Claim your College: Three questions from a sceptic

Initially I had no desire to write about the developing plans for the College of Teachers but after some brief exchanges on Twitter with David Weston and Gareth Alcott about a blogpost by Andrew Old I've reached the point where I have some particular questions and Twitter just doesn't seem the appropriate format for them anymore. I'm not expecting a reply and this blog has been as much about developing my own thinking on this subject as anything else.

I'd like to thank Gareth and David for their engagement with sceptics on social media. David took the time to forward me a copy of the Claim your College proposal document, although this document does little to assuage my own fears it has focused my thinking and I have quoted liberally from it below. Similarly Andrew Old's blogging on this topic has been superb to the point where prominent bloggers usually opposed to Andrew, Miss Smith for example, have approved. Anyway here are the questions;

'The process to appoint the Founding Directors will be managed by a recruitment company and a Select Committee will select candidates. The Selection Committee will comprise six practising teachers and headteachers nominated by six of the main Unions: four practising teachers and headteachers nominated by organisations who have initiated the Claim your College campaign; and six representatives from other key stakeholder groups (three heads nominated by the Local Government Association, the Independent Schools Commission and the Commission of Academy Primciples, and three Teacher Governors nominated by the Local Governor's Association).'

While the Claim your College point out that the founding directors will be appointed through 'transparent, public selection process' the particular structure of the selection committee worries me.

Question 1: Is there anything preventing the interested bodies from nominating a selection committee sympathetic to their particular interests?

'The range of external training offered to the education community is wide and the quality variable. This is also reflected within schools, where the processes for professional learning and development vary wildly from superficial to world-class. The community that the membership represents should be in a position to offer advice and comment.'

'The new College must not present a threat to other professional organisations that are providing value to education and command significant loyalty from their members.'

Question 2: Will the College of Teaching be able to describe the CPD offered by a professional organisation as 'superficial' and not present a threat to that organisation?

'Chartered status must become an achievement that headteachers and employers value and come to regard as a normal expectation of those seeking promotion or employment.'

'The essential elements that have universal agreement are that a College of Teaching must be…Voluntary.'

Question 3: If chartered status is to be a normal expectation for employment how can membership to the college remain voluntary?



Practical Work in Science Part 2: Beyond the blundering headlines

In this series of blogposts I discuss the state of practical work in secondary school science lessons. Last time I welcomed Ofqual’s decision to scrap ISAs (the current method of assessing practical skills at GCSE) and suggested some reasons why many Science teachers feel the same way. This is a rare moment of accord between a regulator and the teaching profession and one thoroughly spoilt by the press briefing ‘scientific’ members of the educational establishment. The doom-mongering ‘it is the end of practical work’ headlines are tiresome and unhelpfully endorsed by tedious education secretary Nicky Morgan. Yet I find myself equally impatient with partisan ‘what do they know' responses from some colleagues especially as some of the most prominent voices are members of the press and scientific community themselves. I think the sceptics know quite a bit and, contrary to popular opinion, they have listened to teachers.

The Gatsby Foundation and Wellcome (GFWT) Trust are amongst the most vocally opposed to Ofqual’s proposals yet a joint policy note from June 2013 (referenced directly by Ofqual in the consultation document) articulates no love for ISAs:

‘There is universal agreement among those we consulted that this assessment method is deeply flawed. It makes teachers focus on a narrow range of externally-set practicals as they hone students to do well in what constitutes 25% of their final grade. Students are internally assessed on their planning and analytical abilities (not on their technical skills) by their teachers who, under our high stakes system, are under enormous pressure to give students maximum marks.’

Despite this accurate assessment the GFWT were signatories to a letter, published in the press, sent to Head of Ofqual Glenys Stacey criticising the reforms:

‘We are deeply concerned by the proposal that practical skills will not be directly assessed, and the suggestion that such skills can be validly measured through questions in the written exam.’

To me this excerpt reveals more about the GFWT’s motivations than the headlines. Their inclination towards direct assessment of student’s practical skills, not ISAs, seems clear if a little short sighted given their genuine concern about validity and Ofqual’s reasons (see here) for rejecting direct assessment:

‘Sheer numbers are a particular consideration…teachers would need to observe directly and carefully a sufficient amount of each student’s practical work to judge whether or not that student had performed the wide range of skills to the required standard. If students’ skills were to be assessed in more than a few practical tasks, the assessments would become unmanageable, yet with too few tasks they would not be particularly valid.’

Briefing against Ofqual on this demonstrates a lack of understanding of departmental level systems on the part of GFWT. That said their letter does, once again, demonstrate a remarkable appreciation of the unintended consequences of our target driven accountability measures:

‘Without direct assessment, practical science may be devalued by head teachers and senior leaders who are under pressure from school accountability measures and tight budgets.’

Yet GFWT's appreciation only goes so far and I think it is contradictory, given their earlier positioning, to assume that Ofqual regulating in favour of direct assessment will get disinterested people to reverse their attitudes towards practical skills; if accountability measures encourage people to take short cuts then more regulation will likely lead to more of the same behaviour.

Despite the clumsy headlines the dividing lines between the educational establishment, Ofqual and the teaching profession are limited to direct assessment and solving the problems associated with accountability measures. The educational establishment need to let direct assessment go and realise that anything consuming money and time is an enemy of pertinent practical activities. There also needs to be an acceptance that, while current accountability measures remain, different regulation is unlikely to lead to a massive shift in values. With this in mind Ofqual’s proposed minimum of eight practicals per GCSE qualification with associated examination questions is a good way to nudge the reluctant while minimising regulatory burdens on teachers who genuinely want to offer a higher frequency of pertinent practical work.