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The expertise of the practitioner

Teachers have suffered from bad press of late (and some would argue not just of late). Their professionalism has been questions and every kind of third party, from politicians to business 'gurus', has lined up to take a shot at them and find ways of limiting their creativity and controlling their development. The ability of the teacher to make decisions about the learning of their pupils has been eroded and the confidence of the practitioner is being systematically dismantled by a succession of governments, ministers and departments keen to find scapegoats for falling social standards and anti social behaviour under a mantra of 'it wasn't like this in my day.' The recent example of a science teacher being goaded and manipulated by his class, drawing upon their knowledge of his previous ill-health, to service their desire for 'a laugh' is an example of the pressures of modern teaching. I do not condone his behaviour just hold this case up as a sad indictment on the modern world. Yet, will such revelations of structured and vindictive 'teacher bullying' led to greater autonomy for teachers or greater attempts at control by our governments?

Research has long suggested that the teacher works beyond the limits of their subject(s) - which is defined by knowledge and method – and works in a more general role that supports the mission of the school, the innate human desire of pupils and their parents towards learning and the need to cooperate with colleagues and other educationalists. The multifarious role of the teacher as subject and school expert places them in an ideal position to support and develop innovations in ways that best suit their particular environments. This degree of expertise is unprecedented in government and yet our school leaders are offered thousands of pages of systemic advice. Is not time that we acknowledged the bespoke knowledge of our teachers and trusted them to instigate practices that are particularly beneficial to their students?

Learning is not simply a case of mimicry. We need to challenge learners, regardless of their age, to confront their preconceptions and discover and construct new meaning from their experiences. If we know so much about how we learn, and if we acknowledge the localised expertise of teachers, then why do we persist with a 'top-down' system of educational reform? Is it not time that our 'leaders' acknowledge the 'nous', wisdom and common sense of our classroom practitioners and instead of giving them instructional diktats they are afforded the respect and encouragement that their professionalism warrants. Success comes in 'cans' not 'can nots' and if our childrens' teachers are continually devalued then we run the risk of paralysing them through fear of recrimination and indictment. The measures of adequacy that seem to have entered the vernacular of society have made commonplace a desire to blame the teachers for the moral decline that we are currently experiencing. Freedom to inspire rather than the compliance of mediocrity is what is required to redress issues of anti-social behaviour, poor health and fears of obesity and even to motivate the one child who might win Olympic gold or a Nobel Prize.

Acknowledge the expertise of the practitioner and watch these wonderful individuals inspire our children to do the rest!

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