Government Policy And Disempowered Professionals Education Essay

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In seeking to discuss the proposition "It is sometimes argued that government policy has disempowered professionals", this essay will consider the development of government policy regarding the work of teachers to determine whether such policy's development has 'disempowered' them. Therefore, this essay will identify the differences and similarities regarding government policy in relation to the teaching profession under respective Labour and Conservative governments. This process of recognition will be undertaken to further this discussion by considering whether and how respective governments may be said to have either 'empowered' or 'disempowered' teachers. Finally, this essay concludes with a summary of the key points derived from this discussion regarding whether it is ever arguable "that government policy has disempowered professionals".

In starting this discussion, it is interesting to note that, give or take some occasional aberrations, such as Michael Howard's 2005 election campaign commitment to instruct all schools to teach synthetic phonics (Mulholland, 2005), the previous Conservative Party's approach to teachers was based on the idea it should not be education ministers jobs to tell teachers how to teach (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). Ostensibly, it could be argued that the Conservatives had chosen to take something of a 'laissez-faire' attitude to the ongoing development of the teaching profession rather than looking to interfere in both practice and governance with a view to achieving a more professional working environment (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). However, the problem with this kind of approach by previous Conservative governments effectively meant that did not have consistent strategies for the professional development of teachers. There was something of a contradiction here, however, because a Conservative government was responsible for the only full-scale enquiry into the continuing professional development of teachers in the form of the James Report of 1972. By way of comparison, Labour governments Interventions had been somewhat sporadic and even somewhat confused or misplaced. For example, during Callaghan's term of office the minister for education was persuaded "to adopt a structure for [teachers] professional development . . . and she persuaded the cabinet to give her £60 million . . . [to be] given to the local authorities" (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). The problem was that these same local authorities were given 'carte blanche' to then spend this same money as they saw fit on something else.

With this in mind, it is arguable that Local Education Authorities' (LEAs) squandering of national Continuing Professional Development (CPD) funding contributed to the then Conservative Government's decision to reduce Local Authorities influence whilst also 'ring fencing' Grants for Education, Support & Training (GEST) (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). Growing distrust of LEAs amongst the Conservative also saw two of the central recommendations of the James Report of 1972 died when the then government introduced local authorities management of schools; teachers' professional development centres and funded sabbaticals. On this basis, the Education Reform Act 1988 served to promote a genuine national professional development programme, defining entitlements and rights of teachers, as advocated in the James' Report of 1972, was lost with no further underpinning entitlement for teachers (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4).

New Labour has, however, had a somewhat different perspective with regard to the role of teachers within the education system. The Labour Party was initially primarily concerned with literacy and numeracy in primary schools and failing schools in the secondary sector whilst the future of the teaching profession was given too little attention (Bassey, 2005). According to Estelle Morris the government did not understand "the demands of teaching" during the first three years in office partly because without having done it it is difficult for anybody to truly know "the pressure in the classroom" so as to then be better placed to deal with it (Woodward, 2003). Having joined the Labour government's Standards and Effectiveness Unit in 1997, Kievan Collins said he could not remember a time when teachers morale "was ever talked about explicitly or attended to" because the government's focus was upon achieving greater literacy and numeracy (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). This focus of the Labour government stood in sharp contrast to Gillian Shephard's approach at the end of the Conservative government when she established schemes for 'Reading Recovery' and 'Literacy and Numeracy' in 13 authorities (Institute of Education University of London, 2010). In so doing, however, it is to be appreciated that Shephard proved to be critical of a 'free-for-all attitude' to the professional development of teachers that she had recognised in the 1960s with a deep suspicion of state intervention in pedagogy (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4).

