‘Look to the 1980s for lessons on great education’

The UCL research comparing teachers’ reasons for coming into the profession and their reasons for leaving or wanting to leave makes heartbreaking reading. The title says it all: “What motivates people to teach, and why do they leave? Accountability, performativity and teacher retention.”  Tes reports.

It shows that Britain isn’t just squandering the greatest resource it has to improve the lives of young people but that the profession I have believed in for so long has lost its way.

Anne Nicholls’ “Seven signs you were a teacher in the 1980s”  article wafts in the unforgettable aroma of Banda fluid. It’s the very whiff of nostalgia for an era that began in desperately high youth unemployment and ended with the illusion of prosperity in the outside world.

In teaching, it started with an array of qualifications promoting teacher independence. And, of course, it ended with the national curriculum hitting the education system. The writing was on the wall.

At their inception, GCSEs were actually fit for purpose because they weren’t strangled by an accountability framework that made every teacher fear the consequences of any dip in the performance of any member of the class, no matter how transient. In English language and literature, this 1980s qualification allowed teachers to set assignments which could be both controlled and developmental. Teachers learned how to design tasks and assessment. They collaborated in local consortia. These were very necessary intellectual and developmental activities. In other words, teachers’ efforts were channelled into teaching and their identity derived from the intellectual pedagogical pursuit.

When we talk about professional identity and performance in the 21st century, it’s more about the latest rating from lesson observations, book scrutinies and pupil voice. Yes, in the ’80s books did get looked at, homework setting was checked and pupils had views, but these were treated proportionately. Heads of department discussed curriculum, actual subject materials and suggested strategies where necessary.

In the late ’80s, pupils who would have coasted through exam-based courses in English were working hard every lesson on coursework and learning how to write as well as how to think about the subject. The only problem which could arise was that parents – or, in very rare cases, a home tutor – might have a hand in the writing. But investigation of potential malpractice was much less fraught because the teacher’s professional judgement was respected.

And teacher development? The best course I have ever been on (one evening a week, plus residential weekends) was on the use of counselling skills in the development of learning. It was holistic, equipping the course delegates with an array of interpersonal skills and providing genuine reflection into the individual’s life experiences and the ways in which these shaped their responses to their charges. The greatest asset of the course was that it encouraged people to put aside judgements and to develop keen listening skills. The weekend courses returned us to the classroom with a much deeper understanding of our pupils and their motivation.

Read the full article ‘Look to the 1980s for lessons on great education’

Were you a new enthusiastic teacher in the 80s? Are you still teaching? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~Tamsin

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