Carolyn Roberts, PTI co-director.
It is universally recognized that no school system can be better than its teachers. Michael Barber said this in 2007. The Education Foundation reports that “numerous studies show that what teachers do, know, and believe matters more to student achievement than anything else we can influence.” This is good news, but what do teachers do, know and believe?
If you look at our system, you could be forgiven for thinking that what teachers do, know and believe, what they really believe, is a test. Our system is obsessed with this type of measurement, and most of our teachers have received this training themselves. The debate surrounding this is growing and you may have seen the doubts cast on this exam system in The Times Education Commission report.
At PTI we don’t talk much about exams and our language is not only about results. We talk about subjects, knowledge and teaching, but especially about subjects. About our passion for what we know and love, and our determination to find the best ways to share it with children.
Are these two things different? Yes, unfortunately. We all want children and young people to learn and grow, to achieve and develop the skills and qualities suitable for a good adult life. Our problem is that we try to measure them in the same way, crudely. This means that learning as measured by exam results can be spurious, narrow, graded, data-driven, progress tracking systems and mark schemes, and entirely driven by exam specification. As Tim Oates points out: the National Curriculum at KS4 is actually meeting the requirements of the exam boards.
Testing requires direct demonstration of specific but limited knowledge. This is important, but it is not enough. Children are the only raw material from which adults can be made: they need more than that. What does “more” look like?
PTI has taken a different path from the beginning, the powerful path of knowledge. The courses and experiences we have always offered our teachers focus on authentic, disciplinary knowledge of subjects that are broad, creative, intellectually challenging and enriching. It is the product and foundation of the curriculum, not a specification.
The children and youth taught by PTI teachers know things. They know how the world fits together, they know there is something to learn, and they know how to be critical. Powerful knowledge prepares children not just for passing exams – although this is a step on that path – but for understanding the world. As Michael Young says, knowledge is powerful “when it predicts, when it explains, when it allows you to envision alternatives.”
Teachers know that our youth are worried not just about themselves, but about the future. They are waiting for an alternative to racism, misogyny and climate catastrophe. All generations must work together for a better future, and teachers are central to creating a new world.
how? Because knowledge is valuable in its own right, and schools share this expert-tested knowledge on behalf of society. This means that they are well equipped to understand and interpret the world. Such learning is more difficult than the knowledge needed for everyday life, so it must be taught by experts in structured curricula.
This shared knowledge is fundamental to what the old national curriculum called a fair and sustainable democracy. It allows communication between citizens who studied together and are studying together. Common knowledge enables children – all children, regardless of their background – to become useful citizens. You can see why it is called “powerful”.
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