Where does Teacher Self-Worth remain in ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’?

The new EEE document released by the Government (March, 2016) is interestingly titled.  It claims to assert the promotion of “educational excellence everywhere” and aims to provide “world class education” to all pupils in the country.

If you haven’t yet read the document put forward, you can do so here. However, the key objectives I want to focus on are its aims to do the following:

  • Where great schools, great leaders and great teachers exist – we will let them do what they do best – help every child achieve their full potential
  • Where they do not, step in to build capacity, raise standards and provide confidence for parents and children.
  • Set high expectations for every child, ensuring that there are no forgotten groups or areas.
  • Ensure the system can recruit, train, develop, and retain the best possible teachers.

The focus the document has in Chapter 2 on teacher retention is overwhelming. Again, the necessity to keep professionals in the career is one consistently discussed, argued and questioned. So, the question that clearly remains is whether or not this new Educational Excellence Everywhere will actually promote or encourage “teacher retention” and “put the power back into its schools.”

When completing my PGCE equivalent in Australia (Graduate Diploma, 2012), I clearly remember knowing that securing myself a position in the career would be difficult. Teachers tended to stay in their jobs almost indefinitely. They were comfortable; the students actually welcomed ‘newcomers’ due to the rarity of it. Naïve me at this time would sit looking at TES wondering how it was possible that so many positions were available across the UK. Until I moved here, of course.

Unfortunately, as the Australian education system moves ever closer to the British system, teacher retention is now becoming a pressing issue. Australia is starting to see the beginning of a ‘trend’ to move out of teaching after studying.  Consequently, research is being poured into assessing the gap between University Teacher Training and the School Teaching Profession.  This makes sense as prior to teaching full-time in Australia, I had spent a maximum 11 weeks in schools on a minimal timetable and it’s obvious to see why the transition would be hard for most.  Interestingly, however, Buchanan et al. writing for the Australian Journal of Education claimed that teacher retention was less about the disparity between research and practice, and more about self-worth:

“Perceptions of success and sense of worth are consistently noted in the literature as being associated with the retention of beginning teachers.” p.114.

That is, if teachers felt they were to remain in the profession they must feel they have sustained value within that system.

If this is the case, it makes sense as to why so many of this country’s best teachers are opting out of the career. It is no secret that British teachers are not in control of their self-worth and have been made to judge their self-worth off 3 things: 1) their ability to conform to teaching methods the school implements to perform ‘outstanding’ teaching, 2) the amount of hours they will write (or rewrite) coursework to minimise academic regression, and 3) their ability to exhibit the ‘quantifiable’ progress their pupils make. The new EEE proposal does not seem to amend this.

Unfortunately, self-worth is not one of the priorities in Chapter 2: Great Teachers, everywhere they’re needed! Unsurprisingly, it is about embracing evidence-based practice, strengthening training to a more rigorous and challenging system, and encouraging good teachers to work ‘where they are needed’ (perhaps in areas or environments where they may no longer thrive).

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In point (h), EEE also claims it wants to establish a “world-leading teaching profession” yet there is no mention of teacher self-worth. Self-worth and world leading education are inextricably linked. To know this, one simply has to look at the world-leading education system: Finland.

In an article by Webb et al. (2004) on the comparative analysis of teacher professionalism in England and Finland, they claim:

“In England they are shaped by agendas associated with the drive to raise standards and ‘commercialized professionalism‘ whilst in Finland they are influenced by notions of ‘teacher empowerment’” (p.83).

The article goes on to assert that the professionalisation of teachers – their self-worth, prestige and respect – is derived from their responsibility to control and develop their own knowledge and actions for the benefit of their client. Furthermore, building the alliances between teachers, pupils and parents promotes the highest levels of success for the child and the system. It argues that the under-representation of teachers and their ‘voice’ in the British education debate has led to the “deprofessionalisation” or “technicisation” of a teacher’s work, moving the British system perpetually away from being ‘world-leading’.

Again, the EEE document looks to make the same mistake by claiming that it will put “Children and Parents first” – further enhancing the dichotomy between teachers, parents and pupils while simultaneously minimising teacher self-worth.

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It also identifies to set up a portal that provides a complaint platform against teachers and schools across the country.

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It seems that such objectives and protocols will be at the expense of the teacher’s empowerment, confidence and independence.

It is clear that teacher self-worth has been missed in the Educational Excellence Everywhere document. The EEEs consolidation of quantifiable, progress-based teacher assessment, ‘safe’ teacher methods (to minimise school/staff complaints) and teacher-parent opposition will not encourage a world-leading education system. Furthermore, its inability to address teacher self-worth, empower teacher voice or encourage individuals to take control of their professionalism – creatively and inspirationally – will only result in further intelligent and talented individuals leaving the career for more sustainable paths. In my 3 years here, I have already seen the loss and disheartenment of many brilliant teachers because their self-worth was perpetually carved away by a bureaucratic checklist that cared more about exhibiting its success on paper… and forgot about developing a young individual who was convinced about the power and importance of education.

Of course, as these changes are taking place, only time will tell. I will not be surprised if the EEE is not the answer.

 

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