30 Turning in their graves? A tale of two coalitions
Tricks of the Trade: whatever happened to teacher professionalism?
© copyright Derek Gillard 2005
In accordance with the conventions set out by the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association, you should seek my permission to reproduce
In accordance with the conventions set out by the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association, you should seek my permission to reproduce
In 1944 the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (3rd edition) defined a profession as 'A vocation in which a professed knowledge of some department of learning is used in its application to the affairs of others, or in the practice of an art founded upon it. Applied spec. to the three learned professions of divinity, law and medicine; also to the military profession.'
Teaching, you will note, is not mentioned. This is hardly surprising, since historically teaching had never been seen as a profession. Teachers certainly enjoyed the respect of parents and the public in general. Robertson Scott, founder of The Countryman magazine, for example, commented that 'In hamlets I know best the standard-bearers of progress, civilisation, evolution, well-doing, the high life, better living, true religion - call it what you like - have been without doubt teachers in our schools' (quoted in Lester Smith 1957:89). But their status did not compare with that of doctors or lawyers.
Why was this?
WO Lester Smith has argued that it was the result of the legacy of 'Two Nations'. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries society differentiated between those who taught in the privately-owned 'public' and older grammar schools and those who taught in state-run elementary schools. These two types of school had 'divergent traditions about the education of teachers' (Lester Smith 1957:154).
The public and grammar school tradition 'assumed that teachers were born and not made' (Lester Smith 1957:154). Thus the typical nineteenth-century grammar school was staffed largely by university graduates who had had no specific preparation for their vocation. Brian Simon agrees and argues that the attitude of these schools - and of the ancient universities - is largely to blame for the shunning of the very concept of 'pedagogy' in England. 'Instead our approach to educational theory and practice has tended to be amateurish, and highly pragmatic in character' (Simon 1981:125). Public school and grammar school heads had a very negative attitude to teacher training, which they viewed as being
perhaps relevant and important for an elementary school teacher, but certainly not to someone taking up the gentlemanly profession of teaching in a public school ... no special training was necessary. (Simon 1981:126)Indeed, just about the only grammar school headmaster of the time who believed that teaching - like the practice of medicine and law - required some preparatory study, was Edward Thring. 'How', he asked, 'can those who have never taught a child be authorities on teaching? Is teaching the only subject in which ignorance is knowledge?' (Thring 1899:17 quoted in Lester Smith 1957:154)
In contrast, the nineteenth century elementary school tradition assumed that teachers 'should be trained but not educated' (Lester Smith 1957:154). Those, like Kay Shuttleworth, who sought to produce qualified teachers for the elementary schools, developed a system of training designed to promote skill in the practice of teaching. The essential qualities of a good teacher were seen as the ability to maintain good discipline and to secure a limited proficiency in the 3Rs. Some of the more able elementary school pupils became pupil teachers and the best of these went on to training colleges, where they were taught 'the tricks of the trade' (Lester Smith 1957:155).
Towards a united profession
The 1902 Education Act could have provided an opportunity to bridge this gulf, since it brought grammar as well as elementary schools into the state system. Unfortunately, the administration of the Act actually accentuated the distinction between the two types of school and between those who taught in them. There were separate regulations governing grammar schools, while the elementary schools had their own less favourable code. The inspectorate was similarly demarcated, with HMIs (secondary) and HMIs (elementary) keeping strictly to their own areas. The Board of Education itself had separate offices for secondary and elementary education, and when in 1919 the Burnham Committee was established to decide teachers' salaries on a national basis separate committees were set up for secondary and elementary school teachers:
In many other ways the distinction between secondary (which until 1944 connoted only grammar) and elementary schools, and those who taught in them, was intensified. (Lester Smith 1957:153)However, the 1902 Act did take several steps in the right direction. It abolished the pupil teacher system which had been an essential feature of the training of elementary teachers, and it provided for the establishment of new grammar schools, some of whose sixth formers went on to the training colleges. Indeed, following the Act the Board of Education insisted that entrants to the training colleges should normally have completed a four-year grammar school course. Kandel has suggested that the 1902 Act marked the beginning of the movement towards a united profession:
The picture began to change, first in England and the United States, when future elementary school teachers began to go to secondary schools before they entered institutions for the training of teachers. (Kandel 1955:323-4 quoted in Lester Smith 1957:154)The first training colleges - the 'voluntary colleges' - had been founded in the nineteenth century, mainly by the churches and other religious organisations. The 1902 Act enabled local authorities to provide training colleges of their own and as a result the number of colleges greatly increased.
The courses were almost all of two years' duration which meant that the focus was very much on subjects and methods. But it wasn't long before teachers' associations began to demand a type of preparation more like that of the other professions. The move towards more advanced standards was given added impetus by growing awareness of the changing character of education, especially at the elementary level:
The traditional type of training was no longer adequate when the theory of education began to place stress on the pupil as an individual to be developed intellectually, physically, aesthetically, morally, and emotionally. (Kandel 1955:323-4 quoted in Lester Smith 1957:156)Important developments were also taking place in the universities. By the beginning of the twentieth century a number had established their own 'training departments' in which graduates who wished to become teachers could, after completing their degree courses, study the theory and practice of education. As in the training colleges, the study of educational theory was linked with practical teaching experience in schools.
In the period following the Great War (1914-18), the concept of a public sector - including a state education system - was discussed by thinkers like Sydney Webb, who talked of a 'systematic education' provided by government. The teachers who would staff it would need specialised knowledge and the right to 'exercise a professional judgement, to formulate distinctive opinions upon its own and upon cognate services, and to enjoy its own appropriate share in the corporate government of its own working life' (Webb 1918:3 quoted in Lawn 1999:101).
By 1942, when RA (Rab) Butler (pictured) set up the McNair Committee to consider problems of recruitment, supply and training of teachers, there were 83 recognised training colleges, 22 university training departments, and 16 specialist colleges for art teachers. The McNair Committee's most pressing - and difficult - task was to unify these diverse traditions.
The McNair Committee's Report, published in 1944, made various recommendations including a three year training course (not implemented until 1960) and salary increases. The Report, coupled with the 1944 Education Act, represented official acknowledgement of the professional status of teachers.
