Teaching at risk

June 5, 1998

DAVID Reynolds's reported views that "research hurts teaching" (THES, May 22) and that teaching is an "applied science" rather than art, indicate current dangers in policy.

Reynolds, chair of the government's numeracy task force, and others involved in teacher effectiveness have failed to acknowledge sufficiently the moral and ethical base of teacher professionalism, which is now at risk.

Teaching is a moral art that is increasingly hard to practise after school and society have been subjected to the destruction of market forces.

A quarter of a century of underfunding, accompanied by the populist scapegoating of professionals for alleged failings, has left teachers in all phases of education beleaguered and demoralised.

Deprofessionalisation is now threatened, and evidence grows of the damage done by the repeated failures of education policy under successive governments.

Despite this, policy has showed rigid continuity in attempts to centralise and control, demonstrating the incompetence of government to bring improvement by such means, or to learn from experience and research that this is the case.

Professor Reynolds worsens this situation first by denying research evidence, other than his own, and second continuing along the path of proven failure.

This is bad rather than applied science and less than rational, offering neither the prospect of a "learning society" or value for tax payers' money.

Looking to the future, however, it is not so much the "learning" as the "good" society, government and people that is at stake.

The replacement of economic for moral discourse in education reflects the unchecked advance of the market into the spheres of education and society, eroding the very social and civil traditions on which the market and the economy themselves depend.

While all feel the risk, vulnerability and uncertainty associated with this postmodern drift, teachers continue to display professionalism in holding moral and ethical ground abandoned by others.

Professor Reynolds and others should understand and support this, rather than repeat the mechanistic market-orientated mistakes of the past. It should be remembered that intervention carries high risks that the last government learned belatedly.

Good government now would support teachers before they too are overwhelmed, and rebalance education policy by recognising that ethics underpin educational and economic effectiveness.

Rod Mackenzie Aylesbeare Devon

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