Despite the protestations of various ministers from both sets of governments in the last twenty years there was no intention of 'telling teachers how to teach', there have been many different attempts at 'telling teachers what to teach' (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). On this basis, it is arguably instructive to list these attempts that were both indirect and direct. Indirectly, under the Conservatives these efforts included The National Curriculum, National Curriculum Assessment, School Performance Tables, the creation of the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) and the introduction of 'Baker Days'. Labour also made some significant indirect contributions establishing National Targets, revamping the TTA through the Teacher Development Agency (TDA), creating a National College for School Leadership (NCSL) and a General Teaching Council for Education (GTCE) (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). However, only three direct intervention were implemented under the Conservatives with a view to changing teaching methods. The first of these was School Inspections, that were then followed by the pilot Literacy and Numeracy Projects and the Grants for Education and Support and Training (GEST) scheme. Conversely, Labour introduced a number of initiatives including the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies, the inclusion of Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) and School Inspection Partners (SIPs) as well as the 2001-3 National Professional Development Strategy, establishing a Standards Fund, and the creation of a Masters Degree in Teaching and Learning, Appraisal, Performance Management (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4).

Together these initiatives are considered to be representative of government mandated measures with evidence to the Cambridge Review of Primary Education (University of Cambridge, 2009) confirming many of these initiatives have continued to be contested. With the possible exception of the GTCE, however, few measures implemented by the Conservatives have addressed how teachers can own their learning and how teacher self-efficacy can be enhanced. That this has proved to be important is illustrated by the fact the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development's (OECD's) recent 'Creative Teaching & Learning Environment: Teaching & Learning International Survey (TALIS)' (OECD, 2009) reflected upon links made between self-efficacy, professional development and their performance as teachers (although England refused to participate). TALIS is considered to be particularly noteworthy since it was the first time that the OECD has looked to tackle an international study of teacher attitudes to furthering themselves and education as a whole as 'building blocks' for government policy for furthering the teaching profession's development (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). TALIS reflects on the connections between professional development, self-efficacy and teacher performance. The inclusion of self-efficacy is particularly important since teachers' responses to any government initiative are predicated on whether they enhance or undermine perceptions of their own effectiveness (OECD, 2009).

Reflecting back upon the development of the position of teachers in the UK, in 1997 David Puttnam served to identify failing schools leading to the development of the government sound-bite of 'pressure and support' with a view to then better characterising its relationship with teachers (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). In this regard 'support' was two-pronged in its remit with the first focussing upon seeking to increase teachers' self-confidence, whilst the second looked to deal with the status of teaching as part of Puttnam's aim to be able to raise the morale of the workforce within the teaching profession (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). For one thing Puttnam recognised a devastated workforce could recover through a public celebration of teachers' successes in the classroom through the Teaching Awards and, what with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) agreement to be trustees to the Awards and Puttnam's self-evident appreciation of teachers, the Teaching Awards became an annual event that captured the media's attention and pushed teaching into the spotlight (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). Moreover, as has already been recognised, 'support' involved Lord Puttnam focussing in upon teacher status through the General Teaching Council that was put in place to more effectively stand up for teachers' rights along with their professional development. The government also chose to insert a clause that served to give the Secretary of State (and thus the government as whole) a right to be able to add any additional responsibility to the General Teaching Council of England's (GTCE's) remit which the Secretary of State elected to apply as a reflection of the government's policy goals and aims in this regard (General Teaching Council, 2000).

However, organisations like the NUT were somewhat concerned about the GTCE having been given the power to ban teachers from continuing to teach on the basis of their competence. But, whilst teacher organisations' concerns were also triggered by claims the GTCE 'represented' teachers leading to legal threats from the organisations like the NUT, the most significant mistake made by the government, teacher organisations and the GTCE was the assumption teachers would welcome a body that was disciplinary in nature and pay for it on pain of 'deregistration' (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). Ostensibly, therefore, teachers responded to the development of the GTCE in a hostile manner despite its apparent intention to raise the profession's status so that the 'support' part of the reform package the government sought to instigate for teachers was somewhat patchy to say the least (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). Nevertheless, the lines between 'pressure and support' were actually somewhat blurred since the government's Department for Education & Employment Green Paper entitled 'Teachers: Meeting the Challenge' (Department for Education & Employment, 1999) covered the matters of both 'pressure' and 'support' by including the Teaching Awards and GTCE within its remit. In addition, the same government Green Paper also served to attack the apparent collectivist culture of teachers that had built up by introducing individual pay incentives linked to performance management. (Department for Education & Employment, 1999, p.32)