Teacher professionalism and public service
The post-war Labour government found itself trying to rebuild the schools with scarce resources, implement the 1944 Education Act with a severe shortage of teachers, and create the welfare state - of which education was seen as an important component. Teachers were increasingly seen as professional partners in the education service with local and national government. 'Teacher professionalism and public service were closely entwined and symbiotically related' (Lawn 1999:101).
This gradual correlation between professionalism, a mass schooling, welfare and reconstructionist ideologies and the making of a democratic society acknowledged the crucial position of teachers: as heroes of reconstruction, as pedagogic innovators, as carers, as partners of and within the public. (Lawn 1999:102)By the 1950s teachers were regarded as 'the bedrock of the new welfare society, as the founders of the reconstruction of the education system and as the guardians of the citizenry of the future' (Lawn 1999:102). Crucially, as professionals they were 'partners in the deliberations of policy, able to influence the direction and control of the system' (Lawn 1999:102). They performed their function as professionals in a variety of ways - through the administration of the service, in government and associations, as classroom teachers, representatives, school governors and education advisers. All this 'gave meaning to teaching' (Lawn 1999:102).
If there ever was such a thing as a golden age of teacher professionalism, this was it. Burns (1977 quoted in Lawn 1999:102) describes it as an era of social democracy in which many public organisations were shaped by 'the mantle of professionalism'. Perkin (1989 quoted in Ranson and Stewart 1994:45) suggests that the dominance of professionals in the post-war period justifies its claim to be the 'age of professionalism'. And Lawn argues that this period was so significant that its language 'is still used as the key way to explain the past and to analyse the present', despite the fact that its 'assumptions about education and public service, its administrative structures and its closed national boundaries' no longer exist (Lawn 1999:103).
Teachers certainly had a high level of influence over the work of the classroom (curriculum content, teaching style, pupil organisation, selection of resources etc). Indeed, Lester Smith (1957:158) argued that 'No teachers in the world are so free as those in this country'.
However, their control over school organisation and policy was limited because they worked within a system which was 'characterised by bureaucracy, inflexibility and local dogmatism'. Despite all this, 'they existed within a school system which officially and continually referred to them as partners, consulted with their elected representatives and assumed that the teacher was a highly skilled and responsible professional' (Lawn 1999:103).
Teacher professionalism at its peak
A number of developments raised the professional status of teachers still further during this period.
The normal training course was extended from two to three years in 1960 (as proposed by the McNair Committee almost twenty years earlier) and in 1963 the Robbins Report Higher Education proposed the introduction of four year BEd degree courses consisting of education and two other main subjects. The first students to take the new degree courses entered the colleges in 1965.
Michael Eraut explains this move to longer training courses by suggesting that as more people became better educated the subject knowledge possessed by teachers became more widely known. Teachers responded by exerting 'pressure to make knowledge about teaching rather than subject knowledge the distinguishing hallmark of the profession' (Eraut 1981:148). Training courses became longer to accommodate this 'technical knowledge base' - the history, philosophy and psychology of education, child development, behaviour management etc.
In 1964 the Schools' Council was established in accordance with the recommendations of the Lockwood Report, whose guiding principle was that 'the schools should have the fullest possible measure of responsibility for their own work, including responsibility for their own curriculum and teaching methods, which should be evolved by their own staff to meet the needs of their own pupils' (quoted in Watkins 1993:81).
The 1967 Plowden Report Children and their Primary Schools applauded the fact that 'To a unique extent English teachers have the responsibility and the spur of freedom' (Plowden 1967:311), and it emphasised the importance and exacting nature of the teacher's role. 'On the teachers, on their skills and on their good will, far more than on organisation or on buildings, the future of education depends' (Plowden 1967:312).
It disapproved of the fact that graduates could obtain qualified teacher status without professional training. 'We must make it quite clear that we share the views of the whole of the educational service that graduates should be required to receive training before they teach, above all if they are going to work in primary schools' (Plowden 1967:343).
Plowden was also concerned that, despite the exacting demands primary teaching made on teachers' skill, training, intellectual ability and their understanding of children, many primary school teachers felt that their work did not receive the appreciation it deserved, and that their standing both in the educational system and in the community at large ought to be improved. It noted that 'In this country their status and working conditions have improved greatly since the war: the main source of discontent is their treatment compared with that of other professions' (Plowden 1967:410).
Plowden's wish to see all teachers professionally qualified was fulfilled in September 1970 when it became a requirement that all teachers in maintained schools (with a few special exceptions) had to attain 'Qualified Teacher Status' (QTS) - i.e. be approved by the Department.
The 1972 James Report Teacher Education and Training examined course content, the different types of training institution, and the relationship between trainee teachers and other students. It proposed a radical reorganisation of teacher training into three stages ('cycles'). The first cycle (two years) would consist of a general higher education course - a degree, a new qualification, or a two-year Diploma in Higher Education. The second cycle would consist of a year of professional studies followed by a year as a 'licensed teacher' (replacing the existing probationary year). A student who successfully completed these four years would be awarded a BA(Ed). The third cycle would consist of in-service training which James recommended should amount to the equivalent of at least a term every seven years for all teachers in post.
The teacher unions strongly opposed the 'licensed teacher' proposal and little was done to try to implement it. But 'the principle of integrating teacher training into higher education was accepted by the government, and throughout the 1970s colleges of education merged with other further education establishments, such as technical and art colleges, to form colleges and institutes of higher education' (Mackinnon and Statham 1999:28).
Decline and fall
If teachers now felt that they were at last beginning to be treated as professionals, they were to be disappointed. The storm clouds were already gathering.
A 'general disenchantment with education as a palliative of society's ills', fuelled by a world economic recession, 'provided a rationale for economic cutbacks in education not only in England but in most advanced western industrial countries' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:41). Right-wing educationalists and politicians began a campaign to focus this disenchantment on the teachers themselves. They published a series of 'Black Papers', the first of which, published in 1969, attacked the progressive style of education being developed in primary schools as 'a main cause not only of student unrest in the universities but of other unwelcome tendencies or phenomena' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:41). The popular press latched on to Bennett's 1976 Black Paper Teaching Styles and Pupil Progress, presenting it as 'a condemnation of so-called "progressive" methods in the primary school' (Galton, Simon and Croll 1980:41).
