Skip navigation

Site Map / Contacts

You are in:  Home » Volume 4 » Editorial

This site uses cookies. If you continue it is assumed that you are happy to receive all cookies. Accept and close. View privacy policy

De-professionalisation of education and the notion of learning teaching ‘on the job’

At the time of writing, the English education system continues to diversify. There seems to be an increasing numbers of types of school and indeed forms of organising and managing schools. The days when local education authorities (LEA), which elected representation, oversaw most schools in the public sector seem long gone. Changes that were initially proposed as offering individual schools greater autonomy – and so the teachers in them greater professional autonomy – seem to have given way to a much more market orientated notion of school governance. If a group of parents want to start their own school – then why not? Charities can manage schools. Schools can manage (other) schools. It seems only a matter of time before any commercial organisation is seen as suitable for running schools as long as they appease Ofsted and can give a good return on the balance sheet. Perhaps this seems cynical, but having lived through the debacle of the incorporation of further education colleges (removing them from local education oversight, and shifting them from an ethos of public service, to become balance-sheet focused businesses that started referring to students as ‘clients’) I feel there is a good precedent for being wary of a system that seems to think anyone has a right to bid to run a school supported form the public purse.

This might seem reactionary, as clearly there are safeguards to ensure that those running schools are doing a reasonable job: but the mentality is that schools should be governed and managed by people with business skills, who will employ teachers as technicians to do the work. Of course governance and management are exceptionally important (and in the days of LEA oversight, this was part of the central expertise offered) - but it is an ideological stance to think that the greatest ‘value added’ comes from management expertise with is somehow outside and independent of the particular ‘business’. For education is a rather special business where a ‘feel’ for the business is not likely to be gained readily by an outsider.

Crashing or drowning as a metaphor for some routes into teaching

We see something similar with assumptions about teacher education. The ideological bias from the Secretary of State is against teacher preparation by academics and scholars in favour of what might be termed on-the-job training. That is fair enough if they were the real options. In effect this means that rather than an induction into teaching where practice is interspaced with period of reflection and exposure to alternative perspectives and ideas, more teachers ‘prepared’ by either being given a ‘crash course’ (because they are gifted individuals and can learn quickly) or by being thrown in at the deep-end to see if they can swim. The assumption seems to ne that where theory is needed it can be acquired by lectures before the experience it relates to, or will simply emerge into consciousness by being asked to do the job. Thank goodness we do not ask teachers to teach they way we now often expect them to learn!

A recent television documentary series offered some insights in one of these approaches to learning on the job. Of course televisions programmes are highly edited and what is shown is selective. Yet what viewers saw was one poor high-flier on her two-year placement appearing to have little classroom control and little idea how to improve. Lots of classroom observations, warning and advice to do better seemed to be forthcoming. Yet it seemed the new teacher was somehow meant to absorb form this how to do a better job. Perhaps there was more support given than was seen – but when a person is taken on as a teacher without being qualified there is not the level of support available to someone on a full training course. One could not help thinking that a student who was a PGCE trainee would never be allowed to get into the problems that were seen as they would be supported in their gradual taking over of responsibility for the class – and it would always be possible for the qualified teacher to step back in in the case of difficulties. That does not happen when there is no qualified teacher because the unqualified teacher has the responsibility herself.

In the event, this particular case seemed to have a happy ending. Television viewers were told that the problems were solved and the struggling new teacher was suddenly judged to have to be doing a really good job. Sadly, viewers were not shown the evidence of this turnaround that rather made for unsatisfactory drama as well as unconvincing documentary. Perhaps the young teacher did suddenly develop new levels of skill and insight into the classroom – in which case it is a shame that the documentary makers did not illustrate that as well as her earlier failures to encourage students to settle down to learn in her classes.

Of course sometimes trainees on even the best courses may have similar difficulties – but in these rare cases there is a superior level of support available and classes are not left with failing teachers to the detriment of both. Yet comparing the apparently largely atheoretical nature of the kind of ‘on-the-job training’ that some of the new routes into teaching offers with the broader, more paced, teacher education available through PGCE courses suggests that some of the new routes re base on a model of teaching as a craft skill rather than a profession needing intellectual as well as practical apprenticeship.

Professional education

This is illustrated by the contributions to this journal. The present volume is dominated by reports form early year/primary education and reflect well the range of ideas that new teachers can use to inform their reflection on and development of teaching practice. The authors of these papers are keen new teachers – but they are understanding education as a complex are of activity that can be informed by a wide range of theoretical ideas that can be applied and tested in the classroom. The scholarship here reflects part of the professional education of teachers – an I for one hope that we can continue to prepare as many of our future teachers as possible by such approaches. The papers in JoTTER reflect classroom based studies – undertaken ‘on the job’ in a sense. However, this is not on-the-job in the sense of either crashing-through-theories-into-practice or drowning-in-practice, but rather an educational experience that supports the development of personal understanding and skills. That is, it is professional preparation.

Keith S Taber
Cambridge, 2014