Contained within the 'threshold arrangements' were both pressure to change a culture through a wholly unproven, individualised, incentive scheme and support through the addition of hundreds of millions of pounds of extra funding (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). Introduced within a year-and-a-half of their coming to power, the Labour government's Green Paper was effectively representative of their 'Strategy for the Profession' (Department for Education & Employment, 1999). As well as the threshold arrangements and performance management, the GTCE and Teaching Awards, the aforementioned Green Paper from the Department for Education & Employment also includes the National College for School Leadership, a School Performance Award scheme, and a national Fast Track scheme for 'talented trainees and teachers' to further their commitment to professional development throughout their careers (Department for Education & Employment, 1999). The Green Paper itself borrowed from the James Report of 1972's recommendations in developing a framework consisting of "three distinct, and equally important, elements" - (a) the government's training priorities including numeracy and literacy; (b) school priorities; and (c) recognising teachers individual development needs from appraisal (Department for Education & Employment, 1999).

Richard Harrison, the Department for Education & Employment official responsible for implementing the previously recognised Green Paper proposals (Department for Education & Employment, 1999) on professional development, recognised the intention of performance management and the threshold would have forced teachers to improve with ministerial backing from Estelle Morris (Department for Education & Employment, 1999). Launched just before the general election in May 2001, this strategy included a range of innovative forms of teacher learning previously promoted as a government strategy before. In reaching his conclusions, Harrison looked to draw on the latest research that included studies which sought the views of teachers on the kinds of professional development they wanted (Cordingley et al., 2003). The research identified the form of professional development which had the greatest potential for raising pupil achievement - collaborative professional development. Despite unprecedented buy-in from representative organisations and teachers themselves, unfortunately the strategy proved somewhat short-lived since it was thought of as too unimportant (Department for Education & Employment, 1999).

At the same time, however, a number of other structural factors served to undermine the strategy that had been put in place by the government at this time. For one thing, the government's new Standards and Effectiveness Unit had its own priorities - to deliver its 'Literacy & Numeracy Strategies' and tackle failing schools. The 1999 Green Paper entitled 'Teachers Meeting the Challenge of Change' gave impetus to the establishment of the National College for School Leadership to further benefit the teaching profession (Department for Education & Employment, 1999). This was a reflection of the fact that influencing leadership through a government agency had served to become a top priority particularly given headteachers' somewhat difficult relationship regarding the governments 'Literacy & Numeracy Strategies' (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). This has effectively come to mean that making sure head teachers are effective pedagogic leaders is a key strategic aim for any government. To this effect the OECD's relatively recent study entitled 'Improving School Leadership' (Pont et al., 2008) served to confirm this key strategic aim as a fundamental aspiration in education internationally across a varied array of jurisdictions and cultures. At the same time, however, effective pedagogic leadership needs for national governments to be confident in the skills and abilities of its leaders. As a result, Harrison was thus in the curious situation of having created a buy-in strategy which had the capacity to bring about fundamental changes in classroom practice to benefit both the profession and the children and young people seeking to further their education therein (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4).

However, two events effectively conspired to eliminate the government's CPD Strategy in 2003. The first was a minor funding crisis which proved particularly detrimental to primary schools with a view to introducing newly agreed school workforce reforms like planning and preparation time (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). Then, secondly, as a result of pressure from headteachers the government decided to remove the ring fencing from most of its grants making the National CPD Strategy somewhat vulnerable (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). That there has long been tension in government policy for teachers is exemplified by the successor to the 2001 CPD Strategy entitled the 'Strategy for the Professional Development of the Children's Workforce in Schools 2009-12' (Teacher Development Agency, 2009) in showing how the Labour government had learnt the lessons of the previous strategy. This new strategy was strong on the leadership of CPD in schools and emphasised its belief in CPD being 'a right and responsibility for all members of the workforce' including a mixture of school based activity, coaching and mentoring with external specialist input having the greatest impact on outcomes for children and young people (Teacher Development Agency, 2009).

