In the last few decades, we’ve seen an ever increasing industry of testing, data and management culture throttling ordinary teachers.
Something did go wrong in the seventies. The process of comprehensivisation was hijacked by progressives, and secondary schools in particular became increasingly hellish places to work. It is not therefore surprising that politicians felt that they had to intervene.
But the manner in which the intervention has been, and continues to be, carried out, is ineffective. It too often seems to be based on the assumption that there are lots of lazy or stupid teachers out there who either cannot or will not listen to reason. There cannot be large scale improvement while the culture of surveillance and suspicion from above, and fear and distrust from below, continues. Teachers have to be won around to more effective methods, not by clubbing them over the head, but by providing training, resources and support that show them, in a concrete way, how things can be done better.
There must be a few really poor teachers out there. We’ve all heard stories about gross negligence. But really, it is the job of headteachers to deal with serious cases like this. Putting everyone under surveillance when just a few need sorting out is cowardly. Management should have the guts to deal with individuals when they fail in their professional duties.
As for everyone else, they are working hard, but often in an ineffective way, because they have swallowed progressive ideas about discovery learning, or the importance of skills and the insignificance of facts. They need to hear about a better way. They need to hear the good news: teachers should teach; pupils should work hard and not expect to be entertained.
This really is good news. Traditional methods are simpler and more effective. Teachers can rediscover the joy of teaching: simply passing on important knowledge, and expecting their pupils to put the effort into learning it. Whole class chanting of the dates of kings and queens or a great speech from Shakespeare fills everyone’s mind with useful and beautiful things.
Most of all, rediscovering traditional methods means that we can rediscover the joy of schooling. One of the most poisonous ideas promoted in recent decades is that there is something oppressive about school itself. It certainly can feel oppressive when a million different differentiation strategies, or elaborate marking and detailed planning, or hoop jumping performances for observers, are required.
So throw off the shackles, get some decent materials and just focus on filling the minds of the young with that which is good, true and beautiful.