While teaching is referred to as a “profession”, it is not treated in the same way as other professions such as medicine or engineering: with the assumption that there are “experts”.
Comparing education with medicine:
- Government has very little input into day-to-day medical practice. Professional opinion is highly valued and utilised. Medical practitioners are closely involved in decision-making which affects medical practice
Teachers teach what government tells them to. There is no structured way for teachers to contribute their experience/opinion to national decision-making.
- Medical training is based upon a shared, evidence-based model of best practice.
Teaching uses various models, of varying efficacy, with varying amounts of evidence to support them. There is no agreed evidence-based model for learning — (or, indeed, the wide-spread desire to provide one).
We propose two major, interlinked reforms:
Proposal 1: An evidence-based teaching qualification
Towards a Science of Learning
The professional and respected status of medicine dates from the adoption of the scientific, evidence-based models of organisms and disease which developed in the 19th century. Before education can be afforded the same respect and status it must move from a model of learning based in social science (where there are range of theories and only limited testing) to a rigorous evidence-based model.
We propose a new qualification which demonstrates knowledge of the evidence about how learning happens and the teaching techniques which promote it effectively.
Sources of evidence
Two important sources of evidence are:
- classroom experiments which show a correlation between some lesson styles/activities and more effective learning
- neuroscience research which provides a causal explanation for the classroom observations
The former now comprises a vast wealth of consistent data from which reliable conclusions have already been drawn. The latter is progressing through techniques such as fMRI and are allowing neuroscientists to make definitive statements about how the brain creates and accesses memories, about the nature of "learning" and about some of the reasons for poor performance. more details here.
Taken together, these constitute the basis for a "science of learning": the foundations of a valued and respected profession.
Existing qualifications in Education do not require knowledge or expertise in the evidence. To achieve professional status, therefore, we need a new qualification (for instance "Masters in Evidence-based Education"). We would anticipate that, as evidence-based practice proves its value over current decision-making, that this new qualification would develop a status for teaching comparable to that of professions such as medicine, engineering or law.
Proposal 2: The Professionally Contributing Teacher (PCT)
(This proposal is made here as applying generally to all teaching. However, since this site is concerned with science teaching, we are particularly concerned that it be applied in this area.)
We propose that it should be a normal encouraged practice (and part of School Teachers' Pay and Conditions) for large numbers of teachers to work part-time (perhaps 0.8 or 0.6) in schools and part-time (0.2 or 0.4) in areas which affect teaching nationally.
Elsewhere on this website, we have identified and recorded the problems with contemporary Science education. We believe that these flaws would be considerably reduced if the curriculum was put together with input from practicing Science teachers.
At present most contributors are ex-teachers, university Education lecturers, consultants and government department bureaucrats. While such people have their own expertise and remits that are necessary for such enterprise, we consider that this set of expertise is quite insufficient on its own.
A Professionally Contributing Teacher's (PCT) remit would be to contribute to the development of education policy and/or provision on a national scale in the following areas:
• research into best classroom practice or pedagogy.
• a greater role in teacher training (both initial and in-service).
• national projects, such as the National STEM Centre's resources project.
• curriculum maintenance and redesign (including programmes of study, subject criteria and schemes of learning).
• textbook and resource authoring.
• exam development and scrutiny
A PCT would be attached to a university Education department, exam board, publisher or DCSF department (or, in the case of Science, perhaps the National or nearest Science Learning Centre). There would be a statutory requirement to involve PCTs in all areas which affect teaching (see list above). While administration tasks would continue to be carried out by non-practitioners, the majority of decision-making should be made by PCTs. For the individual teacher, taking part as a PCT would be a recognised and valued component of their career. It could contribute to a Masters qualification.
For the school, it would be seen as impressive for schools to have Professionally Contributing Teachers on staff. PCTs would become experts in their field and provide the lead for best practice. Teachers would spend less time working around errors and more time helping their pupils.
Cost effectiveness PCTs would help prevent many of the errors which are imposed on teachers which result from unfamiliarity with ordinary school-age pupils. In science these errors include:
• Underestimating the ability of the most able
• Overestimating the ability of the non-academic pupils (particularly in abstract thinking)
• Failing to check the reading age of text
• Impractical tasks in SoW or textbooks
• Ambiguous questions and errors in textbooks and exam papers
• Making good use of currently-untapped professional skill.
• A more stable curriculum and education system supported by proven methods, better schemes of learning and tested resources.
• Improved learning, as pupils would be studying material more closely matched to their ability.
• Research would become less theoretical and academic and more focused on application in the classroom.
Read what Estelle Morris wrote in The Guardian on 27 October 2009.
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