On teaching standards

All parties in the forthcoming UK general election seem committed to establishing some kind of College of Teaching. No doubt, it will end up with a set of standards for teachers to meet – I’m not sure that there’s much point to it otherwise. If these are purely ethical standards then I think that they will be uncontroversial. However, I suspect that they will stray into the area of teaching and learning.

We have such standards in Australia already. The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) developed and regulates these standards. They apply to initial teacher education and also to practising teachers through the registration requirements of each state and territory. Unlike the proposals for a College of Teaching in the UK, AITSL is not a membership-based organisation. Teachers can’t join. Instead, it is a government funded company run by educationalists.

In my last post, I made clear my skepticism about the use of rubrics to form judgements about teaching. There are a number of problems. I made a graphic to illustrate one of these that has started to become a bit of a meme after I tweeted it:

How rubrics fail - Greg Ashman

This is the major problem if the criteria are clearly defined. Lesson observation tools often define things quite precisely.

However, teacher standards tend to be much more vague. The problem here is that they are either so vague as to be meaningless or that the ambiguity becomes a vehicle for somebody’s agenda. This seems to be what happened in the UK when OFSTED decided that ‘independent learning’ was a synonym for group-work.

I think this is what has happened with AITSL, although I am not sure how conscious this was. AITSL have a series of “illustrations” under each of their standards. They are mostly video but some are documents. I took to Twitter to highlight that a video called “The Paper Plane” referred to “kinaesthetic learners”; an idea that arises from a popular learning styles theory know as Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic (VAK). I also linked to a lesson plan document called “Gallipoli and the ANZAC legend” where a lesson was differentiated according to students’ preferred learning styles. I pointed-out that John Hattie, a director of AITSL, had said the following at an AITSL keynote:

“We have a whole rhetoric about discovery learning, constructivism, about learning styles that has got zero evidence for them anywhere.”

Thankfully, this video and document have both now been taken down (although they can still be found with minimal Googling). But the broader point remains that a concept as uncertain as something like “differentiation” acts as a vessel into which we may pour anything we like. Even with these two most obvious missteps removed, the site still heaves with constructivist and discovery learning inspired illustrations.

If teachers should be held to any standard at all around pedagogy then it should be to not experiment on students with unproven, supposedly innovative practices. We wouldn’t expect a doctor to give us experimental drugs because she was being innovative and so we shouldn’t expect a teacher to adopt learning styles or whole-language literacy or neuro-linguistic-programming or brain gym or whatever else unless the students and parents had either given their informed consent to taking part in a rigorous trial or we already had substantial research data to suggest that these approaches are effective.

Perhaps we should form an Australian College of Teachers – open only to P-12 school teachers – meet on a Saturday and decide to hold ourselves to this standard. That might do a lot to make us more professionalised.

In the meantime, why not take the AITSL survey. It’s requesting views on the standards.

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4 Comments on “On teaching standards”

  1. […] of Teaching for England has ambitions to define teaching standards. This was inevitable and something that I predicted a while back. It is, however, no less worrying. In Australia, we have a set of standards drawn-up […]

  2. […] am not a fan of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST). I have written about them before, focusing particularly on the illustrations of the standards that the Australian Institute for […]

  3. […] is why, from the very start, I warned about potential for the new Chartered College of Teaching defining a set of standards for […]


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