Professor Richard Teese
At the recent Association of Directors of Education (ADES) conference I listened to Professor Richard Teese via a videoconferencing link provided through GLOW. Teese led the OECD report into the Quality and Equity of Scottish Education.
The theme of his presentation was “Quality and Equity of Schooling in Scotland”. In the course of his session he identified the following key challenges for the Scottish education system:
A WIDENING ACHIEVEMENT GAP IN COMPULSORY SCHOOL EDUCATION
SOCIAL INEQUALITIES LARGER THAN IN SOME OECD COMPARATOR NATIONS
LARGE GAPS BETWEEN LOCAL AUTHORITIES
MANY STUDENTS LEAVING SCHOOL WITH LOW- LEVEL QUALIFICATIONS
YOUNG PEOPLE’S PARTICIPATION IN EDUCATION AND TRAINING LOW BY OECD STANDARDS
Professor Teese considered the role of Local Authorities in tackling these challenges and made an argument that Funding and Autonomy should be fundamental features of any strategy to tackle these problems.
His observations on autonomy were:
IMPROVEMENT IN OUTCOMES RESTS ON GREATER AUTONOMY
THIS MUST BE BALANCED BY GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY
THE RISK OF GREATER AUTONOMY IS THAT INEQUALITIES MAY WORSEN
ACCOUNTABILITY MUST BE FORMATIVE IN NATURE, NOT PURELY COMPLIANT
AUTONOMY DOES NOT STOP AT LOCAL AUTHORITIES, BUT SHOULD EXTEND TO SCHOOLS, WHICH INCREASES THEIR ACCOUNTABILITY
Point 3 here is crucial, for Teese observed that greater autonomy can actually result in an increase in inequalities. And so he noted about Scottish Local Authority funding that:
IT IS INPUT-DRIVEN AND UNTESTED AS REGARDS ITS IMPACT ON EQUITY AND EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES OVERALL
IN THIS CONTEXT, THERE IS A RISK OF GREATER AUTONOMY LEADING TO GREATER INEQUALITY
In other words we hand over money – whether it be to Local Authorities or schools with no regard to how that funding is used to tackle inequalities.
He concluded his reflections on how funding was used by schools with the following observations which were supported by research:
A TRADITIONAL PATTERN IN SECONDARY SCHOOLS IS TO CONCENTRATE THE MOST EXPERIENCED AND MOST EFFECTIVE TEACHERS WHERE SCHOOL REPUTATION IS MOST AT STAKE
THIS MAY RESULT IN WEAKER AND DISENGAGED STUDENTS HAVING LESS EXPERIENCED AND LESS EFFECTIVE TEACHERS.
I’ve explored this before in a previous post – particularly in relation to setting classes by ability and in my experience I would have to conclude that headteachers and heads of department are under significant pressure to ensure that the their “best” classes are taught by their most effective teachers. Whether or not that pressure is implicit or explicit the demands of parents, HMIE inspections and Local Authority expectations are seen to be the prime lines of accountability and – as such – drive the system in a particular direction.
Teese sees accountability in Scottish education to be primarily motivated by compliance as opposed to being a formative process and sees it being driven by HMIe and Local Authorities – to which I would add the parental voice of more socially advantaged pupils. Once again I’ve spent some time exploring the notion of accountability and argued strongly for accountability to shift from a liability model to a personal commitment model. Yet Teese observes a weakness in the Scottish system of accountability which might be worthy of further exploration – that is:
ACCOUNTABILITY IS DETACHED FROM THE FUNDING PROCESS
FUNDING IS NOT CLEARLY LINKED TO NATIONAL OBJECTIVES, GOALS OR TARGETS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Having given this more thought I think I agree with Teese. Although most authorities – to a greater or lesser extent – have funding systems for schools which use various formulas to take account of deprivation factors – we simply tend to “hand over the cash”. The problem with such a system is that it ignores the aforesaid prime accountability drivers and the resulting system does not reflect any change in the culture of inclusion to challenge the gap in the attainment between children belonging to different social groupings.
So Teese left us with a question – would it be possible to establish a funding system which offered schools significant autonomy but at the same time ensured that they were held accountable for closing the attainment gap between socially advantaged and disadvantaged kids?
In my next post I’ll explore some possible solutions to that question.
In my 18 years of teaching maths in secondary schools, I have never seen the concentration of experienced, effective teachers in higher ability sets. It simply doesn’t happen! Teachers take it in turns to teach sets of all abilities. Maybe it’s just the schools I have been in, but I can’t say that I saw any evidence of such behaviour during my year working with maths teachers across East Lothian. If anything, there might be a tendency to give particularly difficult sets to experienced, confident teachers.
Perhaps there is another way to improve the chances of underachieving young people. A review of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, ‘Outliers’, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/nov/15/malcolm-gladwell-outliers-extract ) describes the following as ‘the first parable in a book that all educators should read’:
Children from disadvantaged homes perform less well at school than children from middle class homes, but only when you measure their progress over the entire year. If you make the same measurements without the long summer holidays, when children from wealthier homes can exploit their greater educational opportunities, the difference is marginal. Rather than fretting about resources and catchments, why not try truncating summer holidays?
While we might wish to debate the class assumptions, there are undoubtedly youngsters whose holidays are spent without access to carers with time, cash and inclination to give focused attention to them.
The long holidays are wonderful for teachers but may not be so great for students.
I work in Primary, but I have to agree with Robert, that in my experience, the most effective teachers are often asked to take on the challenging classes, because they’re the one that will cope.
I’ve also got to say that in 5 years in a variety of schools in East Lothian, I have only met a tiny number of teachers who could be called ineffective. I’ve met plenty of inexperienced ones, but often with huge amounts of dedication and enthusiasm to bring to a demanding career.