It is time that the teaching profession stopped looking up to the government and Ofsted to be told what to do and started looking out to the mass of evidence and excellent practice that is readily accessible to any teacher with an inquiring mind.
The rot set in in 1988, with the publication of a very detailed national curriculum, accompanied by 10 thick ring binders, one for each subject. For secondary teachers, that meant a close study of one, or at most two, binders; for primary teachers, it meant an impossible task of mastering all 10 subjects. They tackled it heroically, but unfortunately they hardly had time to look beyond the government instructions as one change followed another. The national strategies – valuable as they were in many ways – built further templates that teachers had to follow, from the rigidity of the three-part lesson to the minute detail of phonics teaching and grammar. Meanwhile, secondary teachers have faced an avalanche of examination and curriculum change.
After being deprofessionalised by the imposition of this wealth of detailed instruction for the past 28 years, it is hardly surprising that the teaching profession continues to look nervously upwards to see what they are being told to do. The situation has been made worse by the way in which Ofsted inspections have operated, making teachers feel constrained to teach in a certain way.
Alongside this exercise of centralised government prescription, a quiet revolution has been taking place, with a mass of evidence becoming readily available on what is working well in classrooms across the world. TES Resources has 7 million teachers worldwide sharing hundreds of thousands of lesson plans every day; John Hattie’s Visible Learning comes with the huge authority of its worldwide evidence base of what works; teacher blogs have lots of high quality free material; the Education Endowment Foundation toolkit contains detailed information about the effectiveness of over 30 strategies for raising attainment, particularly of disadvantaged and pupil-premium pupils.
And yet… the National Audit Office report on the pupil premium stated that only 64 per cent of schools had accessed the EEF toolkit by 2015. Admittedly, this is up from the 36 per cent that had used the EEF toolkit by 2012, but it still leaves over a third of schools that are not using the most relevant, easy-to-use evidence on how best to spend their pupil premium.
So my challenge to schools is to ask:
- How outward-looking is your staffroom?
- Do all of your staff use local, national or even international evidence of what is working well elsewhere?
- How many other schools have your staff visited to look at excellent practice in action elsewhere?
Teachers wouldn’t visit a doctor who didn’t keep up to date with the latest research through The Lancet and the British Medical Journal. We shouldn’t expect doctors – or anyone else – to send their children to schools that aren’t alert to the best practice in education and to the latest evidence from this country and abroad.
So, let’s stop looking up to the government and Ofsted to be told what to do, and start looking out to excellent practice and evidence. Then we can put into reverse the demotivating deprofessionalisation from which we have suffered for too long.
John Dunford is chair of Whole Education, a former secondary head, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and national pupil premium champion