I attended a thought-provoking conference at the University of Roehampton in London yesterday – fortunately it was only a couple of bus rides from where I live, though I felt slightly guilty about not getting on my bike.
The conference covered issues to do with the future of teacher education and had a range of key speakers including the education policy guru of the moment, Andreas Schleicher from OECD. However my interest was in comments made by Jon Coles, CEO of the United Learning Academy Chain, which runs 49 schools across England (as of April 2014 according to their website). He used to be the senior civil servant responsible for English state schools and to some extent has turned from gamekeeper to poacher. More importantly, he now has the relative freedom of saying what he really thinks about the education system, having once been a teacher himself.
Mr Coles sketched out 7 ‘bold claims’ he saw facing teacher education which I won’t list individually. What was of more interest was his analysis of the current landscape for teacher supply in England, with demographic and structural changes impacting on education – also captured in this report just published on recommended teacher pay levels in England and Wales. There are local shortages of specialist teachers in key subjects and United Learning is ensuring that it over-recruits to guarantee getting the best of them.
I’ve been looking at the role of specialist teachers through my current work and the other aspect I’ve blogged about is to do with life-long professional learning, which Jon also raised in his talk. He saw the need for the teaching profession in England to set and meet its own aspirational performance standards and so drive the quality of education in schools. I agree with this 100% with one proviso – this professional learning needs to be grounded in subject-based expertise, so that teachers have the confidence to perform to their best for young people who themselves must overcome any inhibitions about why specific learning is important, regardless of the views of their peers. This applies for example to gender bias for girls who want to study physics.