Too many Government initiatives and the focus on structures and systems are drawing attention away from the classroom, says Academy Commission

Janet Downs's picture
Note: words in brackets are those of the author.

The avalanche of Government initiatives and reforms, changes in Ofsted and so on, was leaving heads uneasy. It was this that was preventing schools from being innovative.

Only 16% of the Teach First respondents to the Commission’s survey thought that innovations with teachers’ terms and conditions of service had a positive impact. This rose to 28% for teachers in academies (so 72% of Teach First respondents in academies thought that changing teachers’ pay and conditions did NOT have a positive effect.)

Only a third of the Teach First respondents thought changing the school day had contributed positively to school improvement. About half of Teach First respondents thought curricula innovations had made a positive difference – ironically, this figure was higher for Teach First respondents in non-academies (so, Teach First graduates in non-academies were seeing more positive results from innovative curricula than graduates in academies. But according to the Government, schools must be academies in order to innovate. According to the Government, non-academies don’t have the “freedom” to innovate. But they’re doing it, nevertheless.)

The Commission said there was “an overwhelming argument for focusing innovation on improving teaching and learning”. Pushing alternative structures, such as academy conversion, and concentrating on “systems and timetables” draws attention away from what is happening in the classroom. The emphasis should be on “valuing and supporting teachers as professionals”.

The Commission recommended that:

1 All schools should use the freedoms they already have to improve teaching and “develop better pedagogy”.

2 Teachers should be encouraged to be reflective, to be “active learners and researchers” who collaborate and share good practice.

3 Social media has a valuable role in sharing this good practice.

4 Unions are well-placed to encourage such a reflective system, as would a new Royal College of Teaching. (It's pleasing to see that the contribuition of teaching unions is recognised.  This contrasts with the Government's attitude which views unions as the enemy.)

5 Universities and schools should provide trainee teachers with analytical skills to “access, evaluate and design research” and ensure future teachers know how to critique and evaluate their own teaching. (The Sutton Trust’s toolkit which assesses the quality of evidence underpinning various teaching strategies is a useful resource especially when weighing up Government advice.)

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