Teachers have always had a big remit to fulfil. They’re expected to mentor successive generations towards a bright future by providing pastoral care, while at the same time equipping our bright young minds of tomorrow with new knowledge and skills today. That’s no small task and one that we must get right if we are to going to successfully prepare children for the uncertainties and challenges of the 21st Century.
“Change, as it is sometimes remarked, is the only constant in education. Just like anything, education is evolving and innovation is happening in our classrooms and beyond every day.”
Education, Education, Education!
There are few job roles which come with such a pivotal responsibility for society as a whole. However, because of its central role in society, education has a tendency to become a punch bag for successive governments elected to power. Each new government term in office brings with it a new Education Minister hoping to make their mark on education, bringing new curriculum content and learning objectives, new ways of assessing child progress and new processes for monitoring the quality of our schools.
Let Teachers, Teach!
Change, as it is sometimes remarked, is the only constant in education. Just like anything, education is evolving and innovation is happening in our classrooms and beyond every day. However, it is the ebb and flow of changing (and often conflicting) government policies on 4 or 5-year cycles, which is the focus of my guest blog post today.
Because it is this type of unrelenting change and strategic oversight by meddling ministers that risks derailing progress and innovation in education, or worse, creating demotivated and burnt out teachers constantly being pulled in every direction to fulfil yet another set of new targets and administrative obligations. Particularly harmful is government policy that is misguided and disconnected from peer-reviewed research and experience from frontline teachers and heads of schools. This can all too easily create a cascade of failures within an education system that can take years to undo and rectify.
“We must never forget that progress and innovation in education almost always come from frontline teachers and school leaders themselves, and not by government ministers who are invariably unqualified to direct education practices and make informed decisions in the best interests of new generations of children coming through our schools today.”
A Lesson from Britain
Recently, in Britain the government imposed a hardline traditionalist approach to education characterised by driving academic rigor into the curriculum by imposing tougher exams, and competition using high stakes testing as the mark of a promising student and a well-performing school.
Any emphasis on developing the whole person through a student-centered approach was kicked aside, in favor of a mass production line of children being pushed ever harder to get better and better grades through grueling exams and make-or-break league tables for schools, supposedly in the name of driving up education standards. The Education Secretary at the time, Michael Gove, even remarked of his contempt for experts during a live TV interview, which certainly raised more than a few eye brows and placed his competence firmly under scrutiny. And I quote:
“I think the people in this country [Britain] have had enough of experts with organizations from acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.” Michael Gove, Former Education Secretary
It is terrifying to think that a single government minister can wield so much influence on something as vital as a nation’s education system. Throughout Gove’s 4-year stint in charge of Britain’s education, he self-evidently chose to ignore the vast majority of school teachers, research groups and pedagogical experts, instead using his own intuition, and privileged education at one of Aberdeen’s best private schools, presumably as the blueprint for his wide-reaching education reform for state schooling.
Harsh media criticism swiftly followed as a barrage of head teachers and education experts spoke out in dismay at the plans that the Department for Education proposed for British state schooling. However, Gove continued to push his vision of education down the throats of teachers the length and breadth of the country for his entire term in power, arguably through misguided policies and reforms with sparse evidence to back them up.
Checks & Balances
We must never forget that progress and innovation in education almost always come from frontline teachers and school leaders themselves, and not by government ministers, who are invariably unqualified to direct education practices and make informed decisions in the best interests of new generations of children coming through our schools today. Teachers need the autonomy to do what we entrust them to do – help young people realize their talents, reach their potential and gather vital 21st Century skills.
Checks and balances in government must be in place to create a stable environment within education for teachers to do what they do best, teach! No government minister should ever be able to enact mass-scale reform without evidence and agreement from a wide-variety of expert stakeholders to back it up. A well-considered and objective policy considering the professional recommendations of a wide range of top experts and stakeholders must be proposed long before any change is enacted in our classrooms.
Critically, the views of one minister with very little experience in education must not be able to overturn the recommendations of experts and teachers at a whim. Experts are called experts for a reason. So politicians – ignore them at your own peril! If you’re not careful, you’ll risk causing yet another crisis in education, and let down a whole new generation of bright, hopeful young people in the process.
Blog Author: Alex Moxon is Global Education Influencer for Thailand and Founder of Outdoortopia.org – a blog and toolbox for teachers, youth leaders and parents interested in developing young changemakers for a better, more sustainable future.
For more blog posts, tools and resources connected to outdoor education go to www.outdoortopia.org or follow us on social media @outdoortopia.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of EducationInfluence.com or its other members.Read More