Woodhead puts regimented teaching on the chopping block

22nd May 2009 at 01:00

I never thought I would put the words "Hooray!" and "Chris Woodhead" together in one sentence, but today I am happy to do so. Professor Woodhead asked in last week's TES why there has not been widespread rebellion among teachers against the forced surrender of their professional independence. He highlighted the programmes under which we are all expected to work ("Teachers are no longer in a profession", May 15).

He suggests career progression now depends on teacher compliance in the face of government diktat. He is not only right in this: he does not go far enough. We have been slowly brought to the boil, like the frog that fails to register the moment when it must jump or die.

As a trainee primary teacher in 1968, I went through the three-year teachers' certificate followed by a year's B.Ed course. We learned the basics of teaching every primary curriculum subject, including practical matters such as that clay dries if you warm it in your hands, whereas Plasticine becomes more malleable. Many NQTs now do not know this, and a lot else besides. They rely on "schemes of work" and are fearful of giving their pupils any independence in learning.

The three-year course filled in the gaps in my own curriculum journey towards specialisation at A-level so that I became confident and competent in teaching the whole primary curriculum. We learned to question all current thinking on education, including to criticise the then fashionable Plowden report. In our B.Ed year, we were challenged to think about the intellectual aspects: What is education? How did our curriculum evolve, and can we develop a better one? What do we mean by "creativity" and how can it be taught? We were inducted into a fascinating debate about the ethics and rationale of education, and became decision-making professionals able to defend our developing philosophy.

What chance does a one-year PGCE student have of achieving this level of professional autonomy? And what hope is there that the planned masters course will achieve this level of independent thinking?

I suspect the Government of planning the masters to enslave hard-working young teachers into ever-more passive acceptance of its centralised authority under the pretext of increasing professional status.

It is time for the teaching profession challenge this Orwellian government. But I fear it is too late. The unions are fighting only peripheral battles. Thinking dissidents have left the profession in despair. Those remaining at the chalk face are often too cheaply trained, too exhausted by paperwork and too frightened for their jobs to speak out. We are producing a workforce of "operatives" rather than "educators".

Is it too late? I would so dearly love to be proved wrong.

Barbara Curry, Education consultant and retired head, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.

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