Are you a pro or an amateur?

8th April 2005 at 01:00
Kate Myers reckons the argument that teaching is not treated as a profession is worth consideration

The Professionals: better teachers, better schools. By Phil Revell. Trentham Books pound;15.99

Phil Revell was once a teacher; he is now a journalist, and he writes as one. This is not meant to be pejorative; it means that his style is accessible and the book is easy to read. He writes with passion and from experience.

On rare occasions he lets his passion get the better of the facts, as in:

"Today's teenagers routinely carry knives on to school premises."

Fortunately, in the challenging schools I work with, this happens rarely and certainly not routinely.

Revell believes that many of the problems with the current education scene have developed because teachers are not treated as professionals, in the way that barristers, doctors and accountants are. By this he means that teachers do not act in the manner of a professional body and have not had the ability to deploy plausible and coherent resistance to many of the "reforms" pushed on them. Consequently, their views have been easy to ignore. He thinks this is largely due to their training. He would like the one-year initial training to be mainly practical and school-based. This training would lead to qualified teacher status.

However, Revell is not a disciple of the "anti-theory" school. In fact, he is convinced that knowledge and understanding of theory are essential aspects of what constitutes being a professional. He wants QTS to be treated as the first rung on the ladder; only the start of teachers'

professional training. The qualification would allow people to teach, but not to lead other teachers. In order to do this, teachers would undergo an extended period of induction lasting up to three years, during which time they would study for a modular masters degree with a focus on school-based research and educational theory.

With this masters, teachers would acquire Professional Teacher Status (PTS) and, if they could also demonstrate good classroom performance, move through the pay threshold. They could not get through the threshold without the PTS masters. Those who did not achieve PTS status would be treated as assistant teachers, not eligible for promoted posts. PTS would be phase-specific, and would expire three years after leaving school teaching: inspectors, advisers and consultants would have to teach for at least 40 days a year.

This interesting model is presented at the end of the book, and Revell gets us there by a rather meandering route. His thesis is based on what he thinks is wrong with the education system today. We are taken back to Jim Callaghan's seminal 1976 Ruskin College speech. T`he first time a politician had presumed to comment on what was taught in schools, this speech launched the debate on the core curriculum and was the platform for many of the reforms that followed.

We learn about the experiences of more than 40 students as they proceed by various school-based or college-based routes through initial teacher training. Their perspectives are important; all schools who host students would do well to read what it's like to be a student teacher in a school where there is no guidance on procedures, little structured support and certainly no welcome mat. Most of Revell's cohort were not impressed with their training and felt it did not adequately equip them to teach. A common complaint was that the courses did not help enough with classroom management and discipline.

Revell compares the student teachers' training with that of entrants to some other professions, such as medicine and law. He then takes us through a critical review of the introduction of the national curriculum, testing, specialist and fresh-start schools, with a sideswipe at inclusion. His thesis throughout is that if teachers acted and were seen as a profession they would have resisted these changes.

I have much sympathy with most of his criticisms and think his model for training deserves serious consideration. However, I am not convinced that being more of a profession would have resulted in Conservative or New Labour governments faltering in their missions that from Margaret Thatcher's reign onwards have been to reduce the power of the professions, including some that Revell cites as examples for teaching to emulate.

Some of his arguments have not been fully thought out. For example, he notes that many schools are not appropriate places for training our new recruits, and suggests that training only takes place in clusters of the best schools, which will become "learning institutes", centres of excellence for professional development. Won't this create another two-tier system of the kind that he seems so much against? And how will the learning institutes equip teachers to teach in more challenging schools?

But perhaps Phil Revell's role in this book is not to present a complete blueprint, but to get us thinking about whether teaching is a profession, whether we want it to be a profession, and if we do, how to ensure that it acts as one and is perceived as one. He certainly succeeds in this role.

Kate Myers is senior associate, Leadership for Learning, Cambridge University

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