‘A world class teaching profession?’ outlining our concerns about teacher training in the UK.

This letter was sent today to Angela Milner HMI (Teacher Education) and Lezek Iwaskow (Geography), James Noble Rogers (UCET), David Weston (Teacher Development Trust), Pat Glass MP (member of the Education Select committee and Convenor of Westminster Education Forum Keynote Seminar “The future of Initial Teacher Training provision in England: new pathways, course content and quality” on 5th March) and Nick Gibb, (Schools Minister). The text has also been submitted to the DfE consultation on Developing the teaching profession to a world-class standard (deadline 3rd February).

——–

Dear …

I am writing on behalf of the Geography Education Research Collective (GEReCo), a group of fourteen research active geography educationists in England which contains four professors plus four Past-Presidents and the current Junior Vice President of the Geographical Association.

The group wishes to express its grave concern about a consequence of the accelerating policy to make teacher education and training more exclusively ‘school-led’. This is the steady erosion of a key element of infrastructure that supports, challenges and extends the quality of teacher preparation, namely research and scholarship in the specialist field of geography education. We assume that this consequence is unintended for we cannot imagine that policy makers think that eradicating scholarship and research activity in the field will contribute to the quality of teachers and teaching any more than it would in the fields of medicine, law or engineering. In view of the recent announcement of the government’s consultation on A world class teaching profession (and a College of Teaching), which we welcome, our concerns take on urgent significance.

What happens is this. As quotas are reduced and allocations and teacher training numbers are moved to schools, universities are not in a position to make full-time permanent appointments in fields such as geography education. As well as the training becoming narrower (focused just on the needs of school X or Y) and more generic, subject specialist trainers (on part-time of fixed short term contracts) have no means nor the incentive to engage in serious scholarship and research.

Steadily the research capacity of the system has been reduced, affecting both the preparation of teachers and ultimately the performance of schools. Masters degrees and modules in the specialist field are now few and far between, meaning that fewer teachers are in the position to lead and develop their own deep thought and scholarship into their practices.

It is GEReCo’s view that the radical re-alignment of teacher education and training has now reached a tipping point. There are very few new generation research active colleagues coming through. There are few new researchers and university lecturers developing independent expertise in fields such as the assessment and examination of geography or any other research priorities such as ‘learning progressions’, recently identified by the USA’s ‘Roadmap Project’ on the future of geographical education.

The essential infrastructure that supports quality and advancement in the field of geography education is, perhaps unwittingly, being destroyed in England.

And yet, internationally, we can cite examples of high performing and admired education systems with whom members of GEReCo have worked over many years. These are systems that have invested heavily in the intellectual training and development of its teachers. Finland, for example, requires all its teachers to have a Masters degree. Holland has moved in the same direction.

For each of the last five years the Singapore Ministry of Education has selected ten geography teachers to attend a special course at London’s Institute of Education in order to undertake training in geography education, including the conduct of research. It seems ironic, to say the least, that this annual three week event takes place in London at the same time as, at a policy level, there appears to be a disregard for such activity domestically.

The reason the Singapore Ministry of Education fully costs this initiative is because they see England as the world leader in geography education thought and scholarship. A steady stream of academic visitors are welcomed by members of GEReCo- currently from China, South Korea, and Sweden.  Furthermore, research active geography teacher educators in England have been invited to contribute to conferences, and to provide support for curriculum development in countries all over the world, including Australia, USA, Netherlands, Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and others. In these countries their expertise is highly valued. It is a matter of great regret that this expertise, that has taken years to nurture, is being allowed to wither and ultimately disappear.

Unless universities across England can start to make some full-time appointments of exceptional teachers of geography to become the teacher educators, researchers and thinkers of the future this position of international leadership will not be maintained. They cannot do so because of the chronic instabilities engineered into the system of allocation and quotas in recent years.

The main casualty will be the long term maintenance of quality in geography education in England’s schools, for we know, as do the Singaporeans, that excellence in teaching is not just a matter of recruiting good geography graduates and training them ‘on the job’. Excellent teaching is an intellectual as well as a practical activity, which requires leadership and scholarship of the kind provided by outstanding university and school partnerships. These exist across England but now are at risk of being irreparably damaged and destroyed.

Yours sincerely,

Professor David Lambert,
Professor of Geography Education, University College London Institute of Education

And,

Dr Clare Brooks
Head of the Department of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment, University College London Institute of Education

Professor Graham Butt
(Secretary: GEReCo), Professor of Geography Education, Oxford Brookes University

Plus all GEReCo members:

Mary Biddulph
Assistant Professor, University of Nottingham School of Education, Junior Vice-President of the Geographical Association

Professor Simon Catling
Emeritus Professor of Education, Oxford Brookes University, Past-President of the Geographical Association (1992-3)

Dr Ian Cook
Associate Professor of Geography, College of Life & Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Dr Roger Firth
Associate Professor of Geography Education, Department of Education, University of Oxford

Dr Fran Martin
Senior Lecturer, University of Exeter, Senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy, Past-President of Geographical Association (2011-12)

Dr John Morgan
Professor of Education, University of Auckland, Formerly of the Universities of Bristol and London, Corresponding Member of GEReCo

Margaret Roberts
Senior Lecturer (retired), University of Sheffield, Past-President of the Geographical Association (2009-10), Chair of COBRIG (Council of British Geography), 2010-present

Dr Charles Rawding
Senior Lecturer, Edge Hill University, Chair Teacher Education Special Interest Group, Geographical Association

Eleanor Rawling OBE
Research Associate, University of Oxford Department of Education, Past-President of the Geographical Association (1991-92), Chair of COBRIG (Council of British Geography), 1993-95

Dr Liz Taylor
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

Dr Christine Winter
Senior Lecturer, University of Sheffield School of Education

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