Secondary teaching into the future

Secondary teaching into the future (PPTA Annual conference 2007), sets out fundamental principles about learning, about how education systems should function, and outlines PPTA's preferred future scenario for secondary education.

The paper does not limit itself to a particular timeframe as constituting 'the future'. PPTA takes the view that we are constantly moving from the present into the future, and at all points in this process, we need principles and a vision to guide our decision-making.

Defining the future of secondary teaching - aspirations

Change in secondary education inevitably means change for secondary teachers. Change is something that secondary teachers are very familiar with; in fact, it is a constant in their professional lives. The list below, however, is not so much about change. It actually encapsulates PPTA's longstanding aspiration for the professional role of secondary teachers: trained and qualified teachers who have equitable access to high quality ongoing learning.

Secondary teachers - Highly qualified on entry to the profession

They will need to be graduates of high quality initial teacher education programmes that prepare them for the new challenges of 21st century teaching, and that enable them to continue to be inspirational teachers.

Secondary teachers - Willing and able to continue learning

Teachers will need to be continuing their professional learning throughout their careers. Learning will be needed across a range of areas, e.g. subject, pedagogy, student guidance, use of ICT, and new demands that we are not even aware of yet.

Secondary teachers - Knowledgeable specialists in their curriculum area(s) but able to make links across disciplines

The 'knowledge society' does not mean that secondary teachers' specialist knowledge of subject content and pedagogy will be less important, quite the reverse. At the same time, part of this specialist role will increasingly be to make links across the curriculum in order to provide coherence to student learning.

Secondary teachers - Highly versatile in their teaching practice

Teachers will need the flexibility to adapt to the changing cultural contexts of schools. They will need to be able to cater to increasingly diverse learning needs, both in the mainstream and in specialised programmes. This will require support systems for students so that even students with the most complex learning needs and the most challenging behaviours can have opportunities for success. Teachers will also need to be enabled, through high quality and accessible professional learning, to move into an increasing diversity of specialist roles as teachers. Roles which are already evident or emerging include working with other teachers as adult learners, e.g. in pedagogy, curriculum change and use of ICT as a learning tool, working with students with special learning needs, and working across schools using new technologies.

Secondary teachers - Able to make connections for students

Teachers will need to be able to facilitate learning opportunities for students with the wider community, other learning institutions and other agencies. They will also be able to make connections between the sectors, to ensure smooth transitions for students between primary and secondary education, and between secondary education and tertiary education or employment.

Fundamental principles about learning

As we move into the future, the opportunities for students to access a far greater range of learning are clearly increasing. Even now, students access the internet for knowledge and to interact with people in other schools and countries; they can experience work and tertiary education while still at school; they can choose from a much wider range of subjects and qualifications than the students of 20 years ago. However the fundamentals of learning may shift rather less.

Education has a profound social purpose: Learning principle 1

Despite recent attempts to portray the purpose of education as largely economic, to produce 'human capital' for the workforce, teachers and families/whanau hold fast to the social purpose of education. Education enhances students' ability to fully participate in a democratic society, while at the same time developing their ability to contribute as adults to the sustainable economic development of the country.

Implication for the future: Education will continue to serve purposes of social cohesiveness and citizenship.

Learning occurs in a cultural context: Learning principle 2

Under the Treaty of Waitangi, the State is committed to partnership with tangata whenua, and New Zealand schools, as part of the State, must demonstrate this bi-cultural partnership in their practices. At the same time, New Zealand is also an increasingly multi-cultural society, and schools must respect the aspirations of the many cultural groups represented among their students.

Implication for the future: Schools will reflect Treaty relationships and will recognise cultural diversity in their policies, practices and programmes.

Learning is life-long: Learning principle 3

At school, students gain skills, knowledge and qualifications that they can pursue further after they leave school. They also develop the attitudes, values and skills that will enable them to learn independently and in formal learning throughout the rest of their lives. Connectedness between learning and adult life increases with the year level of students.

Implication for the future: School-age learning will continue to establish the foundations for life-long learning.

Learning is a social activity: Learning principle 4

Humans need social interaction, and learning flourishes where relationships support the learner. Learning is also enhanced where there is collaboration between student, teacher, family, and the community (including employers and other educational institutions). It is certainly true that ICT will offer hugely increased opportunities for students to access people beyond their classroom both as part of their school learning and from outside the school context. It is also true that secondary schools, teachers and students will maintain close links with local and international communities beyond their own. Nevertheless, learning will still be primarily based in schools because of the social nature of learning.

