My very own manifesto

31st October 2014 at 00:00

In one sense, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt was successful in his recent proposal that teachers should take a Hippocratic-style oath of professional allegiance. When many of us heard his announcement, we spent a splenetic Sunday morning muttering oaths of our own.

It's not just that it seems such a silly, trivial idea. It's also another disheartening reminder of the way that politicians seem to spin a toy globe, pick a country with apparently better educational performance (in this case, Singapore), ransack it for some gimmicky idea and serve it up through the media cat flap like a smug kitten presenting a half-chewed field mouse.

You would think that in this period of extraordinary turbulence, as the coalition government's policy juggernaut lurches crazily from hard shoulder to crash barrier, that the opposition would have some pretty unmissable targets to aim at. But what do we get? Teacher oaths.

In my 30 years in the profession, it has never felt more like we need to remember precisely what the current administration's reforms originally promised to focus on: the importance of teaching. Instead what we've got are distractions. Our energies are spent designing schemes of work in response to qualification overhauls.

The systems we are urged to aspire to - Singapore, Finland, Canada and the rest - don't constantly tear everything up. Instead they focus on recruiting better teachers, developing them and retaining them.

If I were drafting education policy I would incentivise great teaching, but not through performance-related pay. I'd do it through an obsessive attention to ongoing professional development, creating conditions where every teacher in every school wants to keep getting better and the system demands that they do.

I would propose an induction process that weeds out those who aren't good enough. I'd develop a mentoring system that pays closer attention to forming a new teacher's classroom habits: how to explain clearly, how to ask better questions, where to stand, how to deal with behaviour. And I wouldn't have any distractions in this phase - no master's qualifications and the like. The early years are about learning the craft.

At around the five-year mark, when the haemorrhaging from our profession gains pace, I would give teachers opportunities to work in schools beyond their own, to have brief teacher exchanges or periods of classroom-based research. They would be our active researchers, gaining deeper confidence in their own teaching and having an impact on other teachers' work.

Later, I would introduce opportunities for mini-sabbaticals or brief revolving-door advisory work for the most effective teachers.

Continuing development would be at the heart of my reforms - a reprofessionalisation of the role within a career structure predicated on tangible improvement, rather than carrot-and-stick pay schemes or gimmicks that provoke precisely the wrong kind of oath.

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School in Suffolk. His new book, Teach Now! The Essentials of Teaching, is published by Routledge

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