Poll: Is a teacher's primary role to teach children or to ensure their development, well-being and safety?

24 Aug

Professor Gerry McCormac is due to publish his review into teacher employment in Scotland at the end of September. You can read Voice's evidence here.

In May, confidential evidence from the employers' organisation, COSLA, to the review was leaked to the press. This included the statement:

'the primary role for a teacher should not be to teach children but should be articulated in terms of ensuring the development, well being and safety of children'.

This caused a storm of protest from many teachers, with some of their representatives branding the idea as "stupid" or "bonkers". Writing in the latest issue of Your Voice, the journal for Voice members, General Secretary Philip Parkin expressed the view that:

"If teachers are not there to teach children as their primary function, I don't know what they are for."

Clearly, teachers do have important responsibilities for ensuring the development, well-being and safety of children, but surely their primary role is to teach.

A COSLA spokesman defended its ideas as "points for discussion, nothing is set in stone".

However, does COSLA have a point?

Writing in The Guardian, former English Education Secretary Estelle Morris argues that:

"The riots suggest that the education system must concern itself with a lot more than simple exam results".

" given events, it is right to ask the education service to do more .. other concerns are also on the public agenda citizenship, morality, how to instil a sense of personal and civic purpose in our children and young people. This is not new. Making sure young people develop these skills and attitudes has always been the mark of a decent society and a successful education system; but the evidence before our eyes tells us that we are not getting it right .

"It is easy to agree about the importance of teaching citizenship and values, but it belongs to an area of learning that we’ve struggled to develop the language to discuss.

"There are no GCSEs in values or a league table for citizenship. This summer’s exam results don’t tell us which pupils will make the most responsible citizens or the best parents. These skills aren’t easily measured or weighed, and we don’t have a marks system that charts individual progress. As a result, we have often given the impression that they are not as important as those things we can measure

"For some children, schools are the most stable and disciplined part of their lives. It is the only place where their day has structure and where their ambition is nurtured. For many who come from chaotic homes both poor and rich schools provide stability and make all the difference to children’s lives.

"Schools taking on some of the responsibilities of families might be second best, but this is the way it is for some children and the development of schools as bases for a range of professional services must continue to be supported…

"Education is a major engine of social change, and inevitably much will be asked of it in the months to come. Academic success must continue to be a top priority, but our definition of a 'good education' needs to be substantially revisited. It is a task long overdue."

How we measure the unmeasurable is an issue that was examined in a previous blog post:

"As the saying goes, 'you can't fatten a pig by weighing it' . How do you or should we try to measure 'inspiration' and all the other aspects of education that aren't about exam results and producing economically useful citizens?"

Do let us know your thoughts (below) and vote in the poll [closed].

Poll Result: Is a teacher's primary role to teach children or to ensure their development, well-being and safety? (24 August to 14 September 2011):

  • Teach: 71% (10 votes)
  • Ensure children’s development, well-being & safety: 29% (4 votes)
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2 Responses to “Poll: Is a teacher's primary role to teach children or to ensure their development, well-being and safety?”

  1. Barbara Crane 27. Aug, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    I was so incensed by this comment from COSLA when it first hit the news that I circulated it many of my fellow teachers – I can do a very good ‘Grumpy Old Woman’ when provoked. In my view the statement could only have been made by someone who had minimal knowledge of the teaching profession. The clue is in our title, namely teacher. We are not social workers, and indeed if that was the career path that interested us, presumably we wouldn’t be in the classroom. Of course we are concerned with the individual child’s welfare and development, but it seems COSLA is simply trying to enforce the current trend whereby schools are expected to fix all the ills of society. In fact, now I think of it, the quote is exactly what should define a parent’s role!

  2. Richard Fraser 06. Oct, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

    Ofsted's framework for school inspection from January 2012: "The most important role of teaching is to raise pupils' achievement.” ?

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