‘New teaching standards? I didn’t even realise there were old ones!’
A quip made by a colleague recently, but unfortunately a sentiment that many teachers hold. In September 2017 the new professional teaching standards will come into effect for newly qualified teachers. The old standards have served the purpose of their time. They provided a structure that described the professional accountability of teachers and leaders and those standards set minimum expectations while providing a reference for the performance management cycle. It is now recognised that the system as a whole needs to be more ambitious if it is to meet the expectations it sets itself for children and young people in Wales.
Professor Mick Waters is the architect, although he would be the first to query the word ‘standards’ as it conjures up an image of a long list of statements to be ticked off. As the Welsh Government consultation document states, if we are to drive forward improvements, we need a Wales ‘which is prosperous and secure, healthy and active, ambitious in its learning, united and connected.’ Indeed, ‘a key priority for education is to incentivise, recognise and promote teaching and leadership excellence so that we raise standards across all schools in Wales.’ (Learning Wales, 2016)
Mind Your Language!
Blended learning, the four purposes, five dimensions of practice; terms that many teachers have heard of but few, I suggest, could accurately define their meaning. Within the new standards there is an assumption that the language of ‘Successful Futures’ and the new standards model is familiar to teachers, but the reality is far from this. Fostering a common language will be crucial. In addition, the Professional Learning Passport (PLP) arrived through teachers’ letterboxes, with little explanation to its purpose. As a result, many colleagues simply threw it straight in the bin, thinking it was junk mail! The passport is intended to be utilised in conjunction with the new standards, to support individual review and development planning, yet this has not been widely understood. Fundamentally, it should be a tool to support personal reflection, to identify strengths and provide insight into areas for developing practice.
Mind the Gap!
I’m 40 and I feel old! In a school context anyway. NQTs and teachers embarking on their pedagogical journeys all seem very young and full of natural enthusiasm and a willingness to embrace change. Many young teachers appear to believe they have reached their peak after just a few years of being in the classroom and, while this may be the case for some, others still have a way to go but were misled by the previous standards which made very little distinction between a teacher who has just achieved QTS and a more experienced practitioner. The new standards articulate a much clearer vision. One of continuous professional development, growing leadership capacity and fostering lifelong learning. Thus the development is seen across a career as opposed to focusing on just the first four or five years. The standards themselves are not a series of competencies that teachers need to be routinely judged against rather they need to be explored in context through professional conversations to purposefully enable development and growth among the profession as a whole.
Mind over Matter!
Within the new standards there is no mention of extra-curricular activities nor an emphasis on digital competence nor the importance of teacher’s subject knowledge; indeed the Welsh dimension was only added at the second draft stage. Some of the descriptors are complex and imply rather than state. The science, craft and art of teaching cannot be simplified or watered down to a few simple phrases and sentences. The descriptors require and encourage thought, consideration and conversation about the complexity of the process of teaching and school leadership. It will be a ‘challenge’. A word used quite frequently with regards to the new standards!
Mind the Step!
The interactive concentric model is like Marmite. You either love it or hate it! Indeed, one of the first queries I had to deal with regarding the standards was, can we have the new teaching standards in list form please? The descriptors of the standards are not linear or incremental. Some aspects of the descriptors for highly effective practice will be practised by an NQT and a Head of Department or phase leader who might already be proficient in some aspects of leadership expected of headteachers. This is how effective leadership can be realised at every level and is why the standards and their descriptors are not presented in a list or chart format. It will not be appropriate to use the standards and their descriptors as an annual checklist of competence or professional growth and to treat each descriptor in an ‘achieved or not achieved’ approach. The standards need to support a continuum of professional growth rather than a number of distinct steps. The new standards have been designed WITH the profession and FOR the profession.
It seems clear that if we are to have a Welsh curriculum that is expansive and creative rather than reductive and unimaginative, we need to see the new professional standards as a starting point for innovation. In other words, they need to be not simply accepted, but interpreted creatively. Currently the tick box mindset does not foster creativity and this will be the key to success if the new standards are to have an impact on learning and teaching under Professor Donaldson’s recommendations. Professional standards have an important role to play in developing the skills, knowledge and behaviours that characterise excellent practice and supporting professional growth. It is less about gathering the evidence to prove competence and more about opening up the subtle complexities of teaching to supportive and constructive scrutiny. It’s all in the mindset!