I have been teaching in further education since 1995, and looking back I didn’t appreciate how much my professional practice has been affected by the range of funding regimes. I accepted the rationale behind initiatives that reduced my time spent with students without realising that the quality of the student experience was being sacrificed in order to maximise funding. I didn’t question why the gains made didn’t seem to find their way into my classroom.
#1. Field of dreams: provide a funding methodology that focusses on process and the student, not units of production.
Any funding methodology needs to have the learner experience at the heart of the process. In recent years there has been an assumption that outcomes are already known, so curricula has been written around them. Clearly this logic is flawed. Granted there is a body of knowledge, and sometimes a known set of skills attached to curricula, but the outcome belongs to the the individual (curriculum as experienced) not the institution or the funding regime. Managerialist thinking has made the mistake of thinking that students are cans of beans. They are not. The Finnish system of education has taught me that where teachers are left to teach what they know is useful, interesting and engaging, students learn and flourish. Their outcomes are good, and they progress to their next study stage or employment with the confidence that they have achieved well. By building curricula from the foundations and researching the process (collecting data through formative assessment then coding and measuring that data) teachers and students learn. Build-measure-learn.
#2. Trust, responsibility and autonomy: provide a funding methodology that focusses on teachers making decisions about time and space in curriculum planning.
Teachers should be trusted to teach. Teachers need to take responsibility for their own development. Teachers need to feel that they belong to a community which can act autonomously in the best interests of those they serve – their students. I am regularly dismayed when I hear of a good teacher who leaves the PGCE well equipped to begin his career in teaching only to report a gradual de-skilling through the pernicious management and control regimes. Mistakes, poor planning, unruly students, low achievement etc are part and parcel of the development of professional practice. To think that by auditing and measuring, intervening and setting up capability mechanisms professional practice will improve is to miss the basic point that experience comes with practice, practice needs to be sustained and mistakes are how we learn.
#3. The teacher as researcher: provide a funding methodology that promotes research and curriculum development.
No other profession would allow its activities to ossify in the way that we have allowed in teaching. An outmoded industrial mentality still persists (see Ken Robinson – Changing Educational Paradigms), fuelled by the superstructure and educational reproduction ideologies (see Bourdieu and Passeron 1977). Tinkering at the edges (iPads in classrooms for example) fails to appreciate the diversity of activities that teachers promote and facilitate every day. Awarding bodies control the curriculum and all sections of society have a vested interest in a status quo, apart from the ones going through the process and they are rejecting the classroom in droves. Let teachers build, measure and learn alongside their students. A teacher is a researcher, just like a medic, and their practice will develop if they are encouraged to research.
#4. Trust, violence and responsibility (Biesta 2005) : find a funding methodology that reclaims teaching and education at the heart of the process.
When students are unruly attempts are made to ‘get the buggers to behave’. Whoever coined that phrase should be hounded out of the profession! Students behave inappropriately for a variety of reasons, and while their actions may be inappropriate at the time, their reasoning is usually very sound. Students know when they are being warehoused in the name of ‘learning’. Students are bored, especially with the five part lesson, especially in sixth forms, especially when they hear aims and objectives ‘shared’ at the beginning of the lesson. Why do teachers persist in ‘meeting every learner’s need’, having something for every ‘learning style’ or ‘multiple intelligence’? Because their grade depends on it. This is such nonsense and our students know it. Bring the students into the process. Share the vision not the outcomes, share the passion not the method. When students begin to think they are not a unit of production they will like the fact that their brains hurt.
#5. Pedagogy first: find a funding methodology that promotes pedagogy
We know that ‘pedagogy’ is a funny word. It sounds odd, a bit like ‘curriculum’, it is learned on a teacher education course and then promptly jettisoned in the drive to ‘deliver’ and administer classes. While ever accountants control the budget good pedagogy hasn’t got a chance. What does an accountant know about education? Nothing – and why would they? A teacher is not expected to be an accountant… no wait, actually they are!
The question of what is educationally desirable for a particular course is rarely asked. it should be the first question. Let’s take ourselves outside education for some parallels. The horsemeat scandal – G4S – Mid Staffs – Winterborne. One thing they all have in common is the drive to reduce cost without an understanding of the implications on the quality of outcome (food that is what it claims the be, sufficiently trained staff to support an event, patients who live, people who receive basic human kindness). How much does a typical college spend on teaching as a proportion of its overall costs? It should be a large proportion and be so proud of it that it is on the home page of their websites.
Buildings have to be paid for, staff have to be paid, libraries have to be stocked, college executives have to apply governance. All this costs money which has to come from somewhere. But education is not a commodity. Credentialism has created a market but it is a false one, based on a false premise. We all know this because we spend our adult time researching and learning using social media, f2f networks and online fora. Hundreds of thousands of us enrol on MOOCS, and millions of us use online tutorials to help us to understand a tricky problem. Some of us rely on our social and cultural capital to get by and get on. We don’t ask for a certificate of achievement after we’ve solved our problem. Our credentials are there to wave when we need that first or next rung on the employment ladder. They do not represent the sum of all that we are, so why peddle this ridiculous notion to our young people? If employability is the new mantra then stop subsidising employers by doing their training for them. Make them pay a proper price for the training that colleges do (very successfully in most cases). If basic skills are lacking in 16 year olds then tackle the schools’ funding methodology first. Ask why our 16 year olds arrive in college with poor literacy and numeracy after 10 years of schooling. Colleges have about 2 years to compensate for the deficit caused by poor schooling, and add some vocational value for employers to benefit from. The funding methodology should recognise this and fund it as generously as in schools.