Let us take the lead

24th February 1995 at 00:00
Teachers should be in the vanguard of reform and not be its marginalised victims, say Andy Hargreaves and Ivor Goodson. After seven years of sweeping legislation and reform, England's educators are wondering what will come next. In his recent lecture to the Royal Society of Arts, Chris Woodhead, the Office for Standards in Education's Chief Inspector reminded us that legislation only sets a framework for improvement. It is teachers who must make that improvement happen. We are with him on this. Teachers are indeed the indispensable agents of educational change.

There is well-established and increasing evidence that the quality of teaching and learning inside the classroom is shaped by the quality of relationships teachers have with their colleagues outside the classroom. Good teachers are also good learners.

Better learning among pupils in classrooms comes about when there are strong professional cultures of teaching in staffrooms. So to say that we must include teachers in change, and help strengthen the cultures that bind them to their colleagues, is not to be romantic or sentimental about teachers. It is to face up to the realities of teaching, and of how teachers change.

Seven years and Pounds 750 million worth of educational reforms (we speak here only of the cost of the national curriculum - if we add in other costs, it is probably in excess of Pounds 1billion) have achieved little in building professional cultures of teaching. Notwithstanding some real benefits for teachers in areas such as assessment expertise, the reforms have generally pandered to high-profile parents, diverted teachers' energies to public relations and paperwork, weighed teachers down with interminable testing requirements and overloads of content and caused a rush for early retirement. Teacher morale has collapsed at the same time as teacher stress has increased. In the face of a non-consultative and overcentralised bureaucracy, teachers eventually rose up together, refused to comply with testing requirements and said "enough". Government had overreached itself and had helped to demolish the very professional cultures of teaching on which the whole reform edifice should have been built.

Ron Dearing pulled Government back from the abyss and began to restore some respect for the teaching profession. Gillian Shephard has, in many ways, prolonged this conciliatory climate of mollification and appeasement.

For a brief moment, early in his speech, when he spoke of the need to move beyond legislative frameworks, and to attend to the professional culture of teaching, it looked as if the Chief Inspector would extend this understanding still further. But this was not to be.

Mr Woodhead complained that the culture of teaching was not "characterised by a sense of intellectual adventure, by an enthusiasm for critical reflection on ideas, values, assumptions, current practices, by a refusal ever to allow the working hypothesis to harden into the unexamined orthodoxy." Teachers, he said, were subject to "unquestioning and ultimately irrational commitments". What was needed, was a more questioning culture among school staffs where teachers would reflect on their beliefs and practices in a process of continuous review.

But in view of the Government's record , how could there be any belief that teachers would strengthen their sense of intellectual adventure and questioning? As Professor Cary Cooper has shown dramatically, teachers have experienced an unprecedented collapse of control over their work. Dr Cooper says "they have had the imposition of the national curriculum, assessment and local financial management of schools. A teacher now aged 40 to 45 went in expecting a lot of autonomy in the job. Control has now been taken away. " Cooper goes on, "lack of control induces stress - losing control, particularly so". So a government which has provoked a colossal increase in stress and early retirement together with a denial of whole aspects of teacher control, ends up asserting that teachers should have a sense of "intellectual adventure and questioning". Either this is abject confusion or it is deep-seated hypocrisy.

Imposing curriculum change from on high has not been a good starting point for intellectual adventure. Now, as in the 19th century, it leads mainly to "mechanical obedience" in E G A Holmes' famous phrase. Furthermore, some of the major of stimuli for intellectual investigation, university schools of education, have been the subject of relentless blistering attacks. By making anything and everything school-based, and pitting schools competitively against each other, teachers have been confined to their own schools shielded from the very professional learning that could provide the kind of questioning Mr Woodhead wants.

The Government's record of reform has been a poor starting point for raising standards of intellectual questioning among teachers. Woodhead's tone of moral opprobrium only makes matters worse. Of course, pious injunctions to teachers to pull their socks up are familiar fare in educational reform. However, strong professional cultures cannot be bullied into existence.

