Rebuild the fabric of society

31st March 1995 at 01:00
Christopher Day argues that to develop schools, we must first develop teachers. For many teachers, the last 20 years have been about survival rather than development. Hardly a year has passed without some reform being mooted in the name of raising standards, (appraisal, inspection), increasing "user" participation (open enrolment, local financial management) and pupil entitlement (a national curriculum).

The traditional relationship between LEAs and schools has been dismembered as national Government has pursued a "loose tight" centralisation (of teachers' pay and conditions, curriculum control, testing and school inspections) and decentralisation (delegating school budgets, school management planning and control of management of schools to governing bodies).

Teachers have had to bear an increased workload; and in 1995 their energy levels and motivation remain at best frayed around the edges as the threat of increased class sizes, redundancies and teacher shortages grows. It is little wonder that many have lost sight of why they came into teaching in the first place - to make a difference in the lives of students.

A year ago, it was argued that improving teachers' skills is the only way to bring about the better standards of learning the nation requires, that the time had come to "shift the focus of policy from the structure and regulation of education, to teaching and learning itself, so that teachers might be supported in acquiring and maintaining, the most refined, advanced skills in pedagogy" (TES, March 18, 1994). While no one could fail to support this sensible plea, it was only the final paragraph of the article which touched the heart of the matter, when Michael Barber wrote that policy "should be designed to cherish and restore the sense of idealism which is at the core of all good teaching . . ." High quality education is simply not possible without the career-long committed professionalism of teachers. And yet there is an opportunity presented by the moratorium on further curriculum change over the next few years for us to remind ourselves that our purpose is to provide for the betterment of students, that personal mastery goes beyond competence and skills and to assert, alongside pragmatism, our individual and collective vision.

A sense of vision is particularly important for teachers and schools, because, in the years up to and into the 21st century, they will continue to work in changing circumstances. The telecommunications revolution will enlarge the role of the individual with more access to information and greater ability to communicate to anyone anywhere, anytime. Boundaries between in-school and out-of-school learning will blur, and teachers' roles as "expert knowledge-holders" will be eroded. Schooling will, perforce, become about partnership and "learning contracts" between teachers, pupils and parents. Learning, if not teaching, will become everyone's business.

While the national curriculum may survive, it will be used as a means of generating the understanding, critical thinking skills and intellectual flexibility demanded by industry. Alongside this, the need in schools for "moral" understanding will become an explicit part of every teacher's role as they prepare pupils for a world in which neither the corporate learning process nor the individual one is optional, if the individual, at a minimum, seeks to remain employed, let alone progress - a world in which lifelong learning will be central to survival.

Conditions of schooling continue to ensure that teachers have insufficient time to reflect on their purposes and practice. If the ambitions of society are to be realised, then policy-makers must move beyond rhetoric.

For the sake of quality, fundamentals of teaching and learning must be revisited. There must be a public recognition that effective learning involves, essentially, an "interactive chemistry" between learner and teacher which depends as much on process as content, and is an expression of personal values and perceptions as much as knowledge.

Ethics and values, therefore, must play an explicit role alongside rational concerns. The diminishing sense of agency or control that many teachers report must be replaced by a sense of accountability with trust; and learning organisations will need to recognise the natural connection between a person's work life and all other aspects of life. They will need to recognise that learning is lifelong.

This will be an established part of everyone's agenda for the 21st century. The European Union has declared 1996 the "Year of Lifelong Learning", UNESCO will enter the third millennium with a new interdisciplinary project, Learning with Frontiers, in which establishing a culture of learning is the main focus. In the words of its director-general, Dr Frederico Mayor, "the purpose of learning can no longer be regarded as no more than an initial preparation for the remainder of one's life." This theme is being echoed worldwide by governments, industrialists and educationists alike.

The paradox of lifelong learning is that it requires people to start right from their earliest years at school, and for a love of learning to be nurtured by their teachers. As with children, so with teachers the key to successful learning is motivation, which cannot be achieved by means of tight centralised control. Investing in education means investing in the continuing professional development of teachers. The creation of personal development planning support mechanisms over a career which involve opportunities for both enhancing job skills and developing personal and organisational vision are not simply desirable for teachers in the 21st century. They are essential. To develop schools, we must be prepared to develop teachers.

Christopher Day is professor of education at the University of Nottingham.

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