The Black Paper writers were given ammunition by the 'William Tyndale Affair'. William Tyndale was a primary school in north London where, in 1974, some of the staff introduced radical changes associated with an extreme form of romantic liberalism. The result was a violent dispute among the staff and between some of the staff and the school managers. Chaos ensued as the staff lost control of the school and its pupils. Local government politicians and the local inspectorate became involved and, ultimately, there was a public inquiry in 1975-6 into the teaching, organisation and management of the school. The affair raised a number of crucial questions which centred on issues such as:
These events led Prime Minister Jim Callaghan (pictured) to give a speech in Ruskin College Oxford on 18 October 1976 in which he called for a public debate about 'the purpose of education and the standards that we need' which would allow not only teachers and administrators but also employers, trades unions and parents to make their views known.
Callaghan praised much of what was going on in the schools. 'I have been very impressed in the schools I have visited by the enthusiasm and dedication of the teaching profession, by the variety of courses that are offered in our comprehensive schools, especially in arts and crafts as well as other subjects and by the alertness and keenness of many of its pupils' (Callaghan 1976).
But he was concerned by 'complaints from industry that new recruits from the schools sometimes do not have the basic tools to do the job that is required', and he noted 'the unease felt by parents and others about the new informal methods of teaching.'
He was anxious that his remarks should not give comfort to right-wing critics of education. 'My remarks are not a clarion call to Black Paper prejudices. We all know those who claim to defend standards but who in reality are simply seeking to defend old privileges and inequalities.'
And he was clear that progress would only be made with the cooperation of teachers. 'We must carry the teaching profession with us. They have the expertise and the professional approach.' Equally, teachers had to acknowledge that they 'must satisfy the parents and industry that what you are doing meets their requirements and the needs of our children. For if the public is not convinced then the profession will be laying up trouble for itself in the future' (Callaghan 1976).
A DES Consultative Document Education in Schools summarised the concerns.
'The curriculum, it was argued, paid too little attention to the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and was overloaded with fringe subjects. Teachers lacked adequate professional skills, and did not know how to discipline children or to instil in them concern for hard work or good manners. Underlying all this was the feeling that the educational system was out of touch with the fundamental need for Britain to survive economically in a highly competitive world through the efficiency of its industry and commerce' (DES 1977:2).It noted that primary schools had been transformed in recent years by two things: 'a much wider curriculum than used to be considered sufficient for elementary education, and the rapid growth of the so-called "child-centred" approach' (DES 1977:8). And it commended many aspects of these developments:
In the right hands, this approach has produced confident, happy and relaxed children, without any sacrifice of the 3Rs or other accomplishments - indeed, with steady improvement in standards. Visitors have come from all over the world to see, and to admire, the English and Welsh 'primary school revolution'. (DES 1977:8)But it warned that few teachers had sufficient experience and ability to make the new approach work:
It has proved to be a trap for some less able or less experienced teachers who applied the freer methods uncritically or failed to recognise that they require careful planning of the opportunities offered to children and systematic monitoring of the progress of individuals. (DES 1977:8)It concluded that 'the challenge now is to restore the rigour without damaging the real benefits of the child-centred developments' (DES 1977:8).
Teachers saw Callaghan's Ruskin speech as blatant political interference. Many still held the view enunciated in 1954 by National Union of Teachers General Secretary Ronald Gould that democracy itself was safeguarded by 'the existence of a quarter of a million teachers who are free to decide what should be taught and how it should be taught' (quoted in Timmins 1996:323).
But they couldn't hold back the storm clouds. The 'Great Debate' which Callaghan had initiated was under way with a vengeance. A flurry of DES and HMI initiatives regarding the curriculum, the establishment of the Assessment of Performance Unit and the beginning of mass testing of pupils by local education authorities all quickly followed.
Central government takes control
When Margaret Thatcher (pictured) won the 1979 general election, her Tory government immediately set about seeking to take control of the school curriculum. In LEA Arrangements for the School Curriculum it required local authorities to publish their curriculum policies. This was followed by Circular 6/81 (1981) and a whole raft of publications including A Framework for the School Curriculum (HMI 1980), A View of the Curriculum (HMI 1980), The School Curriculum (DES 1981) and The Curriculum 5-16 (HMI 1985). Circular 8/83 (1983) required LEAs to report on their progress in developing curriculum policy.
The 1980 Education Act began the process of giving more power to parents. Parents were to be given seats on governing bodies, they were to have the right to choose which schools their children attended and the right to appeal if they didn't get the schools they had chosen. The Assisted Places Scheme provided public money to pay for children to go to private schools (an implicit criticism of state schools and teachers). Schools' exam results were to be published.
When the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) for 14-18 year olds was launched in 1982, the education establishment was not allowed to control it - it was administered by the Manpower Services Commission.
1984 saw the establishment of the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (CATE), which laid down standards for initial teacher training courses.
The Schools' Council - which had had a high level of teacher involvement - was abolished in 1984. Its work was shared between the School Examinations Council (whose members were nominated by the Secretary of State) and the Schools Curriculum Development Council (which was explicitly told not to 'concern itself with policy').
Parent power was pursued further in the 1984 Green Paper Parental Influence at School and in the subsequent White Paper Better Schools in 1985.
The underlying implication of all these initiatives was that teachers were failing their pupils and that politicians and parents must take control of the schools.
1985 was to be a particularly grim year. Following a decade of cuts in education budgets, the Thatcher government wanted to restructure teachers' salaries and change their conditions of service. It promised additional resources if the teachers accepted its reforms but would not specify how much extra cash would be made available. In the end, the National Union of Teachers withdrew from the negotiations, instituted a ban on meetings and lunchtime supervision duties, and organised selective strike action. Some of the other unions and professional associations also took disruptive action. 'Morale in schools had reached a new low ebb' (Hewton 1986:3).
And things were only to get worse.
Kenneth Baker became Education Secretary in May 1986. He had an even more aggressive attitude to the teaching profession than his predecessors. In October 1986 he told the Tory Party Conference:
'It is crucial for parents to understand where power in the education system lies. Our Education Bill radically changes the composition of school governing bodies. It gives these bodies new powers and responsibilities. We will end the dominance of the local authority and its political appointees. There will be more parent governors elected by all the parents. Control over sex education will be removed from the teachers and local authorities and given to the new-style governing bodies which will have more parents on them and be answerable to an annual parents' meeting.'There were two Education Acts in 1986. The first required LEAs to give governors information on the funding of schools. The second compelled LEAs to state their policies and required governors to publish an annual report and hold an annual parents' meeting. There were new rules on admissions, political indoctrination and sex education. The only person who came off lightly was the Secretary of State himself - his duty to make annual reports was ended. (Interestingly, the Act also abolished corporal punishment - a surprising move for a right-wing Tory government).
