An open letter to Tristram Hunt

Dear Mr Hunt

My alarm went off an hour earlier than usual yesterday morning. That’s not what usually happens on Saturdays, but today is one of a series of six Saturdays this year where some colleagues and I travel to London for a day-long subject knowledge course run by the Prince’s Teaching Institute. I needed to leave the house at 6.15am to make the train; some of the other teachers on the course left even earlier to reach London from places as diverse as Somerset, Dorset and even Cornwall. It was a fantastic insight into ways of making the 19th century novel relevant to KS3 pupils and well worth the effort, even though it demanded a personal sacrifice; I missed out on taking my daughter to buy her first pair of pointe shoes, something I would have loved to share with her.

I’m not saying all that to whinge. Like most teachers I know, I don’t whinge at giving up my own time to do something that is going to directly benefit my pupils. I’m saying it to put some  context around how I reacted when I opened my newspaper on the train and read that you believe that we are so little to be trusted with our own professional development that we need ‘licensing’ to ensure that we keep on doing our jobs properly.

Most offensively, you said: “ If you’re not a motivated teacher – passionate about your subject, passionate about being in the classroom – then you shouldn’t really be in this profession. So if you’re not willing to engage in re-licensing to update your skills then you really shouldn’t be in the classroom.”. Conflating being willing to engage in professional development (which every teacher I have ever met does as a matter of course) with being unwilling to take part in a scheme which seems designed solely to fulfil the “show the public we are doing something about lazy teachers” category of grandstanding is indicative of both sloppy thinking and a particularly offensive brand of political cynicism. Where is the evidence that you have consulted with the profession and found out what we actually need and want to do our jobs better? Or am I being naïve in believing that education policy should be founded on research into what will actually help us to help children learn?

My school does a brilliant job of supporting my professional development. This week alone, I have received two hours training so that I can use Iris Connect, a system where I can book out video cameras to record myself teaching and upload to a secure website so that I can watch them later and learn (and cringe!) in total privacy. I also attended a before school session where seven or eight experienced colleagues got together to give us newbies the benefit of their classroom management tips and tricks. Oh yes, and as a whole staff we got together for an hour after school to exchange tips on our best marking strategies. So that would be almost 10 hours of CPD logged this week then, less than a third of which came out of my directed time.  

My school is fantastic, but it is far from unique. It offers a huge range of professional development opportunities in half-hourly or hourly sessions, many of them run by colleagues who want to share their own good practice or specialist area of expertise.  Just this week, my offer to run a session on using Twitter for professional learning was eagerly accepted.

There is a petition doing the rounds at the moment that challenges Michael Gove to teach in a primary school for half a term. I’d like to throw down a similar challenge to you. Come into schools, look at what real teachers are doing in real classrooms, and talk to us about what we need to be able to do this demanding job even better. Hostile soundbites, that  make assumptions based on myth rather than reality, just undermine the teaching profession further in the  eyes of the public.  Is that really what you think a shadow Education Secretary should be doing, Mr Hunt?

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