Whoever gets to be secretary of state for education in the new Government will have a challenge on his or her hands. Yes, there will still be the development of more academies, free schools and pressure to both improve exam results so that our education system delivers the goods for a nation. Our country needs literate and numerate people to compete with our rivals in the Far East.
We know that there has been a commitment to protect the education budget from 5-16, but how should any additional resources be spent? My vote would go for better and more CPD for mathematics teachers. At the end of 2013 the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) wrote a review of how mathematics teachers around the world received CDP and recommended how teaching could be made better, mathematics teachers happier and pupils more successful – better CPD.
Our economic competitors understand this well. China puts every single mathematics teacher entering the profession through a year-long structured programme of development and mentoring. The programme does not end there, it continues throughout the career with an expectation that the teacher too is a student capable of lifelong (or career long) learning. Singapore has introduced “systematic” professional development structures and each mathematics teacher is entitled to 100 hours of professional development each year including observation, study and their own action research programmes with links to appropriate university faculties for support. The sighs of English mathematics teachers at this point should be audible right round the land “if only….”
So what is worn with current mathematics teachers CPD?
INSET, the so-called “Baker days” very few colleagues will remember that these were “taken” from teacher holidays in 1988, by the then Secretary of State for Education Kenneth Baker, to ensure teacher continuing professional development. As a minimum right we all have opportunities for three days of CPD. The problem is, these days are often at the beginning or end of terms and are isolated from our experience of teaching. Quite often too, they are generic and not subject-specific pedagogy. ACME suggests that “One-off teacher development events often inform and influence teacher learning yet rarely transforms practice”.
A few individuals either by luck or their own tenacity, achieve longer term CPD sometimes day release, through attendance at university over a longer period of time. Where this training is subject related it partly fulfils the criteria of sustained and reflective learning. The trouble is the pressures put on these staff to “make up” for their “free-bee” and the potential resentment of other staff in the same department means that the cascade of learning rarely takes place.
A third problem is that education targets, distort the education system and with it the content of CPD. The so called “5A*-C economy” means that more effort is put on getting weaker students on the C-D border through the exams at a C, than developing excellence. More capable learners capable of getting A*-B, are left to fend for themselves. The culture of excellence then is a mantra only.
What can you do?
Research has shown that changing practice needs:
- Time for the whole team of mathematics teachers to work together with their own stretch and challenge of mathematical knowledge;
- A culture of reflective practice – collaboration rather than competition; and
- Links to university either physical or virtual (there is a growing body of online resources from a number of universities specifically designed for mathematics teachers).
For Further information see:
ACME (2013) Empowering teachers: success for learners http://www.acme-uk.org/media/19381/etsflfullreport2014.pdf