The 1965 Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act was abolished in 1987. The Secretary of State imposed teachers' pay and conditions until 1991.
By 1988, politicians were arguing that teachers had failed to such an extent that the entire education service was in a state of collapse.
It was not, of course, true. In fact, in the twenty years between 1970 and 1990 the proportion of pupils leaving school with no graded exam results fell from 44 per cent to 8.3 per cent (partly due to the raising of the school leaving age) while the proportion gaining five or more higher grades at GCSE or its older equivalents rose from 7.1 per cent to 11.4 per cent (DES 1992). 'This hardly sounds like a story of dire failure,' commented Paul Black (Black 1993:46).
But the Tory government wasn't interested in the facts, only in taking complete control of education, which it proceeded to do in the 1988 Education 'Reform' Act.
The 1988 Act changed the whole landscape of education in England and Wales. It required schools to teach the National Curriculum, established a testing regime with results to be published in 'school league tables', introduced Local Management of Schools (which gave schools more control over their own spending but made budgets dependent on the number of pupils the schools attracted), and made provision for Grant Maintained Schools which would be allowed to opt out of local authority control altogether.
Teachers had little say in the design or construction of the National Curriculum, which was written by a government 'quango' (quasi-autonomous non-government organisation). Its aims were not spelled out: they 'remained unseen by those who were expected to deliver it, which made it impossible to work out whether it was meeting the needs for which it had been established' (Crace 2003). The National Curriculum Council (NCC), set up under section 14 of the Act to be the government's advisory body, was required to 'listen to the teaching profession and the wider education service without becoming their mouthpiece' (Watkins 1993:82).
The 1988 Act also prepared the ground for the establishment in 1992 of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), a privatised school inspection service led by Chris Woodhead, who appeared to take a positive delight in 'naming and shaming' so-called 'failing' schools. Every inspection team had to have a 'lay inspector' - someone who did not work in education. The joke in schools was that to be a lay inspector you had to know nothing about education. But there weren't many teachers laughing about the new inspection regime - Ofsted inspections quickly caused more stress and resentment among teachers than almost everything else in the 1988 Act put together.
Thatcher's prime ministerial career ended in 1990. She bequeathed to her successor, John Major (pictured), a government which had concentrated power at the centre, which was dominated by financial considerations and which ruthlessly excluded questioning and dissent. Gipps (1993:37) cited as examples of this 'the suppression of unwelcome research reports, the rubbishing of academics' arguments, and the marginalising of unproductive pupils and schools'. She noted that this trend had had 'a marked effect on the morale of the teaching profession'. Smithers and Robinson agreed. 'Poor discipline, heavy workloads and lack of status are pushing teachers out of state schools and into the independent sector or out of education altogether' (Smithers and Robinson TES 27 December 1991).
And it wasn't just the teachers who suffered. The rubbishing of teachers' expertise and academic research had a damaging effect on education policy, particularly in relation to the curriculum:
The transmission model of teaching, in a traditional formal classroom, with strong subject and task boundaries and traditional narrow assessment, is the opposite of what we need to produce learners who can think critically, synthesise and transform, experiment and create. We need a flexible curriculum, active cooperative forms of learning, opportunities for pupils to talk through the knowledge which they are incorporating, open forms of assessment (eg, self-evaluation and reflection on their learning); in short, a thinking curriculum aimed at higher order performance and cognitive skills. (Gipps 1993:40)Instead, teachers were required to teach an old-fashioned grammar school curriculum, with the addition of computing and technology. Major's own views on education were summed up in his declaration at the Conservative Party Conference at Brighton in October 1992: 'Primary teachers should learn how to teach children to read, not waste their time on the politics of gender, race and class.'
The NCC had been charged with 'listening to the teaching profession'. It wasn't allowed to do so for long. Within three years the independence of the Council - and that of the School Examinations and Assessment Council (SEAC) - were in jeopardy. 'The Councils seem to be regarded by the government not as sources of independent, authoritative advice but are used to endorse and set out in detail what the Secretary of State has already decided to do. If they decline to accept this role their advice is ignored, changed or rejected' (Watkins 1993:82).
From his own experience on the NCC, Paul Black pointed out that:
comprehensive programmes for monitoring were cut back by Ministers, who have retained for themselves direct control over any research or evaluation activities of that Council. All that was allowed were programmes with modest budgets aimed at exploring tightly defined questions. In consequence, evidence that the reforms as a whole might contain serious flaws cannot be forthcoming. (Black 1993:46)The revision of the science and mathematics curricula was done 'on the basis of a few month's work from a small and officially anonymous group drawn from the inspectorate' (Black 1993:46). Similarly, the NCC's advice on Key Stage 4 was ignored and a new framework announced 'without the Council even being informed, let alone consulted' (Watkins 1993:82).
By now, politicians were interfering in the minutiae of education policy and practice. So it was Secretary of State Kenneth Clarke, rather than SEAC, who decided the date when the Key Stage 3 Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) would be administered in 1992. And it was the Prime Minister, John Major, who intervened to announce a drastic reduction in the amount of coursework which would be permitted in GCSE:
In so doing he has overthrown one of the fundamental principles of GCSE as approved by Lord Joseph. He shows no understanding why coursework is so important intrinsically and pedagogically, particularly for girls. He has ignored the importance of the motivation it provides for pupils throughout their two-year course and the evidence it offers of skills such as drafting and writing an extended essay which can be tested in no other way. (Watkins 1993:82)Since 1987 the Secretary of State had imposed teachers' pay and conditions. Now, in 1991, that situation was effectively made permanent. Under the 1991 School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act a review body - its members appointed by the government - would make annual recommendations to the Secretary of State about teachers' salaries and conditions of employment. But the final decisions would be made by the Secretary of State, who would publish them in a School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document.
