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Honing world class education with Dame Alison Peacock

Andrew King
10 Nov 2021
15 min read
Honing world class education with Dame Alison Peacock

For this extended episode of 10 with Zen, Helen Woodward welcomes Dame Alison Peacock. Alison is CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, Professor and Honorary Fellow at Queen's College, University of Cambridge, and an Honorary Fellow at the University College London.

With tutoring now a focal point of education given the pertinent need for catch-up, Helen and Alison discuss success factors and difficulties in tutoring, the art of forming respectful professional relationships,, and the advantages of joining the Chartered College of Teaching.

You can subscribe and listen to the episode in full above, and we’ve provided a transcript below!

Helen Woodward: Welcome to 10 with Zen Alison!

Alison Peacock: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.

Helen: Thank you, we're thrilled to have you. Alison, can you tell us about the Chartered College of Teaching, who it's for, and why it matters?

Alison: Thank you. So the Chartered College of Teaching is a voluntary professional body. It's for all teachers to join as full members or for educationists to join as professional affiliates. And the idea behind it is to create a space for teachers to be celebrated, supported and connected in their careers, and to build expertise.

Helen: Celebrated, supported and connected. That's a really nice phrase, I really like that. And there's a huge overwhelming outcry for that when I look on Twitter, and when I look on LinkedIn, that's exactly what people are asking for. So how long has the college been in existence for?

Alison: So I keep saying we're very new – when we started, we opened membership in January 2017. So we kind of went from a membership of zero, we're now over 45,000, approaching 50,000 members, which is quite a growth since 2017. And I think you're right, I think it is that the idea of the college and the service that we provide has really captured the imagination of teachers everywhere. Who doesn't want to be noticed for what they're doing? And who doesn't want to have access to resources and to research and evidence that supports their practice?

Helen: Looking back to 2017, what would you say have been the most beneficial impacts of the college so far?

Alison: We've produced the first ever peer reviewed journal for teachers, which feels quite amazing to be honest because there are lots of journals out there, but this is the first ever peer reviewed journal that teachers and academics both write for. We have a joint editorial board with very eminent academics such as Dylan William, but also teachers on that board. And we take a theme each time. So we produce the journal four times a year, we take a theme. Most recently, the theme was professional learning. And academics and teachers write side by side, so we’re trying to make sure that the content of the journal is accessible, that it’s jargon free, and that it makes a difference in your classroom on a Wednesday afternoon. If it doesn't make a difference in your classroom, what's the point, quite frankly? So we're really trying to build that bridge between research and practice, and between practice and research.

I don't know if you're on social media, but when you're on social media and teachers have an article published, they're overjoyed! They really are. And they celebrate that online, and we celebrate with them. And then I think the other thing – I know you only gave me one, but I'm going to go for two! – I think the other thing is that we have developed chartered status for teachers. This is something that teachers have really begun to take hold of, because it means recognition. So we have people like Chartered Accountants and Chartered Engineers in wider society, why not Chartered Teachers? So having the Royal Charter that the college has means that we can certificate and accredit chartered status. And this is tough to do, but it's something that teachers can study for when they've been in the classroom for three years or more.

Helen: That's really good to hear. I'm really happy to hear you say, actually, it has to make a difference in the classroom. Because if it doesn't, what's the point? Unless we see it in practice, we can question whether learning has taken place.

Alison: Exactly! I mean, ultimately, this is all about the children and young people. We want our teaching profession to be in the best possible position to make a difference to children's lives. And we do know that we've seen it so clearly over the pandemic. Teachers do make a difference. Teachers do transform lives. When we saw that criticism recently from the Chief Inspector of Schools about teachers putting feeding children before teaching them to read – let's feed them. You can't learn if you're hungry. Teachers do make a difference, and let's help them.

Helen: Yes, and it was Margaret MacMillan wasn't it who said you can't teach hungry children? That was well over 100 years ago, I'm sure…

Alison: It was also about responding from the heart, and this is what teachers do so well. The job is complex, it's incredibly complex. But you have to be able to see the children in front of you as human beings and to respond to them as human beings first, and widget second, in terms of trying to make a difference! Of course we want them to thrive intellectually, but you can only thrive intellectually, when everything else is also looked after.

