Education: Why we need to raise our game

Professionalism, pedagogy and leadership should be at the heart of every teacher's rule book, says Anthea Millett
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Of all the factors which contribute to improving standards in our schools, professionalism, pedagogy and leadership are of paramount importance. How are we performing on professionalism? I think the profession is in fair shape and the Teacher Training Agency has played an important part in this. Pre-service requirements are more robust than they have ever been - and there are new course requirements; new standards for the award of Qualified Teacher Status; and, a new National Curriculum for ITT in English, maths and science and also in ICT.

In addition, the Green Paper on the future of the profession proposes a fast track to attract more young people into teaching, and in the annexe - new financial incentives for graduates going on to teach maths and science. This is already bearing fruit.

It also proposes tests in literacy, numeracy and ICT to reassure the public that all trainees have these necessary skills. The new statutory induction year, being introduced for Newly Qualified Teachers from September 1999, provides the first step in continuing professional development.

Just as important is the involvement of headteachers in the training of future heads. Both the National Professional Qualification for Headship and Leadership Programme for Serving Heads make heavy use of the expertise of serving heads. More can and must be done.

We must, in future, reward the good classroom practitioners and ensure their work is disseminated effectively. Too often our best teachers have been promoted away from teaching. The Green Paper has a lot to say about rewarding performance and offering incentives for success. The principles are to be welcomed. The performance threshold should liberate thousands of good teachers who would otherwise find themselves blocked early in their careers or having to move into management to secure financial reward, when their real interest and expertise is in the classroom. As with all proposals dealing with performance reward, the devil will be in the detail of the appraisal arrangements which underpin them, but I believe the principles to be right.

In future, teachers will be helped by an additional 20,000 classroom assistants, at a cost of pounds 350 million. At that stage there will be something over 200,000 classroom assistants in our schools. Are we giving them the best training to do their jobs? Are we offering them clear career prospects? More significant, are we training our existing teachers to make best use of them? The answer to all three questions must be no. So it is very encouraging that the Green Paper proposes to tackle each of these issues.

Over the last 18 months Lord Puttnam has been tirelessly pointing out how much needs to be done to enhance teachers' working conditions. A desk they can call their own, with a telephone, a PC and administrative support are all taken for granted by other professions. Lord Puttnam's project to research, design and create the staffroom of the future deserves our full support. The squabbles over the milk, the beaten-up armchairs and the wholly inadequate access to working space, which still characterise many of our staffrooms, must go.

Throughout the 20 years or so since the launch of the great debate and Lord Callaghan's Ruskin Speech, the teaching profession has shown itself capable of responding effectively to many new initiatives. This is to its credit. It is now being asked to respond to the last two great issues in the educational debate: -- recognition of excellence for individuals in what is largely a collegial profession; and recognition that pedagogy is not and should not be at the whim of individual teachers to determine in their classrooms.

Pedagogy is a word rarely used in education in England. Indeed we cannot even agree how to pronounce it. But the importance of pedagogy is underlined at every conference I attend where teachers and heads reflect on teaching and its relationship to pupils' learning. I am always struck by how difficult they find it to talk about teaching and how unwilling some of them are to talk about teaching at all. They prefer to talk about learning as if there is no relationship between the two.

Why should this be? Teachers have been willing to talk about everything else. Why not pedagogy? There are many reasons for this. One is the understandable fear of treading on teachers' professional toes. Another is the lack of a strong relationship in UK between educational researchers and classroom practitioners. As a result we have no accepted body of instructional theory for teachers. In addition, educational researchers have written largely for each other not for practising teachers. The new Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Pedagogy Fund, under its new director Professor Charles Desforges, is to be welcomed.

If we are lucky, debate about pedagogy will remain at the centre of the stage. We need it there. We need to review our teaching approaches. It is the teacher that lies at the heart of improving pupil performance.

If it is teachers who make the difference to pupils, it is headteachers who are key to the success of schools as a whole. We need strong heads to create vision, direction and sense of purpose. Also, the head's role is key to the development of the new professionalism. If we are to secure the heads of the future, the head's role is one which must be more widely prized and aspired to. This is a key message of TTA's work on headship. There has rarely been a more important moment for this message to take hold, since large numbers of teachers, especially female primary teachers, are not coming forward for headship, despite having the potential to succeed.

Above all, we must promote the idea of headship as a profession in its own right, especially to young graduates, trainee teachers and serving teachers. Seeing headship as a profession helps establishs the need for high quality initial training, flexible induction and effective continuing professional development.

Those three strands form the basis of the TTA's national strategy for the training and development of headteachers which will carry forward into the new Green Paper proposals for training leaders of the future. Each of the strands is underpinned by National Standards for Headteachers. The strands are: the National Professional Qualification of Headship for all those coming new into headship; the Induction Programme - to consolidate and reinforce the skills of new heads; and the Extension Programme to give experienced, successful heads the opportunity to "raise their game" even further.

Asking more of our heads will be daunting for some and liberating for others. The challenge of translating the Green Paper intentions into practice should not be underestimated. But, the principles underpinning it are sound and should be welcomed by all right thinking heads and teachers.

The writer is chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency. This is an edited version of the City of York Annual Education Lecture `Professionalism, pedagogy and leadership in our schools: Raising Educational Standards' she is delivering tonight