Guest Blog: Doing my bit for primary education and teacher CPD

16 Jun 2016

As a member of the Millionplus Deans of Education Network I was delighted to be able to represent them by giving evidence to the Education Select Committee on Teacher Supply and the relationship this has with Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

I was very nervous at the thought of giving evidence and I wanted to make sure I was able to contribute to the discussion in terms of my professional understanding and experience of the relevant issues and also to be fair to the views held collectively by the Education Deans.

I was contacted by the Committee Clerk two days prior to giving evidence. She was very warm and reassuring and let me know what the lines of enquiry would be. I was then able to meet with Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of Millionplus the next day and talk through the questions with her, Senior Parliamentary Officer Adam Haxell and Policy Officer Alex Rowley. Pam provided some very good advice and encouraged me to speak to the point and tell it like it is.

The committee met in Portcullis House in Westminster. I was greeted by Alex and Adam who were both incredibly supportive. As we were welcomed into the room it did not feel quite so daunting with them sitting behind me.

I was nervous and fluffed my introduction, but the other witnesses were giving their evidence confidently and coherently and I was determined to do the same. Four of the five witnesses were orientated towards secondary school provision, male and representing STEM subjects. I wanted to make sure that I could encourage the Committee to also think about primary school teachers and their wide-ranging role. Primary education is often forced to adapt to educative models that are more appropriate for secondary schools.

I wanted to make a few points that I felt were really important. I am not sure I always managed to say what I wanted eloquently, so was delighted that MillionPlus and other educationalists in the audience were able to sum up the arguments so articulately in a series of tweets.

When Millionplus asked me to write a blog about my experience I thought it would be a good opportunity to re-iterate my main concerns clearly and succinctly:

  1. Teacher educators are essential in supporting the development of excellent teachers. Currently they are not sufficiently recognised.
  2. Most Initial Teacher Education is brief. Routes into teaching have become increasingly varied and would-be teachers no longer have an entitlement to a minimum length of training.
  3. There has been an ideological shift in the way we train teachers towards an apprenticeship model rather than developing autonomous professionals.
  4. The danger of insufficient initial training and continuous professional development is that teaching can become superficial and performative, leading teachers to focus on knowledge- based learning rather than conceptual understanding. 
  5. Primary school teachers need to provide quality learning experiences across a wide range of subjects. Initial training for primary is limited in arts, humanities and physical education. All these subjects contribute to creating a rounded education. More time needs to be invested into primary school teachers at the outset to enable them to develop children holistically. Under the current model their preparation is insufficient.
  6. School, universities and subject organisations already work in partnership to develop the best-quality teacher education. The government needs to re-evaluate how primary school teachers should spend their training year and early years in the profession to ensure that they get more than a ‘hit and miss’ experience of professional development.
  7. CPD should be a professional entitlement and a responsibility. A national flexible framework would be a step towards ensuring that all teachers are up to speed and excited about their teaching. Teachers and schools ought to be able to make decisions on professional development needs, based not on simply what may be available, but from high quality CPD options provided by excellent teacher educators and subject organisations. Currently, given the level of policy change too much CPD is focused on policy and curriculum change.
  8. Providing quality CPD makes a difference:
    • It should change classroom practices for the better
    • It should make teachers feel valued
    • It should match the needs of teachers and schools
    • It should re-energise teachers
  9. There are Professional Development Opportunities for teachers, but these are neither consistently provided nor sustained. To address this there should be a National Framework of Entitlement so all teachers can engage with research in their field, both on how to improve teaching and subject knowledge.
  10. England, compared with many nations, is in a strong position to ensure its teachers and teacher educators can work in partnership to educate the next generation. The government should actively seek opportunities to strengthen the role of teacher educators going forward.

With luck, these points resonated with the Committee; I and the rest of the MillionPlus Deans of Education Network will eagerly await publication of its findings later this year.

Dr Jane Courtney
Head of the Education Division in the School of Law and Social Sciences

London South Bank University

For more updates on similar topics follow: @DrJaneCourtney / @million_plus