Helen: I know that the research around the importance of just one significant adult in a young person's life is so significant, isn't it? That just just that one person, whether it's a teacher or a carer or a grandparent, but that one person who communicates that their care actually just makes a huge difference, and that often is a teacher.

Alison: So what better job is there, really?! I've just been doing a recording for newly qualified teachers and teachers just starting out in the classroom, and I've just called it the best job in the world! And I think it is an absolute privilege to teach, but it's an incredibly complex job. And this is why the Chartered College really has a role, I think, to support professionals as they build their career. Because it's not about simple answers. It's not about simple solutions. And if you think about every class that you've ever taught, there will always be children within each class, where finding a way through to them, unlocking their learning, can be quite a challenge. So scale that up over the number of years that teachers teach and the number of classes they have, being able to have access to resources that support, webinars that you can listen to, events that you can go to videos that you can see – all of these things are designed to enable you to be the best professional you can be.

Helen: That's very helpful, thank you. Alison, let me ask you this, because I’ve been listening very carefully to what you're saying, and I'm thinking about a colleague, for instance, who has been teaching for several years, and is keen to write their first paper to be published, perhaps has done extensive evaluation work, but would like to move that into research: How can they go about that, and how can the college help them?

Alison: There are many ways that the college can help them. So for example, they might decide to study for our Evidence Informed Practice Certificate. It's a three month online course, and it costs £99, so it's pretty accessible. But it's really about refreshing a colleague's understanding of research, ethics and methodology. It’s for encouraging and building confidence amongst teachers; that they do know what they're talking about, and they have read things. Research can feel quite esoteric, and there’s almost a snob value with it – have you read this? Have you read that? And we want to demystify research, we want to be able to see it as a continuum. When you train to teach, you're introduced to a range of theories and texts. As you get into the classroom, typically, you move further away from those. But putting the research that's available into teaching methodology, into all kinds of aspects of practice is fascinating and it is worthy of debate. We want to make it accessible and relevant for teachers, so doing that course of study is one way. We're about to introduce Research School Status by the Chartered College, which would mean that schools could apply to be recognised, have Research School status, and be on a journey towards building research literate teachers across the school. That's another way. It could be that your colleague engages in Research Ed webinars or seminars, or goes to online things, there are all kinds of ways of sort of whetting the appetite. But I think it's important that people don't feel this is something other people do.

Helen: Exactly!

Alison: Writing about your classroom – we’re really keen to hear from teachers who are doing the job, we're really keen to understand how people have applied ideas and the impact it's having in their classrooms. And we're happy to help to bring that to fruition. We talk about the journal being peer reviewed. It's really important that people understand that when they submit something, it's not submitted so that it can be torn to shreds. It's submitted so that it can be critiqued and enhanced, and by the time it reaches a point of publication, either in the journal or online, it's kind of beyond criticism. We wouldn't allow something to be published that was ill thought-through because the writer themselves could then find that they regret something that they've written. We want to make sure that participants are safe, and their ideas are being valued in the best possible way. I think that's really important.

Helen: So what I'm hearing is that there's a real commitment to helping people build towards success. And actually what you're saying, Alison, is you're not prepared to allow failure!

Alison: I mean, yes, if you like! And that's what we would do. I mean, that's what the best teachers do, isn't it? The best teachers enable success in their classroom, and I'm just a grown up teacher!

Helen: Absolutely. But there's a lovely message there that actually research is for everyone, we can all be involved in research. There are some correct processes and ways to do it. And actually peer reviewed and peer supported and peer critiqued is part of that learning journey, but it is for everyone. And there are ways to get involved.

Alison, at Zen, as you know, we provide short and long term supply teachers – lots of them. What's in it for Supply Teachers to join the college?

Alison: I was a supply teacher for a while, while I was at home with my children, and I found out it can be quite isolating. I think being part of the community is the first thing that I would say, it's not very expensive to join the Chartered College, it's under £5 a month, it's not going to break the bank, but it gives you a sense of being part of something much bigger than yourself. And I think as a teacher who's moving between several schools or working part time, it's quite important to replicate that sense of being part of the community. And keeping up to date with what's happening. Again, as a supply teacher, you may well be busy doing other things in the week, and feeling that you know what's happening, that's important. Also, just because you're a Supply Teacher doesn't mean we don't value you, it just means that you're not in a permanent contract at the minute or you're not in a full time contract at the minute. The contribution that you make as a supply teacher in school is incredibly valuable and important. And we need you to be – in the same way that we want everybody else to be – we need you to be connected, supported, celebrated. We need you to be on top of your game, so join us. Why not?

