I recently wrote a post about why I am leaving the teaching profession, and one of the reasons I cited was that I did not feel that the structure currently in place valued older, more experienced teachers. This may be one of the reasons why the profession is being drained of experience, and we now have the least experienced teaching workforce in Europe.
Revisiting Cleverlands, by Lucy Crehan, I was interested to read about the Singaporean approach. Singapore is one of the educational ‘superpowers’ visited and researched by Lucy Crehan in order to find lessons which the UK government could learn in order to improve the educational outcomes of students in this country. At the moment the efforts being made are very top-down, putting more and more downward pressure on teachers and thence to students, in the expectation that this will effect improvements. I think most people, looking at the epidemic of mental health problems among adults and children in schools and the teacher retention and recruitment shortages, would conclude that that approach isn’t really working. Unfortunately the government hasn’t yet reached that conclusion, but I assume that despite the oft trotted out line about how “more money than ever before” is being spent on education, perhaps there is some head-scratching going on behind closed doors about what needs to change.
Well, here’s an idea. While I wouldn’t be in favour of a slavish copy of the Singaporean system, I find their approach to career development in schools a highly intelligent and intuitive one.
Unlike in the UK and many other countries, the Singaporean system does NOT confer on a newly qualified teacher and the teacher with 20 years classroom experience the same status of Qualified Teacher, a status which stays with you for your whole career.
Teachers have a one year induction period just as they do here, during which they are mentored and coached and evaluated to ensure that they are up to scratch, they are considered a Qualified Teacher. But they have not yet gained the expertise, experience or skills to rise higher in education, whether through the teaching track, the leadership track or the specialist track. A teacher may aspire, by the end of their career, to become a Principal Master Teacher, a chief specialist, or to work through the leadership levels to become the Director General of Education of the country. Different skills, different paths.
Climbing one of these ladders requires DIFFERENT SKILLS to climbing any of the others, and there is a career structure which has been carefully developed for each, ensuring that no one can reach the next level without completing certain specific training. Moving up this ladder demands extra responsibility and brings extra recompense. This extra work, dependent on which track you are on might involve mentoring, training across schools in pedagogy or in a specialist subject. This works because in Singapore as in Japan, although a teacher has to work hard, the amount of direct instruction is less, and there is an expectation that teachers will spend time planning with their colleagues and learning from them.
As Lucy Crehan concludes, perhaps other countries will look at this model and wonder how they do this. She says that this model removes barriers to teacher learning and allows “teachers’ intrinsic motivation to drive positive effects”. It also adds an extrinsic motivation to work hard – you cannot move up the structure unless you have proved yourself and improved your teaching.
This model would also address the second beef that pushed me out of the profession, that of the new manager who comes in and wants to make a name for themselves by throwing out the initiatives introduced by the last manager and putting their name to a new set, universally applied to all as a blanket directive regardless of expertise, experience, specialism or skill level.
I don’t think I’d have resigned teaching if I were working in Singapore. I think I’d be eyeing the next level of my career progression. I think there will be many other older teachers leaving is six weeks time who would ruefully agree with me.