'Don't let power get sucked to the centre'

3rd May 2013 at 01:00
Leading thinker calls on Scotland to guard against loss of schools' autonomy

Teachers in Scotland need to be "on their guard" to stop the Scottish government taking power away from schools, a leading educationalist has warned.

Professor Tim Brighouse, former schools commissioner for London, told a conference last week that "everybody in the room" needed to be careful about the Scottish government's attempts to "suck power to the centre".

He warned that, historically, England's education secretary had only very limited powers but that the current incumbent, Michael Gove, had expanded them rapidly because of a "distrust of teachers".

"I can't understand why in Scotland you can't pave the way and, like in universities, have exams that are sat in schools and moderated outside," he told an audience at the Tapestry Partnership, which brings together leading thinkers on education.

"Why don't we have, every couple of years, a moderating study to reassure ourselves that we are holding standards up?"

Professor Brighouse also stressed that continuing professional development should not be limited to formal courses, which should not make up more than 10 per cent of continuing training, he said.

In a good school, teachers would talk about teaching, observe each other, plan, organise and evaluate together and teach each other, he said.

Professor Brighouse also said that teachers should try to visit other schools on in-service days and that teachers needed "unwarranted optimism", an ability to view "chaos as the norm and complexity as fun", "intellectual curiosity", and an "absence of paranoia and self-pity".

Professor Guy Claxton, from the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester, who was also speaking at the event, told teachers they should aspire to educating "21st-century explorers" who were enterprising and confident, rather than "19th-century clerks".

"What kind of mental apprenticeship are we constructing for children," he asked. "Is the kind of mind training we are involving children in the best kind to get the best test score, but also is it the best kind to prepare them to be able to thrive and flourish in the 21st century?" he said.

Professor Claxton called for an "expansive education" that would not just push more children through Highers or A levels. The goal was to add some "additional valued outcomes to children's education". "It's not so they do better in tests, but so they do better in life," he added.

Schools should be seen as "mind gyms", where the brain would be treated like a muscle, he said. Subjects were then akin to exercise machines, and each lesson was a mental workout that was part of a "broad and appropriate fitness regime" - the curriculum. This would encourage students of all abilities to push themselves and view challenges as opportunities to improve.

julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk.

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