but the future of teaching needs to be shaped by confident, informed teachers as part of a rapidly changing expert profession. 

We can do this. We have shown our leadership, our commitment to standards, our passion to do the best possible for every pupil. Let's move forward without fear of judgement, in celebration of what can be achieved when we work in partnership as a collective endeavour. 

Dame Alison Peacock is chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching

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