Sadly, teachers being off work with stress is not uncommon. Similarly, it’s hardly a great surprise to hear about teaching unions proposing some form of industrial action, or for them to be at loggerheads with government over some aspect of education policy.
However, it is something of a surprise to see the reason cited for the above to be all about teaching styles.
But the NEU teaching union has voted to support strikes in schools where its members feel that they are being denied the professional freedom to use a wide range of teaching styles and approaches.
At the recent NEU conference in Liverpool, delegates were told a deeply alarming story of a teacher who had essentially been told what, when and how to teach – experiencing what she described as a ‘year of hell’ after a multi-academy trust took over school.
Furthermore, the NEU has expressed concern that the Department for Education’s Curriculum Fund is being used primarily to promote and pilot curriculum materials that focus heavily on whole-class, knowledge-rich teaching.
Are teachers losing their creativity and autonomy?
Knowledge Organisers now seem to everywhere in UK schools. The idea – started in primary schools – was to create a single document that laid out the key bits of information and knowledge pupils needed to know about a topic. Thanks to social media, the approach spread and gained popularity up and down the country.
Inevitably, it didn’t take long for knowledge organisers to make their way into secondary schools. Reaction has been generally positive, and KOs are seen by many – staff, pupils and parents alike – as useful learning tools.
They are certainly helpful in aiding pupils to memorise the core knowledge that they need for each topic or subject. Because of the demands of the reformed GCSEs, schools have been forced to adopt a knowledge-based curriculum. Knowledge organisers clearly support this, so surely schools should not be criticised for using them?
Is knowledge everything?
Clearly, ‘the problem’ (if there is one) with knowledge organisers is how they are used in the classroom. When they are used as a crib sheet for teachers to ensure that key bits of knowledge are always at the forefront of their teaching, or as an aide-memoire for pupils – fine.
Advocates of KOs would argue that they really do help pupils progress in terms of their knowledge?
But at what cost? And, is knowledge everything?
KOs: A leap forward or a step back?
Knowledge organisers divide opinion. Some teachers will not have an issue at all with them – they just see KOs as a useful way for pupils to learn ‘what they need to know’.
But others see KOs as symptomatic of a wider problem. Knowledge organisers support a particular (teacher-led instruction) style of teaching. Some teachers see KOs as another way that creativity and enquiry-based learning is being stifled in our schools.
For the time being, maybe the jury is out on knowledge organisers – and it will take years before the true impact of the current knowledge-based curriculum is really felt and is understood.
However, it’s certainly interesting to hear all the different voices on the issue.