Yes: support and praise, not name and shame

13 Mar

In an article in today's Guardian ("Ontario shows us we should support our teachers, not shame them") Fiona Millar argues that "the Canadian province improved its education system by being supportive rather than dismissive of state schools":

"At the moment, the lion's share of the public debate about education whether from Ofsted, ministers, their tweeting acolytes or media cronies is focused on failure. Wherever you look, schools, teachers, heads and pupils are lumped together in a great big heaving mass of underachievement. I don’t make this point to excuse inadequate performance but to pose a serious question: can you really build a better system by denigrating and demotivating the very people you need to make it work well?

"The answer to that question is almost certainly no. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should read How to Change 5,000 Schools by Canadian academic and ex-education minister Ben Levin. In this book Levin, who is delivering a lecture at the Institute of Education in London later this month, charts the reform programme that has transformed schooling and outcomes for young people in the large, diverse province of Ontario over the last 10 years.

"When the provincial government in which Levin served was elected, the Ontario school system was in trouble. In Canada each province has sole responsibility for education, and previous administrations had made structural changes, slashed funding, over promoted testing and gone to war with the unions. Perhaps most important, Levin writes: 'The government was vigorously critical of schools and teachers in public.' The result was industrial unrest, plummeting teacher morale, low parental confidence and stagnating pupil achievement. Maybe not surprisingly, in 2003 a new government was elected on a platform of renewing and improving public education. Today Ontario is widely acclaimed, not least by both the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) and the OECD for its rare combination of excellence and equity for all .

"The Ontario government chose a few targeted and ambitious, but not unusual, objectives: raising standards for all, narrowing gaps, increasing participation rates, and growing public confidence in state schools. But rather than experimenting with US-style marketisation policies and tinkering with structures, it developed a rigorous programme based on evidence, and began a relentless focus on implementation and building capacity at every level.

"'Skill' and 'will' became the watchwords, not just for teachers but for everybody involved in the education system, which progressed rapidly thanks to massive investment in leadership and professional development at school, district and ministerial level.

"Public statements from government and ministers were switched to be deliberately supportive rather than dismissive of state schools. Finally, and most crucially, the government set out to build a respectful, collaborative relationship with teachers, unions, pupils and parents. 'You cannot threaten, shame or punish people into top performance,' writes Levin."

It is encouraging and refreshing to read this.

Voice has pointed out that education is being pulled in different directions by competing visions but currently pursues the principle of 'success' or 'failure' in academic examinations in subjects that are included in the narrow and pointless EBacc to the detriment of the vocational . This system of exam-based 'accountability' encourages teaching to the test rather than the teaching of a broad and balanced education. It is for the benefit of the government, rather than for providing information for parents and taxpayers.

We have also warned that Ofsted suffers from a tediously repetitive habit of pandering to the Government and the media by being negative, instead of accentuating the many positives in education. This approach creates the impression of a culture of failure and gives a negative impression to parents. Voice General Secretary Philip Parkin has commented that "Ofsted has become too broad and unwieldy and has lost its focus."

Voice has long maintained that the whole inspection process should be far more supportive and advice-driven and far less judgemental. How do we allow teachers to be creative and inspirational in a politically-enforced regime that encourages teaching to the test and ticking targets?

Commenting on Ofsted's plans for no-notice inspection for schools, Philip Parkin said:

"Such a Big Brother approach is not the way to get the best out of people. If that is the way inspections are to go, it shows a distrust of, and disrespect for, the teaching profession and signals that the inspection regime has become too overbearing and needs to be reviewed and restructured to make it much more supportive and advisory."

He has also said that:

"The Chief Inspector seems to be on an ego trip to prove how tough he is and that he can out-Woodhead Chris Woodhead.

"Re-examining 'outstanding' schools undermines completely the little credibility Ofsted had with teachers. It also undermines his own inspectors. Sir Michael clearly doesn't trust their judgement.

"Sir Michael Wilshaw seems to want to threaten schools rather than work with them.

"Voice has long maintained that the whole inspection process should be far more supportive and advice-driven and far less judgemental."

The Government seems to have adopted the stance that those who take a different view are the ‘enemy‘ and has certainly adopted a combative stance in numerous platitudinous conference speeches and in the language used by ministers to generate headlines.

Stephen Twigg's idea for an evidence-driven Office for Educational Improvement is worthy of very serious consideration if it could help to re-establish the trust and confidence between teachers and politicians that has been lost because of the confrontational and morale-sapping style adopted by Ofsted and the current Secretary of State for Education.

Instead of Sweden, China and the USA, Mr Gove should turn his attention to Canada and to Finland, where:

" education is appreciated and there is a broad political consensus on education policy". Where "the education system is flexible and the administration based on the principal of 'Centralised steering local implementation' and "schools and teachers enjoy large autonomy."

Your comments would be welcome .

Update: New blog post: "Lecturing" or not "lecturing"? Mixed messages on family and marriage

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One Response to “Yes: support and praise, not name and shame”

  1. Richard Fraser 11. Apr, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    More on Finland: []

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