I was contemplating the process of appointing staff recently when discussing job applications with a finalist trainee, preparing her thinking towards the written application, then the possibility of an interview. Over the course of my headship, I was able to appoint a number of staff at all levels. As the school reputation grew, the number and quality of applicants grew, to the point where, at times, we had sixty to seventy applications for one post. This was an embarrassment of riches and I did feel sorry for those, other than the five interviewed, for the time and effort spent in the application.
The school created a job description and a person specification that was sent to all candidates, so that they knew what the job entailed and the sort of personal qualities that were sought within the role being advertised.
In essence, the whole could be distilled into a simple mantra; analyse, plan, do, review, record.
This was the central feature of the school teaching and learning policy. We wanted thoughtful, reflective, self-developing, responsible colleagues, who were ordered and organised in their approach, in organising their classroom and their teaching plans, could get their ideas across with ease, relative to the audience, unpick any anomalies that might arise and record the journey so that there were reference points against which to make future judgements.
I don’t think things are very different today, as, being a school Governor, I am still involved in staffing decisions and he same qualities are sought.
It is intriguing that, within the White Paper on Education, there is a statement that Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) will be made more “rigorous”; particularly that it should be “signed off” by an “experienced headteacher”. This ignores the current state of play, where, whatever route is followed to achieve QTS, a significant time is spent in schools where an experienced mentor supports and then writes a summative report, often with the Head as a supervisor.
The essential need for the school, in my opinion, is to determine the employability of the student. Could they write a positive reference for the trainee? That would require a very modest alteration to current practice.
At the same time, it would be to the advantage of the system if every school was required to demonstrate their commitment to teacher training, through taking and mentoring trainees. Currently, it is in the gift of schools to receive or not, which means a great deal of time is spent with university tutors visiting, phoning, emailing or writing to schools to cajole them into having a trainee. It would need one line in an Ofsted visit report.
Having been in several roles within university (undergrad, post-grad, accreditation only) and School Direct (SCITT) routes into teaching, including interviewing candidates, I have a broad experience of the current state of play.
There is a need for a steady supply of entrants into the teaching profession. It has to be recognised that, whereas for my generation where teaching was seen as a route to personal betterment, it may well be the case that teacher status has been eroded by successive ministers over the past thirty years. With the rise in retirement ages, too, the potential for a 40+ year career may seem, to some, daunting from the outset.
To encourage the best entrants to join and retain a life-long interest, in order that they might take on senior roles, perhaps it is worth looking at teaching in the round. It does seem to take a certain character to think of becoming a teacher. Teaching is a well-rounded profession, requiring well rounded entrants.
Where a few minor tweaks might make a difference.
Teachers have to be able to operate at several levels within any lesson, dictated by the variety of needs exhibited by the class. This variety can mean that parallel classes in the same school can display significantly different approaches to the same teacher and the same learning. It is important that the prospective teacher is capable of taking on board a significant volume of information regarding the class(es) that they teach, with many individual needs to be addressed.
There is a thought process that needs to be undertaken;
· analysis of the class needs, along with the curriculum to be offered;
· planning for learning over the timescale of the theme;
· delivery approaches that enable knowledge to be shared economically and efficiently, along with challenging activities within which the knowledge will be used and applied in context;
· reflective activity within and between lessons to determine learning security and adjustments to expectation;
· essential note-making as aides memoire to support future thinking.
The range of needs can be expressed within a holistic diagram that draws from the current teaching standards.
Those seeking teacher status need to demonstrate a thoroughly professional manner, with all other colleagues. They need to demonstrate that they are ordered and organised, with good subject knowledge and underlying expectations of how a good classroom will be run, including good understanding of behaviour management. They need to show that they can put their knowledge together into packages that will enable children to be exposed to and retain essential knowledge that allows them to begin to understand the world in which they live.
The subject knowledge required by an EYFS child may appear to be of a different magnitude to an A level student, but every trainee needs to unpick the processes that underpin good learning in their subject(s), so that they are very aware of the journeys being undertaken, in order to fine tune to the needs of the children in each class.
