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The ethics of teaching? – Headmaster’s Blog – Wednesday 24th February 2016

February 24, 2016

The ethics of teaching?

A teacher’s ethical code of conduct

Dame Glenys Stacey, the out-going chief executive of Ofqual (the exams regulator), has suggested that teachers should have an ethical code of conduct – for their own protection, it seems. Dame Glenys’ concern is the pressure that teachers face to ‘cheat’ or ‘game’ the exam system. Following a teachers’ consultation on ‘gaming’ (essentially playing the system to ensure high exam grades), Dame Glenys concluded that there was a lack of consensus in a number of areas – perhaps as high as 30 – which were essentially ‘grey areas’. These included focussing help on ‘borderline’ pupils, giving the benefit of the doubt when marking coursework, encouraging pupils to memorise mark schemes, relying heavily on ‘revision guides’ (rather than  text books) and encouraging pupils to rote-learn likely answers.

‘Teach to the test’

I have to say that I find this all rather dispiriting and yet further evidence that too often teachers are being encouraged to ‘teach to the test’. Clearly we need to have a way of testing both knowledge and understanding at different stages in a pupils’ educational journey. This helps to benchmark progress and to provide rigour and challenge. It all becomes unnerving, however, when the whole focus of ‘education’ seems to be to prepare for the next test. I am not suggesting that at Ballard we don’t seek to prepare pupils as best we can for GCSE and other assessments but I am confident, being a regular visitor to our classrooms as an observer, that our teachers provide exposure to wider experiences, opportunities and challenges inherent in a broad curriculum and a holistic approach to schooling.  We try, for example, to continue with the full range of subjects through to end of Year 9 (when many schools have already narrowed down to GCSE options only). In Years 10 and 11 we encourage pupils to take around 10 subjects – occasionally one or two fewer and even one or more additionally depending on their perceived abilities, strengths and needs. Whilst we know that it’s ‘quality and not quantity’ that sixth forms and universities look for, we also feel that an all-round education is the best preparation for life rather than a slavish emphasis on an exam treadmill.

Trivium rules?

A code of ethics may well become necessary for teachers but let’s also remember that in medieval times education was based on the ‘trivium’ – with students learning facts (grammar), the ability to argue (logic) and how to communicate (rhetoric). If only we could realign our exam system and our schools to these and thus, as Sir Anthony Seldon (vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham) has argued in a recent ‘Times’ article (16/2/16), to develop creative, entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills. Perhaps the future is best seen from learning from the past – but there writes an historian!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster and erstwhile History teacher!)

We tweet @BallardSchool  and please do visit our website for more information, including our open mornings.


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