Improving teacher quality and teaching standards, experts comment on what the research evdience says


Strengthening teacher quality is one of the themes on the opening day of the North of England Conference today. Key note speakers included Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt MP who spoke of how a Labour government would make it a “priority to have a ‘world class teacher in every classroom’ – a highly qualified, inspiring, self motivating and dedicated professional workforce.”  England’s Chief Inspector for Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw focused on the importance of training but warned of “…a national scandal that we invest so much in teacher training and yet an estimated 40% of new entrants leave within five years..”
Academic experts give their response to what they have found through their research works to improve teacher quality.

Commenting on what the research evidence says on building a quality teaching workforce, Professor Chris Husbands, Director of the Institute of Education, University of London said:

“The international evidence is crystal clear on how to improve teacher quality: it is about strengthening initial teacher education, not because it works in the short term but because of the messages it sends about the nature of teaching as a profession.

The best ITE programmes in the world are those which strengthen links between the theoretical base of teaching and its practical application – and there are good examples of this in the UK, Australia and the United States.

It is about building a culture of continuning professional development and lifelong learning in which skills are constantly refreshed and developed. Re-licensing on its own will not do that, but it may ensure a focus on CPD which could do it. The issue is not re-licensing but the culture which re-licensing could promote.

By the same token we know what does not work: de-regulating entry to teaching, which lowers expectations and diminishes the image of the profession. There is no, or little evidence that performance related pay works.”

Professor Dylan Wiliam, expert in teacher development, Institute of Education, University of London, commenting on what the evidence suggests on raising the quality of the teaching workforce:

“It is now widely accepted that teacher quality is variable, and highly consequential, so it is not surprising that many countries have tried to improve teacher quality by replacing existing teachers with better ones.

Some advocate increasing the requirements for entry into the profession, in particular through raising the academic qualifications needed, but the relationship between a teacher’s academic credentials and their students’ achievements is very weak.

Others advocate getting rid of ineffective teachers, but this turns out to be rather more difficult than might first appear. The best teachers benefit their students for at least three years after they stop teaching them, because they instil in their students personal qualities such as perseverance and resilience—what Angela Lee Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania calls “grit”. Teachers who appear to be very effective in the short term may instil in their students only shallow understanding which decays quickly, while those who appear not to cover much “stuff” may be very good at instilling habits of mind to last a lifetime.

Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint, which is why most attempts to relate observations of teachers to progress made by students have met with limited success. For example, any attempt to dismiss incompetent teachers or provide rewards to the best by definition creates competition between teachers, thus reducing incentives to collaborate.

The only way to make system-wide improvements in teacher quality is to make professional development for serving teachers a central feature. Since the 1988 Education Reform Act, in England, professional development has too often been regarded as something that is done to teachers on five days each year.

In Shanghai, most teachers get some form of professional mentoring every single day. We need to get rid of the idea that some teachers can be left alone because they are good enough, so that we can concentrate our efforts on those we believe to be the weakest.

Improving only the weakest teachers will not produce enough of a change in average quality to make a measurable difference to our students. We need to design our education system so that teachers get support for improving their practice every week if not every day.”

Commenting on what works in improving teacher quality, Vivienne Porritt, Assistant Director (School Partnerships) of the Institute of Education, University of London said:

“We know what works in improving teacher quality: the UK and international evidence is very strong on this. Professional learning and development that is reflective, relevant, collaborative, focused on the needs of pupils and personalised to the teachers and the context of the school makes a demonstrable difference to the quality of teaching and pupil outcomes. One other crucial factor is the leadership of professional development in schools. Where leaders value and engage in professional development themselves and ensure the culture and conditions in the school supports effective professional development, then teacher quality is high as is the impact on pupils’ learning. If licensing supported this approach, it would make a significant difference.”

Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics & Director, Centre for Market and Public Organisation, University of Bristol:

“Teacher effectiveness is the single most important factor in a student’s progress. How to raise effectiveness is the central question in education research and policy-making, Are effective teachers born or made? Should we try to improve selection into the profession? Or can we raise effectiveness through better training? The proposal for teacher licensing includes a bit of both and seems promising, but it will stand or fall on the operational details.”

 

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