In the news today, there is coverage of Nick Clegg's criticism of the coalitions free schools policy. In this coverage a couple of key phrases jumped out at me. 'Less autonomy' and 'minimum basic standards ... proven by certification'.
Those words ring very loud alarm bells in my mind as I assume they would for anyone hearing a liberal promoting the illiberal idea of reducing autonomy and imposing logical systemic controls.
The argument in brief, is that 'Control' must be exercised over the suitability of an adult to teach children at a state / policy level. Suitability and acceptance into the role 'must' be determined by their qualification as a teacher. Head teachers must no longer be free to use their judgement to determine if an adult will make an inspiring teacher without a 'qualified to teach' certificate.
This follows the OFSTED report of the Derby based Al Madinah school, assessed as 'Dysfunctional'. This schools failures have been predominantly associated to the majority of teachers having no formal teaching qualifications. So there is a valid point to consider, but this seems more like the old saying ...
One bad apple spoils the barrel!
The opposite side of this argument, is the case of an Art teacher, with two 1st degree's in Art related subjects from a San Francisco University, who doesn't have a 'teaching certificate'. This teacher is teaching children very successfully in a UK free school. The question is, 'should they be stopped and made to gain a teaching certificate before being able to teach?
It's a great entry point to a wider debate in which the prime question might be, 'What difference does a certificate actually make?'
When it comes to leadership at all levels of public and private sector, including parenting, pedagogy, production and politics... I really cannot believe, with all the knowledge we have around us today from the fields of neuroscience and psychology, about the neural development of individuals, that we're even having this debate about certification without including the consideration of 'Attitude' in teachers.
In my experience, as I will go on to explain, the attitude toward students and the negative impact on teacher attitudes from control mechanisms is a bigger issue than certification, yet this side of effectiveness get's absolutely no recognition by anyone, especially those setting policy.
It's pretty safe to say, 'as long as a teacher has a good command of the subject and an appreciation of learning needs in the age group they teach, a teacher with high expectations of their children, a passion for their subject and a genuine love for the success of their class (with no certificate), will get better results than a certified teacher who is going to school each day for the pay-packet at the end of the week, with no real interest in the outcomes they achieve for their students.'
One might say that's a statement from the 'school of the bloody obvious', so why do we fail to openly consider 'attitude' and focus only on control through qualification?
I suggest, it's because we cannot reliably measure 'Attitude', let alone legislate for it, or create the social conditions in which we engender perceptions of positivity and responsibility in those we employ, but we can put a certificate on the table.
To come at this from a slightly different angle, in addition to my day job, I volunteer as Vice Chairman to a Gymnastics club. When I first got involved, I sought out some information. I read a few papers including; 'Performance implications of Physical and psychological development of the young athlete' (attached below). This was my first step into the world of sports and I found it fascinating, as the studies conducted in this sector confirmed much of what I'd recognised in industry. The difference is, psychology features alongside physical ability openly in sports, yet we only focus on the generic term 'performance' in business.
What stood out for me from this paper, was that top performance comes from those with the best relationships supporting their physical and academic ability. Those relationships were with Coaches and parents at younger ages and with peers in later stages of development. Aspects like 'Self-Esteem' and 'Stress' caused by mismanaged and naïve teaching / coaching styles and parental expectation in competition become root cause issues, just as poor relationships, unrealistic forecasts and judgements over performance become key issues for adults at work... including Teachers! (For all the deeper neurological reasons I've previously listed in various other posts and articles - i.e. seeking mechanism / reward mechanism etc.).
The only truly common theme to transpire from another study I read, was that Gymnasts whose parents had good relationships with the coaches, performed better than those who didn't have that same quality of relationship.
Now I have some 1st hand experience of this in the education arena. My Eldest daughter was accelerated to keep pace with her academic capabilities when she was just a toddler. She thrived among peers all a school year older than her (making some a good 18months her senior in age), yet she often achieved the highest grades in the class and I was often asked in to attend 'Best efforts' assemblies to celebrate her numerous successes. The teachers all knew her from the time she was in nursery and the relationship between the school, my daughter and my wife (who now works a the school) was a positive and constructive one.
Then the school needed a new teacher. This new employee came in and taught my daughter. This teacher made it quite clear to us that she didn't approve of children being accelerated, as her own daughter had been asked to accelerate and she had decided against it.
That was the first year of my daughters school life that I didn't have to attend 'best efforts assembly', because my 'accelerated' (and thus disapproved of daughter) was never selected for her good work. She basically lost a year of education and made little progress... because of this highly qualified teachers beliefs and related attitude toward her.
There are other issues around this example to do with OFSTED and the stress in teachers caused by inspections which negatively impact children, local council approval for accelerated children to advance to secondary school at a younger age etc. etc.
These are all 'Systemic control' issues, designed to ensure a minimum standard approach, which are all detracting from my child's schooling right now. They are jelly-mould, one-size-fits-all policies and procedures which fail people for a host of reasons few appreciate.
But of course, my own frustrations and concerns for my daughter will be quelled if Nick Clegg is right, as all we will have to do to ensure all of the negative psychological impacts this is having on a very bright little 8 year old, all of the knocks to her self-esteem, currently imprinting deeply and setting her up to feel insecure in adult life, is to ensure the teachers all have a certificate to guarantee they are 'qualified'.
Bring me the politician who talks about the psychology of education, mentions the development of self-worth and focus's on teacher attitudes and passion and I'll think about voting for them, bring me more of this mentality In our senior leaders and this will become a very regular blog spot.