Editorial: We mustn't let the loudest voices drown out the rest

17th October 2014 at 01:00

We now live in a world where the authentic voice of "real" people counts for a lot. Mothers broadcast maternal wisdom on Mumsnet, Ofsted solicits the opinions of actual parents on Parent View and students, well, students are forever sounding off.

When the University of Glasgow announced this week that it would stop investing in the fossil fuel industry after a student campaign, it transpired that the decision was made without any input from the university's engineering and geology professors, who you'd think might know a thing or two about the subject. But student voice drowned out the experts.

Students are surveyed routinely for their views on education; parents and the public, too. And what about teachers' voice? Teachers have long had various groups speaking on their behalf - headteachers, professional bodies and the unions. But their real voices were seldom heard.

Discussions on education, conferences, debates, you name it, have all taken place with little or no input from classroom teachers. Of course, that is often because they are held during the day when practitioners are teaching, which says a lot about the respect their voices are accorded. Teachers, despite being the ones who actually deliver the education, are assumed to have no opinions worth listening to.

But with the advent of the internet, blogging and social media, this is all changing. The voice of the ordinary classroom teacher is being amplified and given a platform of its own.

Thousands of teachers on Twitter, Facebook and other social media daily, even hourly make their views known, share the views of their peers and take to task those with whom they disagree. The silent profession has become a rather loud one, and one whose views are becoming increasingly hard to ignore.

This shift has not gone unnoticed by the powers that be. They have sniffed an opportunity to bypass the unions and speak directly to the teaching community. When Michael Cladingbowl, Ofsted's director of schools, invited a handful of teachers to a meeting in order to hear their views, he knew he would get strong opinions directly from the horse's mouth.

But more to the point, he also knew the outcome of this discussion would be shared via their well-read blogs and their more than 130,000 followers on Twitter.

So far, so democratic. But it would be a mistake to think that this shift in power will necessarily be more equitable or perfect than what went before. The teachers who met Ofsted, for instance, may be influential and have an army of followers but they are no more representative than the people they are usurping. Four out of the Ofsted five are men (three out of four teachers in England are women) and two are no longer teaching. They are, of course, also unelected.

So let's celebrate the new, amplified teacher voice. It is an extremely healthy and creative development that has huge potential to do good. But let's not forget that there's a big difference between being indicative of a mood and representative of a body.



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