Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Teacher Power! A report on the National Education Conference

The first session was a fascinating speech from Mick Waters of the QCA. Most teachers think of the QCA as a very top-downwards, authoritarian body producing highly prescriptive “advice.” Mick Waters brought an entirely different perspective. While recognising the tension between national testing and local autonomy he was perfectly clear that “people in schools need to set their understandings of their children alongside the learning they should meet to create learning which is irresistible.” Unlike the run-of-the-mill bureaucrats he prefers to spend his time in the classroom working with teachers.

This set the tone of a conference which was about (apologies for the jargon) empowering teachers. Teacher power! It has a certain ring to it!

This was continued with a discussion of “personalised learning” and the somewhat ambiguous definitions available from the government. It was felt that “personalised learning” could be used to promote teacher autonomy (teacher power again) and the concept that learning should be related to the needs, aptitude and ability of the pupils. There was also a warning that “personalised learning” could be misinterpreted as a system which involved pupils interacting with computers without any teacher intervention and the delivery of education could be in the hands of unqualified staff.

Paul Crisp is the managing director of CUREE and although his presentation was heavily focussed on the research methodology of his work on mentoring of teachers, it is clear that much useful material has come out of this research which will be of use to Union Learning Reps in the future. Much of it is now available online.
click here

Elizabeth Wood of the University of Exeter talked about research on the issue of the underachievement of boys. Although she was restating much of the existing knowledge on this subject it is clearly important to go on stating it in a climate where the underachievement of boys is misunderstood. In many ways it is an oversimplification to talk about boys’ underachievement and her research was firmly based on the observation of children and her insights into the role of play. “When girls performed less well than boys it was not called underachievement. It was because they were all dumb blondes.” She has some very interesting and provocative research.

The future of the National Education Conference was a wide-ranging discussion somewhat depleted by some football game taking place at the same time.  It is proposed to promote the National Education Conference to teachers who take part in NUT Continuing Professional Development. They may well include the future leadership.

Maurice Galton’s research on “The Cost of Inclusion” tackled one of the conflicts in education at the moment. How can inclusion be helping pupils when the resources are not being provided to support the pupils being included? It is unsual for speeches to be interrupted by applause at the NEC. His remark that “these pupils have a right to be taught by qualified teachers” did receive a spontaneous ovation.

The final session of conference was a speech by Peter Mortimore who is not only an accomplished orator but also a powerful voice in educational circles. He had done a comparison between the NUT’s “Bringing down the Barriers” and the government’s Education Bill. The NUT had no input as to what his final result would be. The results are available online.

As Bill Greenshields concluded, “We are involved in a battle for ideas, every school is a fortress,”



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