From now on, teachers' duties would be laid down 'explicitly and exhaustively' (Mackinnon and Statham 1999:127). The School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Documents required teachers to plan and prepare lessons, assess pupils' progress and keep records of it, maintain discipline, appraise their own work, attend in-service training, communicate with parents and others, attend meetings, cover for absent colleagues for up to three days (more in some cases) and participate in the appraisal of other teachers.
And for the first time ever, teachers' working hours were specified. A teacher's year was to consist of 1265 hours spread over 195 working days. This did not include time spent travelling to and from school, preparing lessons, marking pupils' written work or other such tasks required to fulfil their professional duties. The only concession to teachers was that they were no longer required to supervise pupils during the lunch period - presumably because teachers had been refusing to do so since 1985 and the government realised it would be fighting a losing battle if it tried to reinstate the requirement (DfEE 1997, Part Xl).
The Tories still hadn't finished putting teachers in their place.
In 1991 they introduced the Parents' Charter, which gave parents the right to detailed information about schools and their performance, and in the 1993 Education Act they set out provisions for dealing with 'failing' schools.
A year later they turned their attention to the training of teachers. The 1994 Education Act established the Teacher Training Authority (TTA) 'against a background of hostility to the teaching profession' (Revell 2004).
The aim was to increase the involvement of schools in both the initial and in-service training of teachers. Thus was created a self-perpetuating cycle in which teachers who knew nothing about education other than delivering the government's National Curriculum would train new teachers, who would therefore know nothing about education other than delivering the government's National Curriculum. Those horrid lefty education professors with their politics of gender, race and class would be kept out of the process. The last thing the government wanted was teachers who could think.
The TTA's board included Bradford University philosophy professor Anthony O'Hear and Bournemouth University Chancellor Caroline Cox, both of whom were hostile to conventional teacher training. The Universities Council for the Education of Teachers was refused places on the board. TTA officers were seen as 'high-handed, arrogant and dictatorial' (Revell 2004). Ted Wragg described the 851 teacher competencies set out in the first training standards as 'ridiculously excessive - 850 too many'.
The barrage of criticism and hostility towards the teaching profession continued throughout Major's period in office. This was the era of 'name and shame', characterised by Ofsted boss Chris Woodhead complaining about the existence of '15,000 incompetent teachers in our schools'.
New Labour: even greater political control
Anyone who hoped (as many teachers did) that the election of a Labour government in 1997 would mark a new beginning - in which teachers would once again be regarded as professionals and left to get on with the job - was to be profoundly disillusioned.
With David Blunkett (pictured) as Education Secretary, Tony Blair's 'New Labour' government did not just accept its legacy from the Tories, it built on it. So Chris Woodhead kept his job as head of Ofsted and within weeks Schools Minister Stephen Byers was continuing the Tory policy of 'naming and shaming' so-called 'failing' schools. The new government 'tried to make the agenda of school improvement its overriding aim, but within a basically intact penalising system' (Lawn 1999:109).
The Blair government's one positive move towards giving teachers a more professional status was the establishment of the General Teaching Council (GTC) in the 1998 Teaching and Higher Education Act. It hoped the GTC would restore 'teachers' professional pride' (DfEE Press Release, 31 August 1997). But even this was to prove a forlorn hope. The teacher unions objected to the compulsory annual membership fee (forcing the government to back down temporarily) and in any case it quickly became clear that the GTC would have no say in curriculum matters. Indeed, it was an 'extremely weak version of a council' with few powers and it sat uneasily with the 'carping and bullying statements' which continued to issue from Ofsted' (Lawn 1999:109).
The curriculum was already entirely a matter for central government. Now, politicians sought to control pedagogy itself. In 1999 the Moser Report Improving literacy and numeracy: a fresh start led to the introduction of the National Literacy Strategy and of National Learning Targets. The Tories had told teachers what to teach. New Labour now set about telling them how to teach it - in explicit detail. The Literacy Hour - to be joined later by the Numeracy Hour - laid down exactly what was to be taught and how it was to be taught, and even specified how many minutes each activity within a lesson should last.
The third version of the National Curriculum at least included a statement of its aims, but it was still disastrously prescriptive. Of the English curriculum, for example, Bethan Marshall, lecturer in teacher education at King's College London, said 'We've reduced it to the level of linguistics, syntax and grammar and lost sense of its place as an art form to develop the imagination' (quoted by John Crace The Guardian 4 November 2003).
What effect has the political takeover of curriculum and pedagogy had?
For a couple of years after the introduction of the Literacy Hour, children's scores in reading and writing tests rose. But this 'progress' came at the expense of listening and speaking skills and other areas of the curriculum, and in any case it ground to a halt in 2000. In 2003 - after three consecutive years of stagnant SATs results - Woodhead's successor as Chief Inspector, David Bell, called for a review of the National Literacy Strategy.
In response, Schools Minister Stephen Twigg announced that the Literacy Strategy would be merged with the Numeracy Strategy to form the Primary National Strategy. 'All head teachers have been notified in a letter this week and will receive more guidance later,' he said (Rebecca Smithers and Will Woodward The Guardian 9 January 2003). Heads and deputies were to be given extra training to help them improve their schools' performance and there would be a greater emphasis on training teachers in the use of phonics. Government support would include booster classes for Year 6 children on the borderline of missing the targets (Wendy Berliner The Guardian 14 January 2003).
The Director of the government-funded Basic Skills Agency Alan Wells pointed out that since 1997 Wales had achieved better SATs results than England without the Literacy and Numeracy Hours. He urged ministers to abandon league tables in England because 'the tyranny of SATs over children in schools has become entirely negative' (Rebecca Smithers and Will Woodward The Guardian 9 January 2003).
Introducing his annual Ofsted report in February 2004, David Bell (pictured) warned that the government-imposed focus on maths and English in primary schools was creating a 'two-tier curriculum', with achievement in other subjects increasingly lagging behind (Lucy Ward The Guardian 5 February 2004). This effect, he said, was denying primary school children a 'rich and fulfilling curriculum'.
National Union of Teachers (NUT) General Secretary Doug McAvoy agreed. 'Sharper criticism is needed of the malign effects of the testing regime in primary schools on the curriculum beyond English, maths and science,' he said. 'Subjects such as history, geography and the arts are suffering because of the government's obsession with tests, targets and tables.'
