Bring back the eccentric teachers

This post is my response to the Secret Teacher article in the Guardian “Secret Teacher: brilliant eccentrics are a dying breed in education”

The National Strategy on AfL, despite raising the bar concerning the standard of teaching in England and Wales, in many respects led to teachers being forced to teach to a regimented and robotic methodology that stifled creativity and put an end to the eccentric teacher.

To my mind, the National Strategy was successful in helping UK teachers gain an informed understanding of Assessment for Learning. Having subsequently worked in the International Sector and with teachers from across the English-speaking world, I certainly feel that UK teachers are far more advanced in understanding and implementing formative and summative assessment, peer assessment, self-assessment etc. However, the cost of promoting the National Strategy’s version of AfL was that OFSTED expected to observe uniformity of classroom practice.

I am sure all of us who taught during the era of the National Strategy will be familiar with writing objectives on the board (often copied into exercise books by students as evidence for potential inspectors), of a mechanical referring back to the objectives three or form times during the lesson and of planning lessons that had definite starters and plenaries. Deviating from the lesson plan was heresy! The strategy helped me improve my questioning skills and made me focus more overtly on the “bigger picture”, but it was also a straightjacket to my natural implication to try to teach in ways that my favourite eccentric teachers had taught me or to emulate some of the more eccentric colleagues I had worked with in my pre-National Strategy career.

I found it so hard to conform to a regimented methodology, but given the fact that I knew this was on what OFSTED would judge my teaching, I learned to conform. I learned how to deliver an “outstanding” OFSTED lesson and pulled it out of the bag every time an SLT member or an inspector ever entered my room. Still, when left to my own devices, I made an effort to bring some of my personality and charisma into my teaching. I refused to become a robot!

Having said that, I do recognize that the regimented approach to AfL meant that the weaker teachers in a school had a crutch. They had a methodology they could learn, practice and implement. It meant that those teachers with less character and eccentricities could be deemed to be successful practitioners. This I regard as a positive thing, but I do wish, as the Secret Teacher, that the one-size-fits-all pedagogical model hadn’t destroyed the eccentric teacher. And I am sure Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black never intended their seminal work to be implemented in such a manner.

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