Implication for the future: Students will be more 'connected' beyond the school, but will still be based in schools.

Learning needs are diverse: Learning principle 5

There is increasing awareness of the diversity of the student population, in terms of culture, ethnicity, home language, gender and sexuality, socio-economic background, and special learning needs. Teachers and schools must be adequately resourced to be able to fully understand and meet the diverse learning and social needs of all of these students.

Implication for the future: Schools will offer high quality opportunities for the full range of learners.

Learning is underpinned by knowledge: Learning principle 6

There are sometimes suggestions that teaching will become more generalist, however the opposite is true. As knowledge expands, teachers need to be even more expert in the specialist knowledge, skills and pedagogy of their subject areas, in order to be able to help their students access the learning they need. This in-depth subject specialist knowledge is increasingly required for teachers of students from Year 7 and above. This does not deny, however, the importance of knowledge of the linkages between disciplines and areas of knowledge. Further, it does not deny the importance of developing students' metacognitive skills, so that they can become independent learners. The rapid expansion of available information also places an even higher demand on subject specialist teachers to develop students' ability to sift and critically analyse this plethora of information. Many students will also expand, with the support of subject specialist teachers, their capacity to create new knowledge themselves.

Implication for the future: Students will continue to be taught by subject specialist secondary teachers.

Students learn best and teachers teach best when they are healthy and safe: Learning principle 7

Schools need to demonstrate commitment to the mental and physical wellbeing of all of their students and teachers, if students are to be able to learn successfully. This includes taking a proactive approach to grappling with bullying and disruptive behaviour. A whole school approach to a healthy and safe environment, including working with families/whanau and the community, ensures that all students and teachers have the skills they need to live and work harmoniously alongside others. New challenges to student and teacher safety and wellbeing lie in increasing access to new technologies, and schools need clear policies and practices concerning these. Teachers and schools need to be supported to ensure that their schools are healthy and safe places.

Implication for the future: Schools will be healthy and safe places for teaching and learning.

Fundamental principles about how education systems should function

The learning described in the previous section cannot happen successfully for every student, irrespective of their situation, without the support of a well-resourced public education system. The principles below set out how the system should be supporting learning both now and in the future.

What follows is a set of education systems principles against which PPTA would judge proposals for change in secondary education, and which would guide the union's responses to the "˜wild cards' that the future may throw our way.

There must be equity of access to quality education: System principle 1

Students are not equal in the levels of advantage they bring to their schooling experiences. It is the system's responsibility to ensure that schools are able to redress such inequity, so that all students can benefit from education. It benefits all of society when all students are able to achieve to their full potential. From this fundamental principle, all others will flow.

Implication for the future: The system will be committed to equity of access to quality education, and equity of educational outcomes.

There must be a national system of public schools: System principle 2

Equity of access requires the state to balance the freedom of local schools to meet their local community needs and the requirement of the whole society to ensure all students have equity of access to education and develop as citizens of that society. This balance can best be achieved through a national system of public schools. Within that public school system, there will be kura where Maori cultural values and practices are dominant and students do all or most of their learning in Te Reo Maori. All schools must be supported by high quality national curricula and assessment systems.

Implication for the future: The public school network will continue to operate as the guarantor of equity of education.

Public schools must be responsible to that national system: System principle 3

While schools and teachers are professionally accountable to their students and their families/whanau, they must also accept a wider responsibility to a national system provided by the state on behalf of all its citizens. Individual schools, principals and teachers should behave collegially to ensure that their actions do not impact negatively on another school or its students.

Implication for the future: The state will promote collaboration rather than competition between schools and between teachers.

The state must be responsible for supporting schools on the basis of need: System principle 4

The state generates income from citizens to provide, amongst other services, a public education system. There must be elements of this provision that are needs-based, because school contexts vary. At the same time, a coherent national system is required. Schools must be adequately staffed with trained and qualified teachers, and with sufficient ancillary and support staff to enable teachers to focus on their teaching responsibilities. They must be properly funded to keep up with the pace of technological change.

Implication for the future: Schools will be fully resourced by central government on the basis of need.

Education is a shared responsibility: System principle 5

Through collaboration, the ability of students to achieve to their full potential is realised. The responsibility for education needs to be shared between state, school, teachers, students, families/whanau and the wider community. Teachers will be enabled to work collaboratively with other professionals to enhance their own learning and their ability to meet the needs of their students.

Implication for the future: Education will continue to be seen as a shared responsibility.

