English teachers can think for themselves

4th May 2007 at 01:00
Teaching has come to a critical state when a senior member of a subject association can accuse the profession of succumbing to the Stockholm Syndrome (TES, April 13). Simon Gibbons of the National Association for the Teaching of English says teachers are reluctant to embrace change because, like bank hostages, they have fallen under the spell of their captors - in this case government ministers.

It is a very simplistic view of teachers' reluctance to embrace a "freeing up" of key stage 3. Like Ofsted's alleged "light touch", freedom comes at a price. Devolving inspection to institutions has led to more management control systems. If KS3 becomes an area without guidelines, it is likely that school management will devise the syllabus - not that teachers will do so. The advantage of national systems is that all institutions sing from the same hymn-sheet. There are checks to what managers can do. Without these, managements can and do increase workload without limits.

It is far from self-evident that having all schools devise their own curriculum is a good idea. An advantage of the national curriculum is that pupils can move schools without having to repeat what they have learnt. And for parents, it became feasible to compare how schools were doing.

Teachers will still be held responsible for results. In a name-and-shame culture, one does not have to be cynical to see a downside to the reforms.

If government does not lay down the guidelines, it escapes responsibility for future failure. But teachers will not escape.

Mr Gibbons is right to say that politicians have taken increasing control over the past two decades. But what the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is offering is a top-down process of change with little real consultation. They still do not treat teachers as professionals and de-professionalisation remains the norm. The profession should be campaigning for real participation in the decision-making processes, along with other stakeholders.

A golden opportunity to achieve this is the promised review of A-levels in 2008. Curriculum 2000 damaged the credibility of A-level, and the reforms now being driven through are deeply questionable. A rigorous review is now essential, even if it means suspending the reforms for a year.

It is illogical for the Government to review and reform at the same time.

If teachers and other stakeholders can secure a serious review, it will be a major step forward. And teachers can then escape the disgraceful accusation that, like the bank hostages in Sweden in 1973, they are no longer capable of independent thought.

Trevor Fisher teaches at a Staffordshire sixth-form college

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