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Andy Hargreaves, Professor at Boston College and recipient of many honors, including the Grawemeyer Award, writes here about the problems of English schools, which he attributes to its reckless pursuit of free-market policies, akin to those now dominant in the U.S. In this article, which appeared in the Times Education Supplement (U.K.), Hargreaves blames the free-market strategy of “reform,” which demoralizes teachers and damages the profession.
Britain has a teacher recruitment crisis. But it is not truly British. The complaint is much more spectacular in England. In Scotland, teaching is an attractive profession and while recruitment levels are disappointing, the issue is not as profound. The Scottish system is creaking; the English system has fallen over. What explains the difference?
The answer is simple. Scotland values a strong state educational system run by 32 local authorities that is staffed by well-trained and highly valued professionals who stay and grow in a secure and rewarding job. Teachers serve others, for most or all of their working life, in a cooperative profession that supports them to do this to the best of their abilities.
England no longer values these things. About half of its schools are now outside local authority control. England offers a business capital model that invests in education to yield short-term profits and keep down costs through shorter training, weakened security and tenure, and keeping salaries low by letting people go before they cost too much.
By comparison, Scotland models what is called professional capital: bringing in skilled as well as smart people; training them rigorously in university settings connected to practical environments; giving them time and support to collaborate on curriculum and other matters; and paying them to develop their leadership and their careers so that they can make effective decisions together and deliver better outcomes for young people.
In December, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published its review of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence. I was one of four people on the review team. Like any system, Scotland’s isn’t perfect. But there is a strong foundation to build on – with a priority placed on valuing and developing teachers’ professional judgment.
The defenders of the status quo of market reform claim that teachers are overpaid; that they don’t improve over time; and that collaboration is over-rated.
All of this sounds very familiar to Americans. We have heard the same buzzwords of efficiency and outcomes and metrics used to demean the teaching profession, and now we are surprised when experienced teachers leave and new teachers do not appear to take their place. Perhaps this is the intended effect, because the manufactured teacher shortage creates market opportunities for vendors of technology to replace the missing classroom teachers.
When first minister Nicola Sturgeon opened the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement in Glasgow in January, she underlined the importance of the “professional judgment” of teachers. From Glasgow to Stornoway, teachers told our team that teaching today had been like a “breath of fresh air”, which replaced a system of “counting minutes and percentages” that had offered “no room for movement”.
While Scotland is in the vanguard of global educational improvement, England is in the guard’s van, at the back. Worldwide, England’s business capital view is now on the run. The evidence of high-performing nations such as Canada, Singapore and Finland hasn’t been on its side, and countries like Sweden that followed the free-school business model, and saw their results collapse, are reversing course.