A worrying lack of scholarship – this phrase appeared in a report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Schools yesterday, in which he compared the neglect schools sometimes suffer in local authorities with that suffered by those in some academy chains. I am not sure about the remainder of what he has had to say – or bark – but this phrase stuck out.
I have been criticised in the past for trying to claim that teaching is an intellectual and academic profession, yet I still believe it is. It has to be (as has every field of human endeavour) founded and rooted in scholarship, in study and in a depth of understanding that will sustain the models of practice erected on it. Not only should schools be communities of practice – they must also be communities of learning and learning implies a respect for and willingness to engage in scholarship. We can’t simply rely on “what works” without understanding why it works and what the moral framework is of its working. To take an entirely pragmatic view is a sterile approach to our work. If we view “being professional” as overly reductionist in its description of what we do, it still implies at its heart that it is a profession, and what we profess must have a strong intellectual foundation, rooted in what we know of children and their growth, their minds, their physical bodies and brains, the spiritual elements of people and children, and in the importance and significance of what is taught them at all stages. For this, we need ongoing and comprehensive scholarship.
We do not do easy work in teaching. Part of why teachers struggle sometimes in their work is that, intellectually, they don’t know why they are doing what they are doing. In this, at least, Wilshaw is onto something.