Talking standards: David Cameron's seven rules for a healthy teaching culture

27th November 2015 at 12:27
picture of brighouse and cameron
Scottish educationalist David Cameron (pictured left) continues his debate with former schools commissioner for London Sir Tim Brighouse (right)

Dear Tim,

I promised that I would return to your last blog once I’d got my “big issues” off my chest.

I didn’t want to lose the practical points that you were making, which I thought were really helpful.

As you know, I have an obsession about job descriptions for teachers. It is something that we worked on in Stirling when I was there. It was instigated as part of a debate about workload, but it went far beyond that in bringing clarity. All that we did was to go through all the standards and statements that were already agreed and based our job description on them. We used the General Teaching Council for Scotland standard for full registration and statements on pastoral responsibilities which had been agreed with the teachers’ unions. Leadership responsibilities were built into these and there was no need to add.

I suspect that may be true in other parts of the UK.

The exercise had another benefit for schools in helping to define the roles of promoted staff. We found that roles were specified from the top down, which sometimes led to very narrow concepts of the teacher’s responsibilities. It was a recipe for paralysis in terms of senior staff and the root of far too many disputes.

You have taken this a step further with the idea of everyone having “lead” and “support” roles. I like that too. I talked about the headteacher, whose “default position was ‘yes’” when a teacher came forward with a suggestion, online. The implication was that they then asked what they could do to make the proposal a reality.

The first comment was one of gratitude that a head recognised that leadership was founded in support. I think we need to highlight the interdependency of schools for all sorts of reasons, but one is to counter the current highlighting, particularly in England, of the heroic leader. Sir Michael Wilshaw’s identification with Clint Eastwood is bizarre at best. At worst, it creates a model of leadership which will discourage aspiring heads and disempower their colleagues.

I also see the sense of the “handbook”, although there is a fine balance to be struck on this. There is a danger that once the “word’ is written, the discussion stops. The last thing we need is for cultures to ossify and schools to stagnate as a result. You make the point about attendance at “teach meets” and I agree with you, but why stop at that. Why would we not incorporate the teach meet model into the school?

I like the idea of learning lunches and the idea of an extended interval which are occasions for the exchange of ideas and examples of practice.

I keep quoting Debra Kidd’s wonderful phrase about “pedagogical activism being the butterfly wing of change” and it is approaches like this that make it a reality. Indeed, I suppose the common thread of so many of your suggestions is exactly that – maintaining a resolute focus on practice and relationships in a culture of openness and mutual respect.

Once again we are back at the culture of schools and I think that your suggestions have a real impact on that.

Those schools, where I have worked in or with, that have thrived and been able to recruit and retain staff have all had the sort of culture that you describe:

  1. A consistent focus on relationships and the business of learning.
  2. A determination to adapt – rather then to adopt – allied to a willingness to look outside and learn from the experience of others.
  3. A clear commitment to teamwork and clarity of roles rather than a dependence on hierarchy.
  4. A common sense of purpose which is recorded, but often revisited.
  5. Clear guidance and advice available to all staff so the supply teachers and new staff can quickly get a sense of the school and its expectations.
  6. An absolute commitment to staff wellbeing and imaginative approaches to honouring that.
  7. A respect for the profession of teaching and the roles of all colleagues in the school in contributing to that.

I suppose that there is a final element that is heavily implied in your comments, which is recognising that we work in schools to provide a service to young people and there communities and that we need to do that to the best of our abilities.

So you now have the choice. You can respond to either or both of my answers to your letter or take us off in another direction. I look forward to seeing which path you take.




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