This essay seeks to provide an in-depth analysis of a particular policy problem in relation to the education system in the United Kingdom (henceforth, the UK). The policy problem chosen is that of the teaching profession itself and, more specifically, teachers' professional development. On this basis, it will be argued that government policy in the past has effectively served to 'disempower' teachers so that there is a need for government policymakers to look to be aware of the impact of any proposals for reform in the future upon teachers and their professional development as well as the students that they are teaching. With this in mind, it will be necessary for this essay to state what, if any, policies already exist with a view to resolving the problems identified, who the main players are in the resolution of this process, what the major interests and conflicts are in this regard, and what plausible and realistic solutions exist to effectively resolving these problems. Finally, this essay will then seek to provide for a summary of the key points to have been derived from this policy analysis in relation to the apparent 'disempowerment' of the teaching profession in the UK.
Main Body of Analysis
Aside from Michael Howard’s 2005 election campaign commitment for all schools to teach synthetic phonics (Mulholland, 2005), in recent years the Conservative Party’s approach to the teaching profession has been to look to 'empower' teachers, and this policy objective has been largely taken on into the Coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. This is because the Conservatives in particular have served to effectively state that it should not be for education ministers to dictate to teachers how they are to teach to the letter (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). However, the problem with this kind of approach is that this then leads to a lack of consistency with regard to the provision of effective strategies for teachers professional development of teachers so it is perhaps little wonder that such efforts have been somewhat half-hearted at best (even though this something the Labour government shares).
As a result, it is arguable that there is already something of a policy contradiction here. This is because, somewhat ironically, a previous Conservative government (although governing alone this time) was responsible for the only full-scale enquiry into the continuing professional development of teachers through the 1972 James Report. However, that is not to say that the opposition has been more successful since the approach taken by Labour governments had been somewhat misguided. By way of illustration, Callaghan's government adopted a professional development structure specifically for teachers with £60 million to be divided amongst the various local authorities at this time (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). Whilst this seemed like a good idea at the time for dealing with the issue of teachers' professional development, the problem was that the government did not look to place restrictions upon the money: the local authorities could simply spend this money on whatever they wanted including things that were completely unrelated (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4).
On this basis, it seems hardly surprising that the Conservative government that followed Callaghan's Labour looked to effectively 'ring fence' all future Grants for Education, Support & Training so they were directed to the areas they were meant for (Bangs et al., 2010, at Chapter 4). In addition, key James Report recommendations effectively dissipated when the then government introduced local authorities’ management of schools; teachers’ professional development centres and even funded sabbaticals through the Education Reform Act 1988 served to effectively promote the first national professional development programme.
However, 'New Labour' (that immediately preceded the Coalition) had a different perspective regarding teachers' role within the education system and the improvement of educational standards. Put simply, professional development was arguably a policy issue that was some way down the pecking order of matters to be dealt with by the government in the area of education. This is because 'New Labour's' primary focus was actually upon improving standards of numeracy and literacy at primary school level with a view to then generating a positive impact throughout the entire system (Bassey, 2005). To further emphasise the point, it is interesting to note that, in hindsight, 'New Labour' ministers believed that they did not understand “the demands of teaching” during their first three years in office partly because they had no awareness of “the pressure in the classroom” to deal with it (Woodward, 2003).
That this should have proved to be the case is arguably a reflection of the fact that it was arguably easier for successive Labour and Conservative governments to look to tell teachers what to do rather than understand the realities of the profession itself. A series of direct interventions in this regard were made including – (a) School Inspections; (b) the pilot Literacy and Numeracy Projects; (c) the Grants for Education and Support and Training scheme; (d) National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies; (e) the inclusion of Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning; (f) the creation of School Inspection Partners; and (g) a National Professional Development Strategy (Bangs et al., 2010, at Chapter 4). In addition, attempts made in this regard have been taken to indirectly include the creation of - (a) the National Curriculum; (b) National Curriculum Assessment; (c) School Performance Tables; (d) the Teacher Training Agency (later revamped into the Teacher Development Agency); (e) ‘Baker Days’; (f) National Targets; (g) a National College for School Leadership; and (h) a General Teaching Council for Education (Bangs et al., 2010, at Chapter 4).
With the arguable exception of the General Teaching Council for Education, all too few of the measures implemented by successive national governments have served to address how teachers can own their learning and enhance their professional development whilst also improving their performance as teachers in looking to achieve government targets relating to students' education. Such a view was effectively supported by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development's 'Creative Teaching & Learning Environment: Teaching & Learning International Survey' (Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development, 2009) This survey served to reflect upon positive links between teachers' professional development and their performance in fulfilling government targets as 'building blocks' for government policy (although the UK did not actually participate in the survey) (Bangs et al., 2010, at Chapter 4).