But politicians know best, of course, so Schools Minister David Miliband insisted there would be 'no let up in our focus on higher standards in literacy and numeracy - it is morally and educationally right'. Miliband's dismissal of advice from the profession may have depressed teachers but it won't have surprised them. After all, in the previous twenty years there had been three versions of the National Curriculum, reforms of A-level and proposals for 14-19 education. In every case, teachers were not consulted or their views were ignored.
Undermining teacher morale and status
In July 2002 Chancellor Gordon Brown announced a huge increase - £14,700m over four years - in government spending on education. In a statement to the House of Commons on 16 July 2002 the new Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, fresh from her insulting comment that there were some comprehensive schools she wouldn't 'touch with a bargepole', made clear that the extra cash would be conditional on the teacher unions accepting the need for a restructured teaching profession - including an enhanced role for teaching assistants - and a 'post-comprehensive' system of secondary schools. 'We need to make a decisive break with those parts of the existing comprehensive system that still hold us back', she told MPs. 'This substantial extra investment must also be matched by a firm commitment from our national partners to a restructured teaching profession and a reformed school workforce - more flexible, more diverse, more focused on raising standards.'
Most of the teacher unions accepted the £1,000m 'workforce remodelling' deal to make greater use of classroom assistants. Morris's successor as Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, hailed it as 'historic'. 'This agreement represents a good deal for everyone,' he said. 'It will free teachers to spend more of their time on teaching and to focus on the individual learning needs of all their pupils' (Rebecca Smithers The Guardian 16 January 2003). It was certainly the biggest change to teachers' contracts for fifteen years.
The NUT refused to sign the agreement because, while it guaranteed teachers non-contact time for marking and lesson preparation, it did so by permitting classroom assistants to teach classes - 'teachers on the cheap' according to the NUT - and by allowing the use of 'double-sized' pupil groups - a move the union warned would mark a return to huge class sizes. McAvoy commented:
'It's totally incompatible with a programme geared to improving standards of achievement. It's a coping strategy, which is trying to provide a release from excessive workload by a method that lessens the effectiveness of teaching and will not reduce demands or pressure on the teacher. It puts the clock back to a previous period which we thought had been removed for good and which even Margaret Thatcher rejected, and which you certainly couldn't describe as fitting in with a modernisation agenda. It takes us back to the Victorian age.'Clarke was so angry at the NUT's response that he refused to attend its annual Easter Conference in April 2003 and threatened to exclude the NUT from further negotiations if it failed to comply. McAvoy said the union would be conducting its own campaign for change.
In view of the fact that politicians have now taken total control of the curriculum and teaching methods and stubbornly refuse to listen to teachers or inspectors, it is perhaps surprising that the number of trainee teachers has risen each year since 2001 - a sign of rising morale, you might think. However, it's more likely to be the result of the £6,000 training bursary which is now available and the fact that are now more than a dozen different ways of becoming a teacher, including the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP) and School-based Initial Teacher Training (SCITT), in which a group of schools work with a higher education institution to run a training course.
In fact, government policy continues to undermine teacher morale and status.
Under changes to the teachers' contract made in 2003, for example, it became legal to employ student teachers to cover for absent staff. The teacher unions are concerned that this practice is now widespread (Revell 2004).
And it's not just student teachers. In October 2004 The Observer reported that 'Unqualified classroom assistants are being used to cover for absent teachers in schools across Britain instead of trained supply staff.' It quoted the example of Frogmore Community College in Hampshire where a full-time classroom assistant was being paid a salary of £13,000 to cover for absent teachers. The equivalent cost for qualified supply staff would have been £70,000. A DfES spokesman denied that classroom assistants would ever take on the teacher's role, despite the evidence that that was exactly what was happening. The NUT commented 'This is like the theatre sister taking on the role of neurosurgeon: totally unacceptable' (Martin Bright The Observer 10 October 2004).
Newly qualified teachers complain that schools ignore the rules for induction which stipulate that ten per cent of their timetable should be kept free to allow for professional development. A minority of heads 'shamefully exploit new teachers' (Revell 2005).
The very basis of teachers' professional standing - Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) - came under further attack in October 2004 when it was revealed that Tristram Jones-Parry, the retiring Head of Westminster School, a private school with fees of £15,200 a year, had offered to teach maths in state schools but had been turned down because he did not have QTS (Rebecca Smithers The Guardian 11 October 2004). In response, Tory shadow education secretary Tim Collins described QTS as a 'silly rule' which was 'ludicrous' and GTC Chief Executive Carol Adams said she would take urgent steps to try to introduce a 'fast-track' system to allow candidates of Jones-Parry's standing to be approved for teaching.
The determination to use ever more classroom assistants continues. The Labour Party's election manifesto (April 2005) declared that 'the remodelling of the school workforce is benefiting staff and helping to tailor provision to pupil need'. It promised that a future Labour government would 'widen further routes into teaching, to help more teachers and pupils get the benefit of the range of support staff now working in schools.'
Parents would be given even more power over the running of schools. Indeed, the manifesto argued that 'parents should be central to the process of assessing school performance and driving improvement.' Patrick Wintour (The Guardian 8 April 2005) suggested that a re-elected Labour government would seek to 'shift the balance between consumers and public service providers'. For schools, this would mean 'a radical extension of parent power', with parents having the right to bring in independent managers. 'The logical conclusion of the policy, though not explicitly stated, will be that parents can be balloted to remove governing bodies, headteachers or managers. Governing bodies, or parents, will also have the power to take ownership of their own land and buildings, manage their assets, employ staff and establish charitable foundations so as to "engage with outside partners".' The proposals were part of a wider package of 'empowerment for the consumer and citizen across the public sector' (Patrick Wintour The Guardian 8 April 2005).
THAT'S THE HISTORY. It's a sorry tale of teachers bickering among themselves over trivia when they had the freedom to work together on a great educational enterprise, failing to explain their aims and trumpet their successes, allowing themselves to be humiliated by politicians, right-wing commentators and the press, and finally surrendering to total political control with barely a whimper.
Back in 1980, Exeter University's Professor of Education Ted Wragg (pictured) wrote an article entitled 'State-approved knowledge: 10 steps down the slippery slope'. It was 'a dire warning that a determined government could seize control of education and the minds of those within it'. A senior civil servant described the article as 'unnecessarily alarmist'. Yet a decade later all ten steps of his 'Orwellian nightmare' had become reality, with the Tory government's legally enforced state curriculum, state tests and league tables. The situation has deteriorated still further in the past seven years. 'Today state control is regarded as the norm' (Wragg 2004).
