My experience of Unitarian College from 1989-90 and its inadequacy in terms of theory, content and practice and academic barrenness was justified by my Buddhist orientated Principal in terms that it facilitated the ability to come to terms with one's inner mental chaos that emptiness exposes. He had a point, and I have developed from that time an enhanced ability to evaluate the experiences that come my way, and it is this form of reflection that I am using as a response to this course.
In deciding upon teacher training, I applied elsewhere for Religious Education on the basis of my doctorate in the Sociology of Religion, attendance at Unitarian college and my activities in religion. But it was thought I would overdominate the other trainees having so much experience and, in general, being ten years older. It made me wonder whether training colleges and schools wanted mediocrity. I was accepted for Business Education teacher training.
The PGCE course specialising in Business Studies followed a period of part time Further Education teaching in word processing and Business Studies from 1990-91. Teaching the latter was something of a failure, because I did not understand the vagaries and intentions of the BTEC system. I was advised to seek teacher training to put this right and also because Further Education requires qualifications for any chance of getting a full time job and making a career.
This experience created a number of responses. One was that training should be to try to avoid ever again the bitty nature of FE employment under the new autonomous budget arrangements (and the cut backs). The other hope was to keep away from the kind of Business Studies I had experienced. I formed the view that this was not education (as it was not critical) nor training (because it was barely vocational); using my sociology I decided that its function was ideology: that employers and government wanted to create an uncritical empathy with the business culture even amongst students who were on the bottom rung of non-employment in Youth Training schemes. This is especially demonstrated at times when, with barely enough money to live on, they do exercises with the odd £50 000 to set up a partnership. No doubt, after Youth Training is over, these students sign on the dole and are asked if they want help to start a business.
My pre-training experiences helped form a viewpoint about education and training which needed testing during this course. Client led education is distorting education. This, I have learnt, is now intensifying, especially with competence based education (pass/fail based on outputs of what is achieved, a sort of behaviourism gone mad), the rise of the General National Vocational Qualification, and the spread of BTEC systems into schools.
Education should instead be something like art: creative, deep and about the development of unique human self-consciousness. Competence assessment is to turn humans into soulless machines, where inputs are closely tied to outputs and assessment dominates over teaching.
Even the humble lesson plan has raised this issue. If a lesson is abstract in nature, associated with humanistic or cognitive methods of teaching, how can one use in lesson plan assessments detailed monitoring such as, ¼At the end of this lesson the student should have demonstrated...½ if all that has been done is some absorption of material in the brain? There may be no machine-like measurable output to see.
Added to this has been advice like, ¼It is better if you are just ahead of the students with the textbook. If you find it difficult you can empathise with them.½ Mediocrity again.
My own history has been the pure academic route. I am aware that in my rejections and choices I might be simply reflecting my own history. To reaffirm the academic route as I have over the course is, in many eyes, to support elitism and accept this method of failing the mass of the population.
But this would be to misunderstand my position. I have come to believe that all of us should be educated first of all in basic skills (principally language and mathematics, and for many this task is not happening), then in thinking abstractly to one's own level and then training vocationally. Real vocational training may begin at 16, or at 18, or 21/22 or, in my exceptional case, when thirty something! And it can and should be the case that one returns to vocational learning and abstract learning through life.
I now affirm learning that accepts subjectivity in marking, that is based on finding extra qualities, that wants to create what is good; and I now reject over assessment, competence based marking (which I have called ¼dog training½ but in reality can be subjective) and uncritical ideology. Naturally, this affects which posts I apply for: I tend towards Economics, I avoid BTEC Business studies; indeed, I apply for those posts which are Economics/ Business Studies and. I wish to create a career that is flexible for the future and academically based.
There are horses for courses, and this horse would like to be in pre-university training for those of a developing academic disposition. I put this speciality as equal as those who wish to serve special needs, move into the inner city or/ and work in a multicultural setting.
This tendency to apparantly 'move to the right' in terms of educational matters has been for personal preferences, but another development has happened because of training advice. This is in the area of discipline.
In my previous teaching with 16+ I expected and received co-operation and I enjoyed, even encouraged, liveliness. I took the view that people were naturally inclined to get along. It seemed to be true, but one group was disabled and, relying upon one another, they were mature; another was all girls attached to word processors to occupy them; and another in Business Studies had adult members which moderated the group.