Helen: That’s a very, very warm welcome there to Supply Teachers. And I know you have other professionals joining you too. Are Teaching Assistants welcome to join as professional colleagues?

Alison: Teaching Assistants are very welcome to join as professional affiliates, and we're very pleased to be supporting burgeoning Teaching Assistant networks that are now popping up. Particularly amongst primary schools, TAs are incredibly valuable colleagues, obviously. At the moment, I have to say we don't have a reduced price, I think that's because we've tried to keep the price of membership as low as possible. And that can be a barrier for Early Years Practitioners and for TAs. But we're hoping that where they're able to study via an apprenticeship route, that the providers will provide the cost of membership. So we’re in conversation to try and do something about that. But Teaching Assistants are very welcome, as are Governors – anybody else who's really interested in education, actually – come and join the party!

Helen: That's great, and very helpful to hear. Thank you, Alison. And as I mentioned earlier, I'd love to ask you a bonus question today: we've had the National Tutoring Programme for a year now, and it's been extended, so I'm interested to hear your views. Will it help?

Alison: I was talking to someone today – tutoring is incredibly difficult. I certainly don't think politicians realise how challenging it is to tutor. In fact, I think it's probably more difficult than teaching a whole class. Because when you've got that intense relationship with one to three youngsters all at once you're trying to make sure the learning is really relevant, you're trying to make the pace doable because it's an it's an intense kind of time, trying to make sure all of your input is really focused and really relevant to what the learners need. So I think anything that we can do to support tutors, to build their expertise, to build their confidence, to have access to the best kind of pedagogy related to small group tuition, we should be doing that. So I would give real encouragement to anybody who's taking on a tutoring role: I think it's vitally important – not to put too much pressure on you! – but I think the role of the tutor can be transformative. So let's try and help.

Helen: Absolutely. I'm very interested in this because I've been writing some small-group training for our tutors: what would you say would be the most important factors to helpmake a successful tutoring relationship?

Alison: Establishing the parameters; a respectful relationship. But it's different from the teacher remotely standing at the front of the classroom with 30 children. So there's a closeness to it, I think there's something that's really vital about getting the pitch right. So understanding exactly kind of where the child is in their understanding, and then offering learning that provides challenge, which provides an incentive to really try. And that's where the satisfaction comes, when you try something that's just that little bit hard, and then you overcome it. If you do something that's too easy, everybody's time has been wasted. If you do something that's too hard, then it becomes frustrating and ends in tears or tantrums. There's a real art to tutoring, and it’s as much about listening to the learner, and trying to tap into our that's where misconceptions are – ‘oh, I see, that's been understood, but this is yet to be understood.’ And being able to provide enough opportunity to practice and build those skills without everybody sitting in silence while they just get on with it. You know, it's hard. It is really hard. But having said that, I think it's also incredibly worthwhile.

Helen: Yes, absolutely. That’s really helpful, thank you. I think you're right, it is about listening, really understanding and making sure you are working at the point of sufficient challenge and sufficient confidence building so that we experience success but also the thrill of managing to finally get something that's been out of your grasp!

Alison: And that's great. I mean, that's great for you as a teacher, or as a tutor, as well as for the student. There's nothing better than when you come to the next session, and they can say to you, ‘guess what, I understand it this time!’ Now that's wonderful. That really is a privilege.

Helen: It is a privilege, and it's very exciting. Alison, thank you so much for being our guest today on 10 with Zen, it's been really, really lovely to talk with you.

Alison: Thank you. Lovely to talk to you.

Helen: The college has provided enormous support for teachers at all stages of their career, and support and access to research and we really look forward to that continuing and wish you continued success with your work there.

Interested in booking tuition with a National Tutoring Programme Approved Tuition Partner? Arrange a free consultation with us.

Follow Alison on Twitter, and find out about the Chartered College.

Connect with Host Helen Woodward on Twitter and Linkedin.

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