Wragg asks 'How on earth have we reached a situation where every tiny detail in education is laid down by the state? If "creative teaching" really is the government's aim for the future, how can schools shake off the suffocating embrace of nationalisation?'
What, then, are the key issues which must be addressed if the professional status of teaching and teachers is to be rescued?
Teachers need professional training
Doctors and architects train for seven years, solicitors for six. A chartered civil engineer must have an engineering degree, complete an initial period of professional development and pass a professional review interview. Nurses and social workers undertake three year vocational degrees.
As we have seen, teacher training slowly increased in length and became more specialised from the beginning of the twentieth century when two year courses were the norm to 1965 when the first students enrolled on four year BEd degree courses.
But since the 1980s the trend has gone into reverse, with more and more students undertaking shorter and less theoretical courses. Now, most teachers have less than a year's training, either in the form of a PGCE course or through the Graduate Teacher Programme - effectively 'training on the job'. Eraut (1981:148) argues that because of the move to shorter courses much of the technical knowledge base - which protected the profession from 'external criticism by ordinary laymen' - has been lost. 'The fact is that teaching has a shorter qualification route than any other profession. ... The training is overwhelmingly practical, concentrating on curriculum delivery and the ability to cope with a class' (Revell 2005).
Trainee teachers are now taught little or nothing about the history, philosophy or politics of education, child development, the relationship between intelligence and ability, the influences on educational achievement, theories about how the brain handles information or behaviour management techniques. The result is that recently qualified teachers are limited in vision. A primary head told Phil Revell:
It's all about the [official] schemes of work, the Literacy and Numeracy Hours. The idea that there might be ways to teach these things that lie outside those programmes is heresy to most of these teachers. (Revell 2005)Once qualified, teachers can be required to appraise their colleagues, run a department or coordinate school policies - all with no further training. Take the important role of Special Needs Coordinator (SENCO) for example. SENCOs require expertise in special needs teaching, they attend case conferences and liaise with children's services. Yet SENCOs can be appointed without any training - indeed, there is no specific qualification for the job. 'How many parents realise that the professional advising them about their child's dyslexia or autism may know less about the condition than they do?' (Revell 2005)
Aspiring heads are reasonably well catered for through the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) but in comparison with other professions teachers are inadequately trained and lack a professional career structure, disadvantages which are exploited by politicians who wish to set the education agenda.
Reforms in medicine and law have focused on structure and funding. Doctors, for example, still have much of the professional power they were given in the Medical Registration Act of 1858. But there's no equivalent statute for teaching. Professionalism in teaching has been reduced to 'working effectively in any way the teacher is commanded to, using the skills validated and prescribed by the government and its agencies' (Lawn 1999:109).
We really are back in the nineteenth century, with student teachers learning little more than 'the tricks of the trade'.
Remedying this situation is not something teachers can undertake in isolation. But a start could be made if colleges promoted the benefits of longer, more professionally-orientated courses; if local authorities could be persuaded to run in-service courses on educational philosophy and psychology instead of courses on how to tick boxes; and if, wherever possible, schools recruited staff with more than just adequate training.
Teachers need a unified and authoritative voice
For most of the past 150 years there has been no professional body to set standards. The College of Preceptors, founded in 1846, (now renamed the College of Teachers) is the oldest surviving teachers' organisation in the world. But it has a very low profile and many teachers don't even know it exists. The establishment of the GTC in 2000 was 'greeted by a mixture of apathy and hostility' (Revell 2005). Nothing much has changed in this respect - only one in ten teachers bothered to vote in last year's (2004) elections to the Council.
Revell suggests that much of the blame for this can be laid at the door of the teaching unions. They have often stated their desire for a unified professional voice, but their actions - particularly the hostile turf war between union leaders Nigel de Gruchy (NASUWT) and Doug McAvoy (NUT) - militated against it. Dr John Marenbon, of Trinity College Cambridge, has described the years since 1988 as a period of 'shamefully docile behaviour of teachers in face of the attack on their professionalism mounted by successive governments' (quoted in Revell 2005).
The result of teaching's 'failure to grow into a profession', says Revell, is that schools are vulnerable to the kind of 'steamroller policy implementation that characterised the 1990s, and which still threatens schools today'. There are countless political initiatives. Some - the Curriculum 2000 A Level reforms for example - fail because they are poorly conceived. Others - like the Literacy Hour - are failing because teachers know little about theories of reading or learning and are therefore fearful of abandoning the prescribed lesson plans and taking control of the teaching-learning process themselves. 'Deprived of a real understanding of both theory and policy, teachers are simply parroting the latest curriculum directives. Teachers in name, but technicians in reality' (Revell 2005).
What is needed then, is a single teacher body able to speak with authority for the whole profession, a body which would focus primarily not on matters of pay or conditions of work (though it would, of course, have to take a stance on these) but on educational issues including the curriculum and teaching styles. It would need to learn from big business and successful pressure groups how to develop a powerful political lobby whose aim would be to persuade politicians that they can't have imaginative and creative teachers if they treat them like robots:
If it is true that the judgements and experience of the entire 'educational establishment' have to be dismissed, then we really are in very profound trouble. If the teaching profession's practices and judgements are no longer to be trusted, then the fault cannot be corrected simply by giving them new orders. They are not robots. All who care for education should not want them to be robots. To treat them as if they were robots is to run the risk that they will start to behave as robots should. (Black 1993:59)No one - and certainly no politician - is going to establish such a body for teachers. Teachers must do it for themselves. They must become much more politically proactive, supporting parties and candidates with policies likely to enhance teachers' professionalism and the sort of radical agenda they would like to see enacted, including a genuine commitment to comprehensive education, a reduction in the grotesque quantity of testing to which children are subjected, an emphasis on cooperation rather than competition between schools, a thorough review of the exam system and of the relationship between academic and vocational education, a requirement for teachers to be properly trained - learning about the history, philosophy and psychology of education rather than just 'delivering' an imposed curriculum and being able to tick boxes - and a commitment to make Ofsted an organisation which helps schools improve, rather than, as at present, acting as 'the instrument of state terror and compliance' (Wragg 2004).