Nevertheless, when Labour first came to government in 1997 failing schools were identified with a view to then developing the concept of ‘pressure and support’ for handling teachers within the education system (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). The 'pressure' aspect of this concept is arguably easily dealt with as simply referring to the need for teachers to look to fulfil government targets but the 'support' aspect is effectively two-pronged with a view to increasing teachers’ confidence and morale within the teaching profession (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). This is because it was believed by the then Labour government that what was a devastated workforce could recover through a public celebration of the successes of teachers through the Teaching Awards that became an annual event that captured the media’s attention and thus also the public at large (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). In addition, the status of teachers was focussed upon through the General Teaching Council that was implemented to recognise teachers' rights along with their professional development (General Teaching Council, 2000).
However, organisations like the National Union of Teachers were concerned about the General Teaching Council for Education having been given the power to ban teachers from continuing to teach based on their competence. Nevertheless, the key mistake the government, teacher organisations and the General Teaching Council for Education made concerned the assumption teachers would welcome a disciplinary body and pay for it (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). Therefore, teachers responded to the General Teaching Council for Education with hostility despite its apparent intention to raise the status of the profession (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). With regard to the aforementioned concept of ‘pressure and support’, a Department for Education & Employment Green Paper looked to deal with this concept by including the Teaching Awards and General Teaching Council for Education within its remit (Department for Education & Employment, 1999). The same Green Paper also 'attacked' teachers' collectivist culture by introducing individual pay incentives linked to performance management. (Department for Education & Employment, 1999, 32). The aforementioned Green Paper also borrowed from the recommendations of the James Report in developing a framework consisting of - (a) the government’s training priorities; (b) school priorities; and (c) recognising teachers’ individual development needs (Department for Education & Employment, 1999).
Arguably, more importantly for the purpose of this essay's discussion, this same 1999 Green Paper also gave impetus to the establishment of the National College for School Leadership to further benefit the teaching profession (Department for Education & Employment, 1999). That this proved to be the case was a reflection of the fact influencing leadership through a government agency had become a top priority particularly given head teachers’ somewhat difficult relationship with the governments 'Literacy & Numeracy Strategies' (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). Therefore, ensuring head teachers are effective pedagogic leaders is a key strategic aim for any government so this strategy that was launched just before the elections in 2001 served to include a range of innovative forms of teacher learning previously promoted (Cordingley et al., 2003). This is because it was believed that research carried out at this time with a view to developing an effective government policy in this regard had served to identify the professional development with the most potential for raising pupil achievement through collaborative professional development (Cordingley et al., 2003).
However, unfortunately, as has already been stated, the strategy proved somewhat to be all too short-lived since it was thought of as too unimportant at the time (Department for Education & Employment, 1999). This is a sad state of affairs. The fact that more effort has not previously been made to enhance the system of professional development for teachers in the UK is clearly a significant flaw for the education system. This is because, as the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development previously recognised (Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development, 2009), it is arguable that effectively providing for teachers' development will enhance the way in which they go about undertaking their work through improved performance. Nevertheless, other structural factors also undermine the strategy the government implemented because the government’s new Standards and Effectiveness Unit had its own priorities involving delivering its 'Literacy & Numeracy Strategies' along with tackling schools that were failing (Cordingley et al., 2003).
Effective pedagogic leadership needs for national governments to be confident in the skills and abilities of its leaders. However, two events eliminated the then Labour government’s 'Continuing Professional Development Strategy' in 2003 through a minor funding crisis that proved detrimental to introducing new reforms for teachers related to planning and preparation time along with pressure from head teachers that saw the government remove the 'ring fencing' implemented to make sure funding was used correctly (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). That there has long been tension in this regard is exemplified by the 'Strategy for the Professional Development of the Children’s Workforce in Schools 2009-12' that was strong on teachers' leadership and emphasised belief in the importance of professional development being ‘a right and responsibility’ including a mixture of school based activity and coaching and mentoring (Teacher Development Agency, 2009).
However, it is arguable that successive governments have still proved to be largely unable to fully understand teachers’ collective self-efficacy is not dependent on a leadership structure alone; although it may not seem a long-dead initiative from a previous government is worth much attention (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). The fact is that it was the only initiative with the potential to solve problems previously highlighted in government research (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). This is because any government with an interest in raising standards must learn the obvious lessons from the premature ending of something by internalising and prioritising the importance of teacher learning and learning from national and international research (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4).
Arguably some further positive steps were taken in this regard in the form of the School Workforce Agreement (Morris, 2001) These proposals sought to reduce teachers workload through the employment of thousands of extra support staff to take on administrative and teaching work (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4). The problem is the School Workforce Agreement proved to be an agreement that was and is somewhat controversial with the National Union of Teachers in particular refusing to sign (University of Cambridge, 2009, xx). In addition, a Department for Children, Schools & Families commissioned study found a negative relationship existed between the amount of additional support provided by support staff and students' academic progress so it was possible to conclude the negative effect was on progress over the school year. (Blatchford et al., 2009).