However, on teaching practice, in the case of two BTEC groups, there were no moderating influences. I was also 'the student' who had to be told what a mistake it was for me to go into teaching. They were not primarily there because they wanted to do Business Studies either. There was trouble.
The advice was that one should ¼go in hard½ at the beginning of a class to set parameters before relaxing.
In fact, something else was being said there. The sub-message was that discipline is a tactical game and everyone plays. Like the game strategies and grids related to nuclear war, not to play the game is to have them play the game and lose: if one does not go in hard at the beginning they will make their move to exploit the teacher. The owner who does not control the dog will find the dog controlling the owner. Standing up in front of a class wearing one's tie begins the the game of authority. You are there to be knocked: school (and college) is a sub-culture where teachers must establish a reputation amongst the pupils according to the rules of the game.
I was also criticised for classroom management at Don Valley School Business Simulation on the 18th October. When the children of my group in a class wanted to see the design decisions of other classes (companies) I agreed. This was seen as a ¼bad move½ because children moved down the corridor and into other classes. One polytechnic student in the third room visited decided it was industrial espionage and the children were bulldozed out by other children. The prospect of lots of children everywhere seemed to frighten the authorities of the school and those running the simulation. So much for the children's autonomy and managerial skills in a Business Studies game. Some games are more important than others.
Later my group, angry about the 'management', went on strike. That seemed to me again to be a legitimate move. After lunch the whole class had a vote to remove the 'managing director'. The girl who replaced him then conducted a vote which became largely chaotic as some students wrote on the whiteboard the history of their conflict. We had to limit it to two at any time. I enjoyed the channelled anarchy. It was good. At least it was not fixed, unlike the business game.
Whilst not wishing to trivialise the point, when I taught in my job at Further Education, two weeks on I never wore a tie and certainly never wore a jacket. I used to believe that showing equality and a stance of relaxed encouragement paid dividends. Other members of staff had reputations of authority (freely discussed amongst the youth even with me around) and this was resented by some students because it made them feel like school children again. I tried the relaxed approach in FE College teaching practice; it will be impossible in school.
Recently I watched the highly edited Channel Four documentary on Summerhill at 70, the private school which takes autonomy (not necessarily progressive teaching methods) to the limit. The work of A. S. Neill has affected standard schools (school councils etc.) but this school is pure, run now by his daughter Zoe Redhead (her son Henry is a pupil).
I have been interested in the existence and method of Summerhill for some time. The documentary, an American film, focussing on a few younger children, highlighted a red in tooth and claw Lord of the Flies anarchy mixed in with massive self-confidence of the young people.
The 'game' of keeping discipline in standard schools is trying to supress what Summerhill reveals. In the past and for many years of operation, Summerhill worked dangerously and co-operatively because it was surrounded by a rigid class based style disciplined society. Today, ordinary schools know that children are not as submissive as they used to be. Teachers cannot expect deference. They have to manage the tendencies of children to develop their self-confidence in their way which stretches notions of authority. The same was shown in extremis in Summerhill at 70: boys holding toy guns, real knives (the headteacher's son chopped off a live rabbit's head), much noise, aggravation, battered furnishings and foul language by staff and children in public (as today's children speak amongst themselves).
It may be a fantasy (it may not) but for all the emphasis of the documentary I would like to dispense with the 'game' one is elsewhere forced to play and teach at Summerhill!
And yet I have found myself becoming more favourable to being a transmission teacher than an interpretion teacher (see Barnes, From Communication to Curriculum, Penguin Education, pp. 139-157). Summerhill displays just how artificial must be attempts at progressive learning in standard schools, and despite my deeper preferences for radicalism I regard claims for such teaching methods as manipulative. Such is denied in books like Brandes, D., Ginnes, P. (1986), A Guide to Student Centred Learning, Basil Blackwell, but it shines through the text. I recognise my own contradiction.