The public service ethos must be restored
Lawn argues that the ideas and practices upon which the great post-war education system was built have now been so thoroughly demolished and 'the shifts in meaning and the new practices of work associated with teachers' so great that the term 'teaching profession' is no longer appropriate:
The specific meaning given to the term 'teaching profession' in England was created, sustained and eventually eroded because it was a product of a time, of a particular social and political period. The language hovers around still but the conditions which sustained it have gone. (Lawn 1999:100)With the ever-increasing use of agencies and private companies, the public sector - which 'gave teacher professionalism its use value' - now directly employs far fewer people, while 'marketisation' has made it difficult to recognise a distinctive public sector ethos. 'The practical disappearance of the discourse of professionalism, previously used by government and by teacher associations and by many other education participants, is significant; it is the end of an empowering language for teachers' (Lawn 1999:101).
Six years on, it's clear that Lawn was right to be so pessimistic. Certainly, the notion that teachers could now single-handedly restore the lost public service ethos is clearly absurd. But they could play an important part in such a process by creating a single body which would act as the voice of the profession, by initiating a national debate, by seeking to persuade politicians and by joining forces with other professionals - in medicine, law, social services and local government.
The nature of teaching itself must be redefined
Politicians have changed the very nature of teaching. Teachers must seek to redefine it again on their own terms.
For politicians, teaching is now 'a form of flexible and reskilled competence-based labour' (Lawn 1999:104). Teachers deliver an imposed curriculum, subject to an imposed assessment system, in an imposed school market. Politicians have been ruthless in their determination to control teachers, to alter their skills, to regulate their performance, and to deny them any say in the content of their work. Every aspect of the education enterprise is controlled through specification, target-setting, inspection and parental evaluation.
The result is that English education, once characterised by 'praise and a language of partnership' is now defined by 'threats and regulation'. 'Professionalism, leadership and the state were bound together and it is the breaking down and radical removal of this relationship which has caused a crisis in the meaning of work in teaching which is greater than the crisis about how to regulate or improve or compete or manage' (Lawn 1999:105).
Furthermore, teachers are having to come to terms with the fact that teaching is no longer defined by a given level of qualification. Classroom assistants (whose numbers have more than doubled in a decade) are now being used as teachers, and the number of unqualified teachers working in UK schools has risen by five hundred per cent since Labour came to power, according to DfES data analysed by recruitment agency Select Education. During the election campaign ministers claimed that the number of teachers in state schools had risen by more than 32,000 since 1997 - but the DfES figures show that only 3,000 of these were UK-qualified and working full-time (Matthew Taylor The Guardian 11 May 2005).
The fight for a graduate profession took place during a period when the education service was improving and expanding. Now that the service is fragmented and riddled with inequalities a campaign to renegotiate the status of teaching will be much more difficult.
But it is a campaign which must be fought and could be won. Just imagine that back in 1988 every teacher in the land had refused to teach the National Curriculum until it had been rewritten by teachers. The government would have been forced to back down. Instead, the only issues on which teachers were prepared to take a stand were the supervision of school lunches and the twenty quid subscription to the GTC. Is it any wonder they were not seen as professionals?
Does any of this matter?
Of course it does. A MORI poll of teachers for the General Teaching Council and The Guardian - the biggest survey of the teaching profession ever undertaken - revealed that a third of all teachers were considering leaving the profession within the next five years. Overwhelmingly, they cited work load, initiative overload and the target-driven culture of education imposed by the government as the main reasons for their disillusionment (Wendy Berliner The Guardian 14 January 2003).
It is not going to be an easy task for teachers to reassert their professionalism and thus be in a position to reclaim the radical agenda because power is a narcotic and politicians have become addicted to it. Both Labour and Tory politicians declare that they are going to 'set the schools free'. The next minute, Labour ministers are ordering heads to introduce school uniforms and a house system, and the Tory shadow education secretary is telling an election press conference that teachers will be required to teach 'synthetic phonics'. Some freedom!
But the task must be undertaken, because the education system politicians have created in the past thirty years is sterile, utilitarian and boring. No wonder children truant or behave badly. Instead of appointing a 'Pupil Behaviour and Discipline Taskforce', the government would do better to hand education back to the teachers.
Children deserve a better deal and only well-trained, professional teachers have the knowledge, understanding and expertise to provide it through innovation and imagination. This will only happen if teachers are treated fairly. At present they have accountability but no power. Ingersoll argues that these two must go hand in hand. 'If we want to improve the quality of our teachers and schools, we need to improve the quality of the teaching job' (Ingersoll 2003:249). And he notes that, while the task of teaching - helping prepare, train, and rear the next generation of citizens - is important and complex, sadly, 'those who are entrusted with the training of this next generation are not entrusted with much control over many of the key decisions in their work' (Ingersoll 2003:221).
It is now twelve years since the National Commission on Education argued that 'It is important that those who are actually teaching have a degree of control over and responsibility for their own profession and involvement in the process of change' (NCE 1993:232). It recommended the establishment of a General Teaching Council which would, among other things, be 'a statutory source of advice on issues such as professional training and development, qualification levels of teachers, and changes in curriculum and assessment' (NCE 1993:233).
Teachers are still waiting - and will go on doing so unless and until they take the initiative themselves.
I end, as I began, with WO Lester Smith, because I can't find better words than his to sum up why this issue is so important:
Too often we speak of freedom in education only in a negative sense, as immunity from interference. While that is important, we make a sad mistake if we forget its still more valuable positive attributes - freedom to act, to change, to originate and inspire. The two aspects are, of course, not separate but interdependent: if you interfere, you soon destroy the sense of responsibility. You cannot have it both ways - the right to interfere, and the right to expect initiative and imaginative leadership. (Lester Smith 1957:164)
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My review of Phil Revell's 2005 book:
On 1 September 2005 the Teacher Training Agency was subsumed into the new Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA). The new agency has been given a sizeable new role, with extra responsibilities to improve the entire school workforce - support staff as well as teachers - of around a million people. The National Remodelling Team is also under the new umbrella and aims to help schools in deploying their staff efficiently. Ralph Tabberer, previously head of the TTA and now Chief Executive of the TDA, talks to Rebecca Smithers about the need to improve teachers' career development in:
Smithers R (2005) 'Why teachers need trainers' The Guardian 6 September