Sorry, ideas aren't appropriate

13th July 2001 at 01:00
Teaching as a profession should be for people with imagination. The ability to invent and create is precious, the badge of the true professional. It must be protected like the Crown Jewels. Take away imagination and we have teacher-as-machine, programmed androids, not humans with a heartbeat.

The greatest threat to teachers' invention is posed by the "only one solution" merchants. They firmly believe that people should be told what to do every few minutes, though few go as far as Chris Woodhead did in The TES in April 1998, when he said it was "dangerous" for teachers to work out their own best professional practice.

(I just decided, entirely off my own bat, to do some group work, and I'm still trembling with terror at such perilous folly).

One of the favourite killer sayings of the "only one solution" brigade is "There is no point in reinventing the wheel". Yes there is. If no one had reinvented the wheel we would still be rattling along on wooden ones, smashing our joints to bits.

Pneumatic tyres would not exist, nor, for that matter, would hovercraft and space rockets. It is the ultimate conservative philosophy: nothing can be improved.

Millions of people are grateful that doctors use modern cures like bypass surgery, instead of sticking half a dozen bloodsuckers on your bum and saying "Well, there's no point in reinventing the leech, is there?" I wonder if the "one solution" fans row across the Pacific in a boat, rather than fly (no point in reinventing the coracle), or refuse to live in a house in winter (no point in reinventing the cave).

The problem with this bloodless prescriptive philosophy is that it became intransigent orthodoxy, a means of control in the places which now have a stranglehold on education, like the Office for Standards in Education, the Teacher Training Agency, the Government itself.

When fashions change in a few years' time, as they surely must, no one will ever admit to having been in favour of tight prescription at the time, believe me. Everyone who espoused the "only one solution" philosophy will suddenly suffer from amnesia, or will protest that they were the reluctant victims of some superior force.

I want to launch the Only One Solution Club. All those who believe in prescribing teachers' every move, whether it is the wretched 851 competencies for primary and middle school trainees, or the minute-by-minute prescription of the literacy hour, can sign a charter admitting their enthusiasm.

Then, a few years hence, when the whole idea is condemned as the uncreative, throttling philosophy that it is, I can get the charter out of a drawer and say: "It was you lot, you conniving bastards."

Should there be no signatories we must scrap detailed prescription now, today not tomorrow, before it is too late. The key stage 3 strategy, for example, should offer advice and guidance, a light touch, instead of suffocating creative teachers.

Imagination and professional judgment should be nurtured like a delicate orchid, not buried under tons of fertiliser. If we fail to do this, what kind of recruits, other than mindless zombies, are we going to attract to replace the 200,000 teachers leaving the profession in the coming decade?

A headteacher in a rural school told me that she wanted to take children to see lambing at a local farm and then get them to write about what they had seen.

Alas, the visiting OFSTED inspector, who must have had a very narrow forehead and far too little space between the eyes, said that this was not appropriate for the literacy hour. To embrace the miracle of birth as a stimulus for writing, the weakest part of the prescribed hour, was apparently not suitable? What manifest twaddle.

So take half a stick of chalk in your right hand. Advance purposefully towards the board. Write on it "My name is Mr Smith" (even if it is Miss Scattergood), in letters exactly 5cm high. Tell the class to copy it on to their slates. Then say in a loud voice: "Beep beep. I am a machine."

No point in reinventing the Dalek, as the "one solution" merchants like to remind us.

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