Another professional reflection has related to the Iranian revolution like tide of change in education. The whole emphasis has been on institutional (not children) autonomy in a market framework. At the same time there is a paternalistic emphasis on academic standards (reflecting the contradiction of modern Conservative Party thought - linked into parental choice - and their concerns about standards in achievement). Testing leads to league tables, competitiveness and the total effect is a re-emphasis on academic passes for the few and failure for the many, and therefore, despite opposite noises, a likely secondary rating for vocational courses. The market is said to support diversity, but any economist will say that the market forces conformity for survival, with only a few niche operations possible on the fringes. The market will re-emphasise the British disease of high status academia (here again I recognise my own contradiction).
Thus we can expect, in the age of marketing, an emphasis on invented traditions (a sociological term: the myth of a tradition stretching back into the deep past when in fact it is reinvented to serve a present day purpose): namely, more school uniforms, old grammar school impersonations and successful schools choosing successful parents.
Within the course I gave a session on the theory and practice of making better videos. I was able to use my own advice in making one about gender and equality. Doing the material on gender was perhaps the most positive use of my video camera and editing so far. Examining the images and sounds of nursery school children and Y8 and Y9 students interviewed raised the real practicalities of anti-sexism in an ex-mining one sub-culture working class village where little girls are dressed up and male attitudes of their fathers pervade through the older sons. How one can tackle this without charges of middle class cultural imperialism is unclear. This limits positive action towards matters of equality of opportunity beyond a passive blanket approach of allowing everything to be available for everyone.
On balance through reflection I have come to be opposed to the National Curriculum for a number of reasons. First of all it seriously threatens to take away the creative process of teaching from the teaching profession and hand this over to the civil servants of the Department of Education and Science and the book publishers who provide the materials designed to meet the key stages at the various levels. Teachers will become instructors. A second problem will be for those pupils who cannot raise themselves above a certain defined level because they are not academically bright. If they lose motivation because the book publishers run the show, they may have this reinforced through their slow progress or no progress at all. Parents will want to know why their child remains stuck according to the measurements. Others may have unreasonable expectations about progress. Others will not understand all the stages/ levels jargon. A third problem is teachers meeting the expectations of the National Curriculum. It is ambiguous in places and stretches language and meaning beyond limit. Cross curricular intentions may not be practical. Fourthly, it creates problems of over assessment, eating into teaching time. Finally it contradicts with GCSEs which are a second method of assessment of Key Stage 4 students. On the whole, whilst it may be useful for primary schools, it is unnecessary for secondary schools and ought to be scrapped, something which is unlikely in the future.
Subjects in schools like Design and Technology, Home Economics, Information Technology and Business Studies are not in themselves skills orientated (in the narrow sense, as in the old woodwork and metalwork) but means of discovering context and evaluation. Thus they are education.
Information technology should not continue as a preserve of Business Studies. Basically, because Business Studies falls under Technology in the National Curriculum, staff and resources are distorted. Business Studies staff may join with Design and Technology and Home Economics people in holistic programmes (many of which are rigged in order to be practical within the limitations of school timetabling and resources, so that they do not work properly) but they become over attached to running the micro-computers. Rather, Business Education should join more closely with Economics and the information technology should be diffused throughout the secondary school. This is beginning, although this comes with fears that information technology will not be properly resourced regarding training on the machines. I have indeed come to the view that Business Education should join with Economics and leave the Technology umbrella.
The first teaching practice involved a breadth of subjects because my requirements are to avoid reliance on Business Education as a speciality. I distrust its uncritical capitalist ethos as well as its parallel movement towards competence learning. So the second teaching practice involves A level General Studies again, A level Politics, Core RE (that is, those who do not choose it for GCSE, which will make it a challenge: I am myself opposed to compulsory RE), Y9 PSE as well as A level Economics and GCSE Business Studies. The choices reflect the nature of my applications which bias towards sixth form colleges where possible and a mixture of subjects of my interest and expertise alongside Economics and Business Education.
Education generates many issues to which any teacher must respond. My responses are those of someone trapped in an inadequate system, who has qualities that have to be worked in that system and hopefully, in time, might attempt to improve it. My reflections and opinions are fluid if only because they are fairly contradictory. Sometimes I wish I could have been a minister, but that needed an unavailable ideal; sometimes I think I ought to be in higher education; sometimes I prefer to be a teacher. Ideal situations are often unattainable.