Obstacles and status

17th February 2006 at 00:00
Annie McSeveney asked some important questions about teaching and chartered teachers, in relation to what we understand by professionalism and whether our professional judgment as teachers is valued (TESS, February 3).

Chartered teachers are part of a new professional model, expected to be more knowledgeable, more reflective and more critical of what is happening in education. Importantly, they are required to show that they can put their knowledge into practice. Increasingly, they should be seen as holders of expert action knowledge.

However, at present it is unclear how schools will provide the means for chartered teachers to share their knowledge. Education departments are beginning to think about how to use chartered teachers to take forward the teachers' agreement and this means promoting collegiality in the present system of organisational management.

This is challenging to managers who find difficulty in shaking off the inertia of old hierarchies. Unreconstructed forms of managerial leadership are also a barrier to change.

Over the last decade, the gap between the two key categories of professional in public service has been growing. The separation is defined by two types of professional knowledge: organisational knowledge and action knowledge. Leaders now have to be more knowledgeable and more precise about their role within a team which needs to draw on expertise found in the private sector.

Better management will also be defined by improvements in communication.

The teachers' agreement is welcomed by teachers where they are consulted and when clear working time directives are discussed.

We must accept that there are two kinds of professional knowledge in public service: organisational expertise for administrative purposes and action-based knowledge for teaching and learning.

At present, managerial knowledge is seen as higher status knowledge. But this has led to illusory control and weak accountability, goal displacement through excessive planning and, as a result, declining motivation in teachers who have too much paperwork.

There are still too many organisational obstacles for teachers to be able to act in a collegiate manner or to take a part in school decision-making.

A senior manager might say: "I have several committees in my school by which classroom teachers are afforded opportunities to put their views forward." Perhaps, but who selects the teachers to go on the committees? Who sets the agenda and who chooses which points will be acted on or ignored?

New organisational systems, better management training and deconstructed school hierarchies are much needed changes. How else can we encourage collegiality, support new modes of professionalism and value teachers'

expertise?

Within that, chartered teachers require a more clearly defined and negotiated role, perhaps one that caters for rising consumer expectations and one where they can act more autonomously.

Martin Brown

(geography and chartered teacher)

Mayfield Grove, Dundee

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