Professor Bob Lingard
University of Queensland, Australia
Seminar – Confronting Schools and Social Inequality: Policy, Practices and Pedagogies
Professor Lingard introduced the seminar with thought provoking quotes from the likes of Martin Luther King. This same quote was used by President Obama in the run up to the previous election.
“…Arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice.” Martin Luther King
Lingard spoke of the inequalities in schools that are highlighted in different studies globally. He examined schools from the poorest to the richest. Sometimes studies cannot be done in the most priviledged schools. They will not allow researchers into the school.
What contributes to inequality (background, parental income etc) Schools alone can do everything is a naive view of looking at things. There is a focus on the teacher albeit decontextualised from social and inequality background. Some books are used as a bible even when the preface of that same book outlines that other factors are at play but this may get lost when policy makers read this very same book. He makes the point that there are underlying issues at play and these cannot be addressed by the school alone such as the growing income inequality in OECD countries.
There are pressures and anxieties coming from teachers globally about kids test results. Teachers can make a difference but not the difference needed to bring all of society up to these standards expected.
A speaker from the audience contributes to this and states ‘this suits the political scenary for policy makers, if they were to admit that it’s a bigger problem and there were more factors at play, they would need to redistribute the resources. Intellectuals in Ireland want to debate this and at the moment they are seen as ‘public servants’. The ‘public sector image’ from the newspapers and press makes it difficult to find importance in these debates when austerity measures are at play.
Teachers are important and can influence a child for their lifetime be it a good influence or a bad one. The reminisce of a teacher will leave a mark on your life forever. I’m sure all of you will remember a teacher in your life that was ‘a brilliant teacher’, passionate about their job and those who had a real ‘grá’ for their subject area, were willing to go that extra mile.
The teaching to the test scores is to the detriment of the public. Professor Lingard highlighted some important points on PISA test scores and the inequality across different countries and the inequality across states in America. Even with all the test scores and ‘teaching to the test’ being brought out by policy makers, it seems a running theme of this seminar is that ‘teachers have lost their voice’. He seemed baffled when he is asked by the press in Australia to comment on aspects of teaching when his wife, who is a teacher for the past thirty or more years’ isn’t asked.
A few comments from the audience note that teaching will be modelled on the medical profession, trying to get into the profession to get that sorted and take back their space, setting up for the want of a better word ‘royal colleges of education’ where policy makers go to these colleges for advice before making the policy and allowing teachers have their voice or at least a voice.
Another such comment from the audience is the concept of education itself; the students know what the process of education is. What do people perceive education to be? The child has an idea of what it is be it, doing tests, associating it with activities or just taking the leaving certificate, the child has the idea of what education is in Ireland.
In Australia the national agreed goals were set and they are great documents but negate to relate the assessment practices and these goals together. In isolation, it is a great document of what education goals are needed in Australia but together with the curriculum these seem idealistic when ‘teaching to the test’ and ‘assessment criteria’ for teachers comes into the mix. National testing did badly and the focus was changed into a national curriculum that is discipline focused.
Comments from the audience note that there is a fear of the teacher too. The fear associated with diversity, when a teacher pushes for support they will attend CPD (Continuous professional development) training if someone in the class is identified as having very bad behaviour. Unfortunately the majority of Ireland is made up of teachers that come from middle class backgrounds and these teachers are not exposed to diverse mixtures of students.
Professor Lingard notes that it is the same in Australia with the indigenous people. There is an increase in the amount of indigenous teachers, ethnic diversity population of teachers but the teaching profession is not seen to be a very attractive profession. There is a pressure on time, amount of time, less space and is now must more regulated.
A speaker includes that the teacher is moving into a role of facilitator where a teacher with a back bone isn’t supposed to know anything. Young teachers starting out in very different conditions to before where they earn about 15k less than newly qualified teachers previously. They are being strangulated by trying to be ‘all things to all children’. There’s no doctor that brings in 30 people into their waiting room and diagnoses every one of them in the doctor’s surgery.
Fads come and go and pass through the classroom and there seems to be a lack of research based intelligence when something fantastic could be done in the school but isn’t indicated in the test scores.
Another speaker adds that there is ‘knowledge for practice’ and not ‘knowledge of practice’.
In my opinion, teachers are looking at the fact that it is being run like a large organisation. They are run from the top down and ‘opinion’ doesn’t matter unless you’re the person making the decision. ‘Teaching to the test’ might be here for the next while until people realise that students cannot be graded on test scores when they are a decent person. A teacher may have influenced a person not to take drugs, is this examined on the test? A teacher may have guided a person into further education or made them an overall better person.
Are we all telling students to become robots like in some organisations where no opinion is actually welcomed? Students get the best test results and I can fill out my test score data, where I will be graded as a teacher and not by the fact that I did all I can with this individual. I made them a better person capable of living a strong, healthy and capable life even in the face of diversity or wealth.
A person in good standing with good moral ethics and a decent individual cannot be quantified by a test score in school!
Professor Bob Lingard is currently a Professorial Research Fellow in the School of Education at the University of Queensland and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. Bob has an international research reputation in the areas of sociology of education and education policy and has published widely in these fields. His most recent books include: Globalizing Education Policy(Routledge, 2010), co-authored with Fazal Rizvi, Changing Schools (Routledge, 2012), co-edited with Pat Thomson and Terry Wrigley and Educating Boys: beyond structural reform (Palgrave, 2009), co-authored with Wayne Martino and Martin Mills. Routledge will publish his selected works in 2012.