This may, or may not, be a consequence of a particular degree grade requirement (currently seeking 2:1 candidates). Over my career, I have often found that trainees with a lower first degree, or slightly lower A level outcomes are often better at thinking about the learning needs of the children in their classes, rather than a focus just on the subject at hand.
Teachers need to know about how children learn; in Primary, across a very wide range of subjects, but up to the point decided by the curriculum for their age group. This used to be stated as level 5/6, which was described as equivalent to a C/D grade at GCSE.
There is a need to explore what progress looks like, in each subject, and how to quality assure outcomes, so that the act of engaging with the outcome informs the next steps from the teacher.
This, to me, is probably the most significant upgrade in teacher training; the use of exemplar materials to fully inform teacher expectations at every stage.
While a trainee should have experience of one KS1 and one KS2 classroom, they will not have experience across other years. In some areas, such as SEN, to understand outcomes from previous and successive years is essential to making valid judgements about the relative achievements of a child or a cohort. That can also provide approaches to enable a teacher to offer appropriate challenge to children, with the express desire to investigate aspects of their thinking, whether as higher or lower achievers.
There are significant variables between schools now that mean that successive school experiences can require the trainee to adjust their planning approach significantly, classroom approaches including behaviour management and assessment, along with the need to get to know very rapidly a new group of children. This can be significant within School Direct second experiences, which might be a short half term.
Initial Teacher Education is always likely to have issues attached. It is, after all, an initial stage in becoming a teacher; permission to go, unsupported, into a classroom and to take responsibility for a class development over the course of a school year.
There are many very good ways of becoming a teacher. University based courses have the benefit of regular lectures on site with access to the university library between lectures. This can be to the disadvantage of School Direct or Accreditation Only students, especially of we want an evidence informed profession.
The context, the professionalism of the receiving school and the direct mentoring in school is a key element in a successful outcome. I would want all schools to be geared up to receive students, with outline training for all as professional colleagues, and detailed training for the class-based mentor to be able to coach effectively during the practice. The opportunity for professional dialogue to be developed has to be planned. As the school receives funding for trainee oversight, this needs to be planned to happen and be evidenced as having done so.
While some trainees have assignments to complete during their school experience, others don’t. The inclusion of set assignments can be a distraction for some, but, if tuned to the practice, can enhance the experience. With lesson study being high profile as a CPD approach, I’d want the opportunity of school experience to become a very reflective period, with some kind of lesson study journal developed throughout, as a combination of mentor observations and trainee reflections. This could be summarised at a significant point in the experience to generate personal development targets.
Becoming a teacher is not an easy path, nor should it be; it is not a job for the faint hearted.
If trainees, at the end of their training are
· self-developing, self-reliant professionals, team leaders and team players,
· capable of organising themselves and the classes where they have teaching responsibility effectively,
· planned, over different timescales, and resourced to need,
· with a delivery style that engages the children to listen attentively, supported by appropriately challenging tasks,
· where they involve themselves with ongoing learning in lessons, picking up the, often subtle, signs that a child might be finding the learning easy or a little harder than expected,
· discussing concerns, or personal needs with appropriate colleagues
· and good record keepers,
We might be able to say that, given the chance to keep developing and thinking in this way, they could be a good or very good teacher.
Around these developing professionals needs to be a well-equipped, well-resourced organisation of professional mentors, capable of having the essential conversations that enable the trainee to function at the highest possible level.
If I had to pick out one key area which is in need of significant national debate it is teaching standard 2, progress and outcomes. I have long held that portfolios of exemplar material informs the developing teacher about what might be reasonable expectations of children of different ages. This understanding has an impact on teacher judgement, which is an essential underpinning of assessment.
It is not, nor ever has been, a case of just talking at children.
I wrote about that in Teach, teacher, "Teachest" tackling the development of the teacher skills needed over a career.
Further ITE related blog posts
teaching Standards 2012; aide memoire
24652 ; Teacher Standards
Thinking lessons; teaching standards
Would you want to be a child in your class?