Professor Colin Richards raises the question as to whether teaching experience is necessary for those running national educational organisations or playing a major role in education research…
Currently Ofsted is advertising for someone to lead and coordinate research projects but does not require experience of teaching or inspection as a prerequisite. Fair enough? Ofsted’s Director of Research has no school teaching or inspection experience… reasonable, perhaps? Ofsted’s Chief Inspector had no direct experience as a teacher or inspector before appointment. Not absolutely necessary (as I myself have argued in the past)? But shouldn’t one at least have that kind of experience if Ofsted is to be the research-based but education-oriented organisation its Chief Inspector claims?
But Ofsted is not alone in this. The head of Ofqual has no such experience. Nor indeed have any current ministers of education, though that’s not unusual. I don’t know the background of the most senior civil servants in the DfE, though I have my suspicions. For any individual it may not matter but for none of them to have such experience surely matters? Or does it?
Of course they can seek advice and I am sure they do. But what kind of advice and on what basis? Are their advisers drawing on intelligence from schools collected and collated by people visiting them on a daily basis? Are these visitors visiting with an open mind rather than with foreordained agendas, frameworks or schedules? Can they detect “clouds no bigger than a man’s hand” – issues that only just making themselves known and felt but could well be of future significance? Are they collecting evidence about the impact (positive/negative, anticipated/unanticipated) of official policies ? Are their advisers, especially if they are ‘special advisers” able and willing to speak “without fear or favour”? How would we know?
This short piece has been full of questions but that’s because I am genuinely puzzled how this situation has come about and how far it matters.
The teacher in me wants to argue that it matters a lot. Teaching and learning need to be understood by those making or influencing education policy and by those responsible for its inspection and research ; they also need to be felt. I accept that a degree of understanding is possible without the experience but only a degree.
But the felt aspects of teaching and inspection are impossible to appreciate without direct experience. For example how can anyone really appreciate the reality of primary class teaching, the impact of official initiatives and policies and the stress of inspection if they haven’t felt the huge weight of responsibility of being responsible, or almost entirely so for the education of young minds over the course of a school year or even longer? The same would apply to the difficulty of understanding and feeling the pressures a secondary specialist faces with their responsibility for fostering the learning of the hundred and more students they encounter during any one week.
We, and policy-makers, neglect the felt aspects of teaching at our peril. That felt experience cannot be fabricated, cannot be experienced at second hand; cannot be captured in civil-service prose. So some at least of major education decision-makers and researchers need it, don’t they?
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