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Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain IMPACT series

The newest [Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain (PESGB) IMPACT]1 pamphlet has been released on the role of theory in teacher education [zotpressInText item=”{6DMSQGN9}”] (available [here]2). The pamphlet’s introduced by series editor Michael Hand who says: > The place of educational theory in teacher education, and the institutional infrastructure that supports it, are in serious jeopardy. If there is a case to be made in their defence, it must be made now, and made compellingly. This is the challenge to which Janet Orchard and Christopher Winch rise in What training do teachers need?. Orchard and Winch argue for a conception of teachers as professionals who require a deep understanding of the conceptual, empirical and normative dimensions of educational practice. They explain why university education departments are better placed than schools to help beginning teachers acquire that understanding. And they propose a significant expansion of initial teacher education, with full licensure contingent on completion of both a preliminary teaching qualification and a higher grade apprenticeship in the first two years of employment. > > Teachers need educational theory because they must understand what they are doing and why they are doing it, and must be able to think intelligently about how to do it better. At present, universities have the capacity and the expertise to meet this need. But they may not have it for much longer if the shift to school-based teacher education continues unabated. Orchard and Winch go on to note the criticisms of the theoretical component of teacher education – specifically, that it is unnecessary, or/and of low quality (that teachers often lack research literacy, for example). Remarkably, “no more than 52% of new entrants to the profession are following university-based training routes (UUK, 2014, p.5), and the number is set to decline further” [zotpressInText item=”{6DMSQGN9,10}”]. They go on to describe some models of teacher education, proposing a particular stance on this issue, and giving some examples of the kinds of theory that could be embedded into this education. > Good teacher education provision will not evade these questions of meaning and purpose in favour of purely technical accounts of effective teaching in the classroom. Unfortunately, much current provision does evade them. Discussions of teaching and learning tend to be dominated by empirical and quasi-empirical claims about ‘how children learn’, while philosophical questions about what learning is are sidelined or ignored. We are not asserting disciplinary superiority for philosophy here but claiming that teachers need to understand education at a conceptual level as well as an empirical one. Indeed, successful empirical enquiry requires that underlying questions of the conceptual structure of knowledge and value are properly addressed. [zotpressInText item=”{6DMSQGN9,21}”]. They particularly highlight the role of theory in enhancing practice around: (1) conceptual understanding (of the aims of education and nature of learning/knowledge, situated in at least an overview understanding of the historical context of UK education systems), (2) understanding empirical research (evaluation of research, understanding its application and the nuance of definitive versus – more likely – possible answers/approaches drawing on empirical work, etc.), and (3) ethical – deliberating issues of ethics in relation to classroom and wider educational practice. It won’t come as much surprise to know I’m very sympathetic to all this.  The title is broader than necessary – the points they highlight are, I think, necessary but certainly not sufficient for teacher education (that is, other things should also be included).  To give some examples of where I see important needs: 1. As I learned about in my MA, understanding the [historical context of the English state education system]3 is (a) interesting and (b) helps to contextualise issues around the development of local authorities, religious schools, and the introduction of academies – some of the same debates being had now (e.g. over what kinds of skills/knowledge it’s important for children – who are targeted at the future workforce – to have) are not at all new. There are important issues around what “knowledge” is (e.g. skills versus propositions, per [my MA]4), what knowledge education should target (e.g. vocational versus academic), and how we understand learning (transmission, construction, etc.) – teachers should be involved in these discussions, and should at the very least have an understanding of them. 2. Being able to evaluate the latest ‘fad’ being sold (e.g. brain gym, learning styles), contribute to debates around the strengths and limits of evidence (e.g. [phonics]5), engage in research informed improvement of one’s own practice, and consider the evidence based implications of (historically contextualised) policy shifts (e.g. what some find counterintuitive findings around streaming and tripartite system), are all important areas for teachers – yet they receive little attention in teacher education programmes. While teachers are generally intelligent, inquisitive and informed with increasing pressures elsewhere, and moves to limit teacher autonomy (e.g. phonics) the need for a space to engage in enquiry around these issues is important (note, not the need for instruction on them). 3. Per above, teachers play an important role as expert practitioners in helping to shape and move forward discussion over the role of education, and its relationship to diverse communities – a key part of which is ethical. Space to discuss and think about the role of teachers and wider education systems is important, and should be supported beyond chance staffroom moments (e.g. the involvement of teachers in wider pastoral care; a focus on academic code over colloquial; the complexities of diversity and respect in the classroom, etc.. As ever, the devil is also in the details – the PGCE should already include concerns around theory, evaluation (and actioning) of empirical research, and a range of ethical issues. That this coverage seems to vary widely across PGCEs is no doubt partly due to time and other pressures, but perhaps also wider issues; introduction of 2 year courses without adequate support and guidance is unlikely to change this. I’d certainly like to see more about what the vision for the future teacher is (not just the content/skills they should engage with) and what changes we make to get there. Coverage elsewhere 1. [Orchard in the Times Educational Supplement]6 2. [New teaching apprenticeships would counter ‘anti-intellectualism’ and stop trainees from dropping out, report claims]7 3. [Why educational theory is flawed]8 4. [Two-year ‘apprenticeship’ for new teachers suggested by academics]9 References [zotpressInTextBib style=”apa” sort=”ASC”]