There were still limits to this new strategy, however, with there being a lack of evidence of as to how an equitable right or entitlement to CPD might be secured Failure to fill such gaps highlights the weaknesses and inadequacy of government approaches to professional development. It also shows that governments have yet to fully understand teachers' collective self-efficacy is not dependent on a leadership structure alone that completely controls and mediates access to basic professional entitlements (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). But, whilst this lack of recognition certainly led to the aforementioned 2001 strategy being terminated, it might not seem that a long-dead initiative from a previous government is worth much attention. The fact is that to some it was the only initiative which had the potential to solve problems previously highlighted in government research (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). This is because any government with an interest in raising standards has to learn the obvious lessons from the premature ending of something. First, it has to internalise and prioritise the importance of teacher learning and then look to learn from national and international research on what works by drawing on past experiences and histories both inside and outside its civil service (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4).

With a view to furthering this discussion it is also interesting to consider the School Workforce Agreement's fate that was conceived as 'Professionalism & Trust - The Future of Teachers & Teaching' to fundamentally change the workforce (Morris, 2001) Based on European concepts of social dialogue, the proposals have sought to deliver 'something for something' by reducing teacher workload by 'remodelling' the school workforce to raise standards through the employment of thousands of extra support staff to take on administrative and teaching work (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). The problem is the School Workforce Agreement proved to be an agreement that was and is somewhat controversial with the NUT in particular refusing to sign. That this proved to be the case is because, according to the Plowden Report undertaken by the government (Plowden, 1967), there was understandable anxiety about employing teaching assistants and allowing them to teach unsupervised (Cambridge Primary Review, 2009, p.xx).

In a Department for Children, Schools & Families commissioned study entitled 'Deployment & Impact of Support Staff in Schools' a negative relationship was found to exist between the amount of additional support provided by support staff and the academic progress of pupils (Blatchford et al., 2009). This meant it was possible to conclude the negative effect was on progress over the school year and end of year attainment. (Blatchford et al., 2009) In the paper entitled 'Teachers Under Pressure' it was found five years after the School Workforce Agreement was implemented primary teachers average working hours had increased marginally along with the hours of school leaders, whilst the working hours of secondary teachers decreased marginally (Galton & MacBeath, 2008). The reason for this is because any reductions in workload have been countered by the effects of other initiatives (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). With this in mind, the first academic analysis of the School Workforce Agreement entitled 'Industrial Relations in Education - Transforming the School Workforce' (Carter, Stevenson & Passy, 2010) has come to an even more disturbing conclusion because "it is possible to argue that workforce 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, Stevenson & Passy, 2010, p.141).

As has previously been recognised, the key government strategies for improving the teaching profession were based in numeracy and literacy. However, the question is whether such strategies, along with their successor, the 'National Primary Strategy', have actually worked as a strategy for improving the teaching profession (Bangs, et al, 2010, at Chapter 4). Stannard & Huxford's book entitled 'The Literacy Game - The Story of the National Literacy Strategy' is a rare analysis of such strategy with a view to achieving "literacy teaching, along with literacy standards, were on a plateau and neither were good enough". (Stannard & Huxford, 2007). At the same time, however, despite the strategies being "viewed very positively" within the profession by teachers they were also "viewed as an expression of the government's lack of trust in the teaching profession" (Webb & Vulliamy, 2006, p.151). But the arguments there have been improvements in practise and standards are as strong as arguments to the contrary - although there is a need to determine whether they have a lasting impact. However, 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, at Chapter 4).

Overall, from the analysis that has been undertaken as part of this study, it can be concluded that the history of attempts by successive governments to improve teacher learning has proved to be somewhat patchy and often misdirected. A key component of Labour's 1997 reform strategy like improving standards in the basics in primary schools could last only a little longer than the National Strategy itself. Hundreds of experienced consultants with a deep knowledge of literacy and numeracy have or will face redundancy or redeployment. The strategies' failure to embed their contribution in the life and work of schools will dissipate an invaluable resource. A 'culture of compliance' served to dominate Brown's Labour government's final attempt at reviving a national professional development strategy for teachers since the requirement all teachers should comply regularly with a licence to practise was based on the principle compliance leads to improvement. However, other attempts at reform directly focused on teachers changing their practise do not appear to have been quite so effective since the history of government support for teachers in the classroom has been taken to provide ample material for learning future lessons.