From the editor

The Profession
Author: Professor Becky Francis, Director, UCL Institute of Education, UK
Date:

From the editor

Welcome to student teachers and early career professionals reading this edition of The Profession. Congratulations on having chosen the teaching profession: the most important profession in the world – the one that curates and shares the knowledge which society is invested in imparting to the younger generation.

A well-educated population, with the requisite foundational knowledge upon which to develop specialisms and new knowledge, to question, reflect and critique, and to flourish in human creativity and capability, is necessary to enable the engaged citizenship indispensable to a democratic society, and to a thriving economy in which all can participate. It is also central to both individual and collective development. In this sense, it becomes incredibly important for equality of opportunity that education across sectors is of consistent high quality, so that all have equal access to excellent provision that will support life chances.

As Rob Coe and Steve Higgins’ article in this journal highlights (p. 34–38), the quality of teaching has been shown to have the greatest impact on student outcomes. This is especially true for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds (Ainscow et al., 2012). However, there is a continuing job to do to ensure that all pupils have equal access to high-quality provision. The research shows that this is presently not the case, and indeed that it is pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who tend to be less likely to access a school with good Ofsted grades (Education Policy Institute, 2017) and even subject-expert teachers (Francis et al., 2019). Your role as teaching professionals is doubly important in helping to bridge those gaps.

In order to develop the excellence in teaching so vital for young people’s life chances and for society as a whole, then we must do two things:

1) we must attract the best budding professionals to teaching, and

2) we must continue to develop knowledge on effective teaching practice and to communicate it across the profession.

Research has a crucial role to play in building our professional knowledge and practice. You’ll notice that I have already cited evidence from different studies in making the arguments above. A developing body of empirical evidence, as well as philosophical and conceptual knowledge, is central to any profession. But there has nevertheless been ongoing controversy about the role of research in educational practice.

The reasons for this are multifarious. And it must be noted that, in contrast to other professions, teachers are not always taught research literacy as part of their training. In addition to practical issues of communication and engagement, there are lively ongoing debates concerning validity, purposes and applicability of research to practice (for example, are findings of experiments in lab conditions or qualitative findings from certain locations translatable more broadly to the complex and diverse environments of classrooms?), and whether empirical findings on specific topics can be disaggregated from complex connected environmental factors? This even relates to debates about the impact of schooling itself on pupil outcomes, in contrast to family background, geographical location and so on. There are also practical questions concerning the applicability of research findings – including to what extent do individual practitioners have autonomy to apply research findings within their institutional contexts?

Some of these challenges are illustrated in a recent project I led on different methods of grouping students: the ‘Best practice in grouping students’ study, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/departments-and-centres/centres/best-practice-grouping-students). Our research shows that grouping by attainment remains the dominant practice in English secondary schools, but can be problematic given its potential negative effects on lower-attaining pupils (for example, see Francis et al., 2019; Francis et al., 2017; Francis et al., forthcoming). Our ‘Best practice in setting’ intervention was premised on the idea of militating against some of the ways in which setting might cause harm. Although teachers perceived the intervention requirements to be potentially beneficial, they were sceptical about the ability to operationalise them. In particular, we found that very prosaic considerations, such as timetabling, finance and staffing, were obstructing the possibility of adopting the grouping practices proposed. These were important findings; for even if pedagogic approaches are substantiated by research, if they are difficult to implement in practice, this will impede efficacy.

You will see that I have sought to highlight the crucial role of research in teaching and professionalism, and the necessary mutual engagement between researchers and practitioners. The latter is vital to ensure that research is useful and genuinely supports excellence in teaching and our public service. And the Chartered College has a key role in sharing research and facilitating this discussion between teachers and researchers. This edition of The Profession absolutely exemplifies these points. Structured around your journey into teaching, the first section opens with Alison Peacock, CEO of the College, on why teachers matter. From there, this section guides you from the point of applying for your first teaching post to navigating your first year as a qualified teacher. In the opening article of the next section, Rob Coe and Steve Higgins provide an invaluable synopsis of the most robust evidence on effective teaching. Taking pole position in that synopsis is the importance of teachers having deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and in this edition you’ll find advice from geography teacher Mark Enser on maintaining your own subject knowledge. You’ll also find a list of subject associations to help you with that. Assessment and the (and not undisputed) piece of educational neuroscience at the moment. Curriculum design, including in the Early Years, is also covered, and all teachers can benefit from understanding child development and the foundations that earlier phases of education have sought to put in place.

From approaches to teaching, the edition moves on to look at developing a productive learning culture, from inclusion to lesson planning, supporting EAL learners, using technology effectively and behaviour management. My UCL Institute of Education (IOE) colleague, Rob Webster, writes about how teachers and teaching assistants can work together most effectively to support pupil learning.

And finally, to your continuing professional development. Effective use of your time is key to surviving but also to thriving, and that will be facilitated first and foremost by collaboration. From there we come full circle, to the importance of using research to inform your practice – to debunk myths and facilitate the ongoing reflective practice that will do most to improve your classroom experience and that of your pupils.

The Chartered College of Teaching is such an important development for the teaching profession – with organisations like the IOE supporting its professionalisation and the ethos of research- and evidence-informed policy and practice. As you set out on what is the most rewarding and important career out there, The Profession offers an important point of reference – as a source of motivation in times of challenge, as well as inspiration and sound guidance. I hope you find its pages, and those of the College’s sister publication, Impact, a continuing gateway to the many sources of support and growth that are available to you as you progress in your teaching career.

Professor Becky Francis is Director of the UCL Institute of Education in London.

References

Ainscow M, Dyson A, Goldrick S et al. (2012) Developing Equitable Education Systems. London: Routledge.

Education Policy Institute (2017) Access to High Performing Schools. London: EPI.

Francis B, Connolly P, Archer L et al. (2017) Attainment grouping as self-fulfilling prophecy? A mixed methods exploration of self confidence and set level among Year 7 students. International Journal of Educational Research 86: 96–108.

Francis B, Hodgen J, Craig N et al. (2019) Teacher ‘quality’ and attainment grouping: The role of within-school teacher deployment in social and educational inequality. Teaching and Teacher Education 77: 183–192.

Francis B, Taylor B and Tereshchenko A (forthcoming) Reassessing ‘Ability’ Grouping: Improving Practice for Equity and Attainment. London: Routledge.

Taylor B, Francis B, Archer L et al. (2017) Factors deterring schools from mixed attainment teaching practice. Pedagogy, Culture & Society 25(3): 327–345.