High quality teaching and school leadership are critical factors in successful learning: System principle 6

The primacy of quality teaching and school leadership has become part of fashionable rhetoric, but recognition of it needs to be demonstrated in practice, not just words. This requires that teachers be resourced for ongoing professional development to support enhanced subject knowledge and pedagogy, including quality access to ICT as a tool for their learning, and to enhance their capacity to provide pastoral care to students. It also demands that the work environment of teachers supports their physical and emotional health so that they can do the best possible job for students. Students' needs and rights must be able to be met within sustainable workload demands and practices for teachers.

Implication for the future: The system will recognise in practice the primacy of high quality teaching and quality leadership.

Educational policy-making is most successful when it is inclusive of practitioners: System principle 7

The history of educational policy-making is littered with examples of policies that had little or no positive impact in classrooms because they were developed without the expertise of practitioners. This can be true at the school level, as well as at the system-wide level. Democratic and inclusive policy-making accesses the expertise of teacher unions, professional and subject associations and other sector representative groups. Teacher unions are valued for their professional leadership. They are seen as part of ensuring that the public education system in New Zealand grows and develops in ways that benefit students and New Zealand society.

Implication for the future: Policy-making will be inclusive of practitioners, including teacher unions.

Educational outcomes are influenced by social and economic factors: System principle 8

Recent policy rhetoric suggests that teachers are the primary influence on student outcomes. In fact, when all factors are taken into account, the characteristics of the individual teacher have a rather small influence on the learning outcomes of a student. Most of the factors that influence student success come from outside the school gates. As long as politicians and policy makers continue to ignore this reality, unrealistic expectations and pressures will be placed on schools and teachers to be the silver bullet for social and economic problems.

Implication for the future: Policy-making will recognise that schools must be supported by broader economic and social policies.

PPTA's preferred future scenario

Though it is impossible to reliably predict the future, especially over the medium to long term, e.g. 20 years (the timeframe within which the Secondary Futures Project operated), it is nevertheless valuable to illustrate a preferred future and to use our influence to shape the future in that direction. This section describes PPTA's preferred future scenario for secondary education. It adopts the best aspects of the OECD's two "˜re-schooling' scenarios (schools as core social centres, and schools as focused learning organisations).

The main features of PPTA's preferred scenario are:

There will be broad political and public agreement on the value to society of high quality public education: Feature 1

Education will be viewed as a 'public good', and this will be demonstrated in staffing and funding levels to match this commitment to quality. There will be high levels of trust in teachers as skilled professionals who work with students, families/whanau and communities to deliver quality public education. Education spending will be viewed as an investment in the future of the nation, not as an economic cost to it.

Schools and teachers will be seen as valued community resources: Feature 2

Schools will be well-resourced by central government. This resourcing will enable them to operate in high quality buildings with flexible learning spaces and up-to-date equipment. There will be recognition that communities are not equal in their ability to function as self-managing institutions, and that unequal provision is required to deliver equitable outcomes for students.

Schools will be 'connected institutions': Feature 3

They will be strongly connected to, and used by, their own communities. They will be in co-operative relationships with regional and national networks of schools, and will be able to collaborate closely with tertiary institutions/workplaces, enabling students to increasingly move between learning contexts as they move up the school. The capacity of teachers to work effectively across a number of institutions, either virtually or actually, will be strengthened.

Schools will be staffed with sufficient highly trained and qualified teachers and other professionals: Feature 4

Schools will be sufficiently staffed to provide personalised learning programmes for all students, including adult learners. This staffing will enable teachers to offer high quality specialist teaching and learning across a wide range of areas, and to build successful learning relationships with diverse students. Teachers will be assisted in their professional work (teaching, pastoral care and administration) by skilled support staff. Secondary teaching will be a highly attractive career option.

Schools and the system will facilitate personalised learning for all teachers: Feature 5

In a profession subject to constant change, teachers need to be continuing to learn throughout their careers. Teachers will have ample and equitable opportunities to advance their professional knowledge and skills, both while working as teachers and through opportunities for study awards, sabbaticals, placements in industry, and other learning experiences. As they move through their careers into more specialised roles, professionallearning opportunities will be made available to support the new demands on them.

Schools will function as the home institution for students to meet their core learning and social needs: Feature 6

Students will be actively supported to learn and provided with appropriate guidance and mentoring to ensure that their learning experiences are worthwhile. Students will be able to exercise choice within their local school, rather than by attendance at a school outside their community. Schools will be democratic organisations, demonstrating to students the benefits of distributed leadership and participatory decision-making, and providing students with opportunities to learn the skills, attitudes, values and sense of identity that create social cohesion and confident and capable citizens.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 16:03