Had the government ever been serious about sponsoring teaching as "intellectual adventure" it would have supported grass-roots movements such as action research, and teachers-as-researchers for which a few brave communities of British teachers and educators have become renowned the world over.

Professional cultures of teaching are also built on emotional as well as intellectual strength. In some ways, they are quite proudly non-rational. As Jennifer Nias has shown in Primary Teachers Talking, care is a big part of teachers' commitment. It is what brings most primary teachers (most of whom are also women) into teaching and keeps them there. Emotional connectedness, moral support, reciprocal help, and mutual trust in pursuit of a common cause are central to strong professional cultures. Teaching is a passionate vocation. When Mr Woodhead demeans teachers' "irrational commitments", he plucks the very heart out of teaching.

Sadly, the rhetoric and reality of educational reform in this country has consistently undermined the sources of teachers' emotional as well as intellectual strength.

First, reform has intensified teachers' work - adding on huge additional burdens to a job that is already excessively demanding. Second, it has been anti-intellectual. It has failed to call upon the professional wisdom of teachers. It has dismantled and discarded the expertise of much educational research, regarding it as an interference or an irrelevance. English educational reform has even reshaped teacher education to make it less reflective and critical by shifting it more to the schools.

But if Mr Woodhead's words are to be believed, practice doesn't make perfect. Practice only makes practice. If strong professional cultures are going to be possible in our schools, a much less dismissive approach to the professional wisdom of teachers and to the expertise of educational research will be needed in the future.

Third, English educational reform, has been insular and isolationist. Where the British are concerned, it seems, "nobody does it better." Educational reform is not exclusively an English phenomenon, though. Reform is a great global movement stretching across most of the advanced economies. England is not an island of educational change and there are important lessons for us to learn from international developments elsewhere.

For instance, just across the channel in France, the government is investing huge amounts of money in pushing more intellectual preparation of teachers within universities as an antidote tot he rampant utilitarianism of solely practical training. Likewise, the Japanese government has decided to build economic efficiency by moving away from a unified and uniform nationally imposed curriculum towards much more wide-ranging diversity. And, in Ontario, Canada, where we now live and work, a socialist government is implementing the findings of a Royal Commission to extend teacher education to two years, redesign professional development, and establish a self-regulating Teachers' Council to monitor conduct, standards and certification.

It is time to rethink our approach to educational reform. It is time for teachers to be the included vanguard of reform, and not be made its marginalised victims. It is time for reformers to reconnect with the profession of teaching and with the expertise of educational research, by working with teachers to build strong professional cultures of shared learning, joint work and collaborative commitment. It is time for a change of direction and time for a change of heart.

With these sorts of ends in view, we co-direct an international network of leading researchers in eight countries on Professional Actions and Cultures of Teaching (PACT). Our participating researchers come from Australia, Canada, England, Israel, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United States. We are trying to determine what teachers' professional knowledge is, who defines it, how it can be shared, and how it can be made public. The concern is to understand what strong professional cultures look like, how they can be created and sustained. On April 5 and 6, we will meet at the Marlborough Hotel in London when several of our international members will also address a major national conference on "UK Education Reform - What Next?".

With teachers, we are laying down a gauntlet in the path of this and future governments to take a more intelligent and enlightened approach to educational change. We hope they can pick it up.

Details of the conference on April 5, 6 and a registration form, can be obtained from Pauline Lewis, CEDARR Office, Roehampton Institute London, Froebel Institute College, Roehampton Lane, London SW15 5PJ. Tel: 081-392 33833698. The cost is Pounds 90 for one day, or Pounds 165 for two.

Andy Hargreaves is professor in education and director of the International Centre for Educational Change at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Canada. Ivor Goodson is professor of education at the University of Western Ontario.

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