Friday, January 13, 2012

Talking teaching

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I've been following the debate today about Education Secretary Michael Gove's  'plans to simplify and shorten the procedure for handling inadequate teachers' (see here). Whilst I would not take Gove's line exactly I do think we need to take tough action on the general competence and contribution to school-life of teachers. Before moving on to the higher education sector I spent ten yrs as a full time secondary school sciences and maths teacher and five yrs part-time followed by a spell teaching part-time in a sixth form college. I've seen some very poor teaching in each workplace, including some from those who'd been in the profession for many years and some who were new. I'd say the numbers were a single figure percentage of the hundreds of teachers I've worked with. As it happens my view on the numbers is reasonably consistent with controversial former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead's estimate of 15,000 teachers - less  than 5% - not up to the job (see here). 

As a parent I've now seen my daughter go through primary, secondary and college education (she's now applying to uni's) - and my view on teacher competence has hardened. I dont think we have more than a single figure percentage of incompetent teachers BUT when the incompentent teacher or two or three in the school is the one impacting on your child and their school you really experience the huge and wide-ranging effects it has (I withdrew and then home schooled my daughter through seven IGCSE's for the last fourteen months of her key stage four ie age 14-16).

The secondary headteacher emerged as largely a windbag who did not actually listen and respond to you. A few teachers impacted very negatively on my daughter. The local college also had a small number of bad teachers. Most of the school/college teachers were competent though and there were a few gems too - but every school/college I've worked in and every one I've experienced as a parent has had a high ability to close ranks and protect itself as an institution. They have had strong conservative (small c) attitude to change. This has allowed problems to persist and has in some cases magnified them. We thus desperately need genuine, open argument on this issue - but we aren't getting it and there's not much prospect of it because of entrenched attitudes and widespread deployment of a range of argument tactics on both sides (see screencast below).

The Daily Politics debated the issue today for instance - but based discussion largely on the fact that only a very small number of teachers have been struck off for incompetence over several decades (see here). Much better and more complete to consider this figure and that fact that 40% of teachers have abandoned the profession within three years, not all but some of this due to competence issues in addition to low pay, low status, the poor behaviour of pupils, high house prices and the prospects of easier and better paid alternatives for graduates (see here) . This raises issues of who is training to teach and then entering the profession and why. Many of them should never have taken the step to begin with. Maybe some of the teacher training is not up to the job either. The job can be a tough one, especially early on and this makes early support and action from good school management and leadership crucial - and it should come from all in the organisation, Heads, Deputies, senior and less senior teachers, other school staff, unions, pupils, governors, parents....though especially Heads.

Here's a screencast on genuine argument vs tactics used in arguments. You find these tactics and others everywhere but politics in particular is absolutely loaded with them for much of the time.

Happiness humbug?

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This ('Bristol is 'not a happy city' says poll') is really badly reported, though the issue is an interesting one. If 1 in 5 say they are not happy that leaves 4 in 5 that said something else...from neither happy nor not happy through happy to very happy one assumes. So, how is the Post headline justified? We have a few more people in one national survey who said they are not happy, compared the average - but that's not the same as 'not a happy city'. We need more information!

There's also the issue that this is only a snapshot - and is a self-assessment. Don't levels of happiness go up and down somewhat? What is happiness in any case and over what timescale are we talking? And how are happiness levels best assessed?

The story also mixes up happiness and contentment. The two are not the same. Being content is being satisfied, accepting and having desires that are reasonably restrained. Happiness is thought of as being pleased, feeling gladness or joy, though maybe its not so straightforward as this. For more sense than this article and to explore wellbeing as opposed to just happiness and contentment I'd read Martin Seligman's book 'Flourish'.

Seligman interviewed on newsnight

Proper progress?

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The folly of only adding when producing national accounts aand viewing progress in narrow terms.