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8 - Mistake #3: over-prescribing teachers’ work

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 December 2021

Debra Hayes
Affiliation:
The University of Sydney
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Summary

Our third mistake is the over-prescription of teachers’ work.

There is no doubt that teaching is the central activity of schooling – the ‘flipside’ of learning. It is rightly a major focus of education policy, not just because teachers’ salaries are by far the biggest budget item in school spending. The value of good teachers to children's learning is almost universally acknowledged and they are critical to the functioning of society. This was patently demonstrated during the global COVID-19 pandemic when teachers rapidly pivoted to support children learning from home, while also keeping schools open for the children of essential workers.

In the past three decades in England, and for a shorter time in Australia, the overall direction of policies to improve the quality of teaching has been to standardise both what is taught and how it is taught. These moves have had some beneficial effects, including the explicit naming of valued learning outcomes and knowledge, and the potential for the breadth and complexity of teachers’ work to be identified and recognised. However, combined with the effects of market pressures and ‘datafication’ (Chapters 6 and 7), they have limited the professional judgement of teachers and narrowed their pedagogical repertoires so that teachers can make less difference, not more. In this chapter we explain what has happened and how the balance came to tip too far.

Prescribing teaching quality

Education in England has long been characterised by a contest for control between government, teachers and, to a certain extent, universities and their examination boards (McCulloch, 1993). The period from 1988 to 2010 saw substantial shifts in favour of government. The first major move was the introduction of the national curriculum by the Conservative government, bringing a higher degree of standardisation to what was taught. The second was the creation of Ofsted in 1992, bringing greater standardisation of practice. Ofsted replaced a variable system of Her Majesty's Inspectors and local inspection. It brought in a common inspection framework that, as we saw in Chapter 5, effectively prescribes practice in many schools as leaders attempt to create performances that will satisfy the gaze of Ofsted inspectors.

Type
Chapter
Information
Great Mistakes in Education Policy
And How to Avoid Them in the Future
, pp. 95 - 106
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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