A common complaint from struggling teachers and those that choose to leave the profession is that the endless government initiatives and constant reforms are happening far too frequently. While I acknowledge that continual improvement is important, I maintain that excessive change is a hindrance to good teaching.
There are three factors that contribute to the current situation. Firstly, any change is seen as good, so that change happens for change’s sake, although I doubt this is exclusive to teaching. There are also too many government officials trying to make their mark on education and make a legacy for themselves, none more so than Michael Gove.
Finally, and I see this as the most important problem, is that everyone thinks they know what constitutes good teaching, their only qualification being that they were once a student. I’ve written in more detail about this problem here: The Six Worst Assumptions Other People Have About Teaching
Excessive reform means that more teachers are working in unfamiliar ways, which will decrease confidence and decrease the quality of teaching. While I value adaptability and recognise that living with uncertainty is an essential skill, there has to be a balance. Most of the teachers need to be confident they know what they are doing most of the time, and the high amount of procedural questions appearing online is proof that they don’t.
Constant change also decreases expertise. There are less teachers who have experience simply because the current way of working has not been around long enough for anyone to get experienced in it. It effectively renders experience obsolete, because new teachers have been working in that way for just as long as the more experienced teachers. Similarly, continual improvement requires continual retraining, which is time consuming and expensive.
Endless reorganisation has the effect of reducing serious reform to the state of a superficial trend or fad. Teachers know that whatever initiatives come into play will be replaced by another one so quickly that there is no point treating them as important or getting deeply involved with them. Most new schemes are taken on board by teachers on a lip service basis only.
Equally, many teachers will be able to tell you about the cyclical nature of these reforms. The way people learn and the way their brains work will never change, and neither will the majority of your subject matter. So why does the teaching and learning attached to this need to be in a constant state of flux? The current scrapping of GCSEs is a fine example – apparently O-levels were better after all.
Finally, all this change fosters a climate of instability and chaos in institutions that are often the only stable influence in young people’s lives. Think about the negative effect of having a constant stream of different short term teachers has on students, and this has much the same impact.
Where do you think the balance lies between improvement and chaos? What are your opinions on current reforms and their durability? Please comment below.