However, despite the supposedly positive efforts undertaken by the government with a view to improving teachers professional development, five years after the School Workforce Agreement was implemented primary teachers average working hours have increased on average (although secondary teachers working hours had actually decreased) (Galton and MacBeath, 2008). Even where there have been rare examples of reductions in workload they have been countered by other initiatives (Bangs et al., 2010, at Chapter 4). As a result, it is arguably little wonder the first academic analysis of the School Workforce Agreement came to an even more disturbing conclusion (Carter et al., 2010, 141). This is because “reform represents a further separation of conception from execution in teaching, whereby those with management roles assume increased importance in designing and maintaining teachers’ work, whilst the majority of the workforce find their work increasingly codified and policed” (Carter et al., 2010, 141). In addition, it is also to be appreciated that the withdrawal by Gordon Brown's Labour government of the £200 million spent annually on the government strategies from 2011 was barely noticed by the media despite being a major cut in funding (Bangs et al., 2010, Chapter 4).
On this basis, in view of this essay's focus upon the policy problem of the teaching profession itself and, more specifically, teachers' professional development, it is now necessary to look to provide for recognition of any potential recommendations that may be made in this area. With this in mind, it is arguable that, at a time when increasing levels of emphasis is being placed upon measuring student performance and 'teaching to the test' with a view to encouraging consistency in learning, there is a critical need to not lose sight of what really makes a difference with regard to student performance: the teacher. Therefore, it is clear there is a need for the current Coalition government to provide for the establishment of more effective models of teacher development as policy for serving to effectively prepare teachers to provide for the utilisation of the findings of research like that which was conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development (2009).
That this has proved to be the case is arguably only further emphasised by the fact that the ministers within the current Coalition government still seem to be missing the point by encouraging their payment on the basis of their performance as teachers (Vasagar, 2012). This is because 'performance' can be a very subjective element to assess unless the parameters are effectively set out by policymakers in a fair and just manner and not merely based on league tables and students achievement of the highest possible academic results (Bangs et al., 2010). Therefore, it is clear there is still a distinct need to determine how best to teach content and then equip those teachers with the requisite knowledge and skills that will then allow them to enhance their professional development on an ongoing basis with a view to maximising their career potential (Bangs et al., 2010).
This effectively means that, in seeking to pursue this goal, there is a need for the current government to look to seek means to provide for both the implementation and support of teachers professional development programs that not only empower teachers to succeed in the present but enable them to grow in the future. On this basis, it seems to be clear that professional development programs need to focus upon the way in which people look to effectively learn in a world of unbounded information so there is an effective need to provide teachers with the time required to then reflect and interact in the optimum manner within learning communities. Therefore, it would seem that these recommendations are considered to be consistent with those of academics working in this area like Sparks and Hirsch (2000) with regard to the following national professional development model that they proposed that sought to provide for the – (a) creation of learning schools where all staff are subject to a sustained study of what they teach along with the best way to teach it; (b) provision of time for professional development equal to 25% of their working day collaboratively planning lessons and sharing information with their colleagues; (c) basis of professional development up the collaboration model (i.e. teachers learning together).
It is clear that such a model as Sparks and Hirsch (2000) proposed could be effectively created here in view of the current state of schools in this country. This is because the reform of policy in this regard is likely to bring about a significant improvement in the education system as a whole if moves are made away from the idea that professional development should be a secondary issue when compared with the educational achievement of students. However, regardless of the policy options that are taken, it will be interesting to follow the progress made in the future in the area with regard to providing for an improvement in relation to both the teaching and learning environment with a view to then enhancing professional development and, as a result, educational standards. On this basis, it would seem true to say that one thing is entirely certain: effective professional development for teachers can never be simply an event that is constrained by time. Therefore, as has already been stated, professional development for teachers must clearly be part of the process of quality improvement with the system of education that has developed in the UK.
To conclude, it is clear that there is a need for government policy regarding the professional development of teachers to be enhanced with a view to then also improving the performance of the educational system as a whole in the UK. This is because, as has already been recognised during the course of this essay, one of the fundamental flaws of the government policy's development in this regard is the fact that policymakers have largely ignored the professional development of teachers in favour of the performance of students. As a result, as has also been stated, to date government policy has largely served to 'disempower' teachers with a somewhat confusing array of policy developments. Therefore, there is a clear need for the Coalition government to look to provide for the reformation of policy pertaining to the professional development of teachers in view of the fact that, as has already been recognised, it is arguable the treatment of teachers and the conditions they work within is central to achieving the standards of education that successive governments have sought. With this in mind, it makes one wonder as to why policymakers have not looked to act upon this knowledge sooner with a view to then improving standards of education.
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