Should women teachers wear trousers?

Is Ofsted’s latest desire to remove scruffy teachers exhibiting poor standards of behaviour real or just another part of the inter-nicene battle currently being fought within Whitehall? I mentioned in my last post that the revised Ofsted framework would consider issues of dress among trainees and new teachers. Interestingly, I have yet to see any evidence from Ofsted to justify this change in the inspection regime. Given that inspectors carry out more than 9,000 visits to schools each year that are regarded as inspections they probably already know what dress standards are like. Backing the need for change with evidence would have provided more credibility for the decision as well as perhaps identifying what is acceptable. Can women still wear trousers or do the fashion inspectors want a return to either dresses or jumpers and A-line skirts? Must men wear ties along with jackets? Will exceptions be made in both cases on the sports fields and in the gym, workshops, and kitchens?

Based upon views from TV documentaries, and not just of the main characters, is how teachers dress really an issue in secondary schools. So, is it the primary sector Ofsted has in mind? Does the HMCI of Schools want formal dress for those teaching five-year olds, and will it extend beyond the teachers to classroom assistants? Is the policy really about distinguishing teachers from others working with children so that they stand out in a crowded assembly hall as the formally dressed adults? Trainee teachers need to know the standards they will be expected to be judged against. What does ‘neat and tidy’ mean, and is it different in West London to say Northumberland?

I went back and reviewed the findings of a survey I conducted for ATL in 1996 that included a question about spending on clothing by trainee teachers. 80% of trainee teachers that completed the survey claimed to have had to buy suitable clothes for the school environment during their training. I observed at the time that perhaps the expenditure was necessary because the casual attire worn by many students on campus wasn’t acceptable elsewhere, presumably including in the classroom.

Personally, I have always taken a relaxed view of these issues, as I always did when discussing whether pupils should stand up when an adult enters the classroom. There are occasions when it is appropriate, and times when it isn’t. Now both fashions and times change, but whether Ofsted monitors or sets the standards is a key question? We have a profession where around half of teachers are below the age of 35, so how does that age gap between many classroom teachers and those that inspect them affect attitudes between the generations over these issues?

Is the issue of dress among trainees in the classroom really a chimera created by Ofsted for its own purposes or does the HMCI have the evidence to justify the change to the framework? How strict will inspectors be, and will it deter some creative and divergent thinkers from becoming teachers if applied too rigidly? Without the evidence we shall never know.

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Never mind the quality, feel the width

The announcement today by Ofsted that it proposes to change the inspection framework for ITE partnerships from May, effectively immediately after the 13 week consultation period ends, http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/proposed-revisions-framework-for-inspecting-initial-teacher-education-consultation-document suggests there is still no answer to the basic question; who is in overall charge of teacher supply policy?

In a year where there are already insufficient trainee teachers in some subjects, making it harder to enter and then to pass the preparation period risks making that situation worse. If that happens, who will teach the children in those schools that cannot recruit a teacher; and will these schools be in the leafy suburbs or the inner cities?

It is now time someone took overall control of how we train and then offer employment to teachers. Are schools and higher education departments of education agents of central government or independent operators in market-based environment working within a regulatory framework?

For design and technology students, a subject area of key importance where the government had difficulty securing enough training places for 2014, presumably because recruitment had been so poor in 2013, the notion of changing the ‘standard of professional dress’ needed in the kitchen or workshop might be open to debate. Will such teachers now need one set of clothes for when they are with their tutor group, and another when they are actually teaching? Will this promote a return to the use of academic gowns as cover-ups for shabby suits, patched elbows, and no doubt the ties that male teachers will be required to wear at all times.

More seriously, providers have no control over where their former trainees find a teaching job. Many years ago I questioned the problem of trainees that learnt their craft skills in a cathedral city, but ended up working in an inner city. The cultural and other shocks for the successes of our education system learning to work as teachers with the whole range of learners have been brought home very clearly in the two recent TV series. Preparing teachers for the ‘real world’ in its many manifestations is a key part of training, but at present using their skills and qualities to best effect as they emerge during training isn’t part of the deal.

Are Ofsted really pointing to a disconnect in the profession between training and employment that has affected the primary sector ever since training was taken away from the employers and moved to higher education, where training for selective schools and the independent sector already mostly took place to the extent that there was any training at all.

Ofsted, do at least seem to be on the side of the need for a training requirement; otherwise what’s the point of the framework? However it isn’t clear whether they support the notion of any school-based trainees teaching from day or accept the need for some initial input such as the 30 days offered by Teach First. What may be more important is how trainees in schools with few behaviour-management issues are prepared for more challenging situations where they might eventually want or be required to work? Is training entirely in one school a good idea, or does a period in more than one school enhance and deepen the experience of learning how to become a teacher?

It seems to me that changing the framework for inspection without clear ministerial guidance on the training process, and its link to employment, is like putting the mobile phone before the mast to update the cart before the horse analogy.

You cannot penalise a provider that has no control over where a trainee takes a job unless you make it an absolute requirement as to what needs to be covered during the training period, and make that the same for all providers.

Ofsted, the NCTL through the DfE, and the employers of teachers, all need to sort out a framework for producing both enough teachers, and teachers of high quality so that we can move the school system forward. At present, what is emerging is a muddle that might have serious consequences for teacher supply at a time when the school population is rising rapidly.

Am I a blob revisited

At the end of March last year Mr Gove attacked those who opposed his views as being ‘blobs’. I wrote a blog about whether or not I fell into that category on the 25th March in case anyone is interested in seeing how the debate has moved on during the past year.

I was at one with the Secretary of State in believing in high standards of education for all, and still am. State schools cannot, and generally do not, aspire to produce second class citizens. Although, in the era of secondary modern schools, before the abolition of selection at eleven became the norm, around two thirds of secondary age pupils were in a system that wasn’t especially interested in their abilities. That should have changed, but we still see the greatest under-achievement among our less able pupils. If the message from Mr Gove is ‘educate these pupils’ and stop them disrupting your school then, so long as he recognises the key role of the classroom teacher in achieving this end, he may have the right idea.

If a focus on quality stops the time-wasting, and indeed, money-wasting, emphasis among Conservative, and some Labour politicians at Westminster seemingly determined on creating a nationalised and centralised school system, and recognises the need for local involvement in education, especially primary schooling, the present debate might even achieve a new understanding about how schools should be led: but I doubt it.

On the issue of the day, I might have more respect for David Laws position on Baroness Morgan’s contract as Ofsted chair if I wasn’t aware that alongside Theodore Agnew on the DfE Board sits Paul Marshall as the lead non-executive member. Now Paul helped set up ARK, and has both written books about education, and helped sponsor the Lib Dem leaning think tank CenteForum, as well as once being a researcher for an SDP MP. He was also involved with David Laws in the publication of the controversial Orange Book that upset some Lib Dems a few years ago. I am sure as a financier he and Theodore Agnew each brings financial discipline to a government department often in need of such skills. But, I doubt if he has suddenly become politically neutral. So, perhaps David Laws really wanted a Lib Dem in the job of chair of Ofsted. There are a number of possible candidates in the House of Lords that would fit the bill nicely as a replacement for Baroness Morgan. But, the row is now so political that I am sure it will be the Prime Minister that will make the decision helped by the independent commission on appointments.

Any way the row won’t have done the Lib Dems any harm among teachers and educationalists that Gove sees as blobs, even if it hasn’t fundamentally changed any Lib Dem policy on education. In the short-term it may have enhanced David Laws’ credibility, but, longer-term, his reputation may rest on ensuring there isn’t a teacher supply crisis between now and the general election.