Teachers in turmoil – how can new teachers square the circle of inclusion v targets?

Ruth Heilbronn

What professions are likely to be tempted into unethical behaviour? Bankers? Politicians? Journalists? What about teachers?

They are not the first group of professionals who spring to mind, yet teachers are frequently drawn into tensions over what is the right thing to do because of the conflict between their deeply-held sense of vocation and what they have to do in school.

My research, to be presented at the forthcoming BERA conference, reports on the difficulties student teachers experience because of the contradictory demands they face. In England for example, the statutory national curriculum takes a principled stand on the value of inclusion and states that “teachers should aim to give every pupil the opportunity to experience success in learning and to achieve as high a standard as possible”. However, the drive to achieve high league table ranking frequently militates against the principle of inclusion.

The ethical implications here are that pupils may be conceived primarily as a means to an end of higher test results and not “an end in themselves”. Conscientious teachers working in schools that require lessons “delivered” with highly specified “outcomes”, who are trying to cater for all their students, experience conflict when working with the technical demands of a test-dominated curriculum.

With schemes of work developed to tight time-frames, teachers often feel driven on to the next lesson, and this weighs against going where the moment leads and attending to those spontaneous and teachable moments that can arise, or returning to something unfinished, when more time could be fruitful. Prescriptive schemes of work with detailed, specified outcomes for lessons give limited opportunity to follow up pupils’ engaged curiosity and teacher judgement is often overridden by having to “move on” in order to manage the demand for pre-determined lesson outcomes.

Lack of time to engage with pupils’ concerns and questions as they arise in the normal flow can be a source of tension for teachers when they know that some pupils may be left behind in the rush to move ahead. The tensions teachers experience in situations dominated by an auditing paradigm cannot be easily removed, since they have their source in beliefs and values.

Significantly, research has shown that pupils hold similar views. They talk about good teachers as those who listen and help them, and not in technical terms relating to targets and results.

To prepare teachers to enter into school culture with their values of good teaching alive requires teacher educators to act ethically. This creates a double injunction: to prepare student teachers to enable their pupils to learn and achieve of course, but also to develop student teachers’ capacity to withstand the contradictions of school life and keep their vocational ideals alive.

The research is a theoretical discussion in philosophy of education informed with empirical research taken from student teachers’ reflective writing. See Teacher Education and the Development of Practical Judgement (Continuum) and Critical Practice in Teacher Education (IOE Press) for more information.

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Posted in Special educational needs and psychology
6 comments on “Teachers in turmoil – how can new teachers square the circle of inclusion v targets?
  1. Reblogged this on mr church blogs and commented:
    A really good blog, that summises how I feel as a student teacher, aware of the pressures from up high, but wanting to listen and engage with children and their interests

  2. Miss honey says:

    If it is only autonomous moral agents who can be said to be in a position to act ethically, is that possible for teachers, who are rigidly controlled by legislation, prescriptive curricula, punitive inspection regimes and intimidatory management systems? Is the only ethical course of action, the subversion of the system that constrains them, in order to re-assert their moral independence. And, if that is the case, are not teacher educators who suggest that the circle can be squared, merely assisting in the management of compliance? How ethical is that?
    Only questions;no answers.

    • Ruth Heilbronn says:

      I agree with you that circles can’t be squared, logically. We can and I believe should exercise our choice in action, however limited and take the consequences, as Huw Humphrey’s next post shows. This goes for teacher educators, managers, and all of us. I am not deterministic or fatalistic about this.

  3. At the start of the week before this year’s KS2 SATS a child with very little command of English (or, as it happened, maths) was asked to be admitted to our school. Some staff, including senior managers, argued that we admit her after half term, so she would not take the tests. We decided, though, that for her (not fos us), the best decision was to admit her to Year 6, because the longer she had in UK education prior to moving to secondary education, the better settled she would be, and the more friends she would acquire. She bombed in her SATs (she had only been in the UK a month, but could not be safely disapplied), and we accept the consequence of that to our figures. As a school leader, I would rather be judged on how we treated one family in need, than on the figures.

    And Miss Honey, you are verging in the right direction – teachers must always assert their moral independence. We are not factory workers, adding apps to children. We are, as you say, autonomous moral beings with a duty of care firstly to the children we serve.

  4. littlemavis says:

    Yes. The pressure to achieve “good” results seems to outweigh everything else and it was this that made me so very unhappy in my last few years of teaching. It seems that you can resist pressures to conform as long as results are good and meet the required targets but if these begin to fall, for whatever reason, the machine comes into play and you are monitored and forced into conformity.

  5. The ‘auditing paradigm’ is what we need to move away from. And while we’re at it let’s understand where this paradigm has come from: global business interests and not educationalists.
    http://jennycollinsteacher.wordpress.com/

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