ARE TEACHERS TRAINED ENOUGH TO SUPPORT DISAFFECTED AND MARGINALISED PUPILS?
It is widely accepted that what happens outside the school gates impacts on the development of children and their performance in schools.
Schools are more than just providers of education. They also have a role in safeguarding the emotional well-being of their pupils. Many politicians and educators claim we must reassert the role of schools as inclusive social institutions. Indeed, the Government has placed considerable emphasis on the Childrens welfare agenda. This involves children’s safeguarding, child and adolescent mental health, parent support and training, addressed with more coherent, joined- up targeted programmes. Many schools now have extended services and have become community hubs, providing a range of services over and above simply education and the provision of a sound learning environment, including offering more extensive pastoral and welfare support. But this places additional requirements and burdens on teachers and two questions stand out. Are teachers properly resourced for this role and, crucially, are they trained and prepared to supply such support to disaffected pupils, a significant minority of whom have emotional development problems ?
A new ‘perspective paper ‘Is initial teacher training failing to meet the needs of all our young people? authored by former Headteacher James Wetz and published by CFBT Education Trust, says that increasing numbers of young disaffected people are acting out ‘attachment difficulties’ which neither their families nor our schools know how to address and which our teachers are inadequately trained and resourced to attend to. The research paper explores whether our teachers are disadvantaged by inadequate and what is termed ‘ reductionist’ routes to Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) which provide them with neither the appropriate skills and understandings, nor the theoretical framework and practical experience, to secure successful educational and personal outcomes for disaffected and disengaged young people.
Indeed, the research questions the relevance of traditional initial teacher training (ITT), given the current context in which schooling, in our inner cities and in our communities which have high indices of deprivation, is no longer just an educational project. The implication of this according to Wetz is not that teachers need to be social workers and therapists, but they do need to have “a therapeutic disposition” informed by a professional understanding for instance of developmental psychology and attachment theory.
Currently a teachers basic training course last around 36 Weeks. Wetz claims that this is simply not enough for the demands imposed by disaffected youth and ITT is, in practice, failing to prepare teachers to support young people with underlying problems. Wetz believes newly qualified teachers neither have the appropriate skills and understanding nor the theoretical framework and practical experience to adequately support disaffected and disengaged pupils .So the profession, educators and politicians need a radical rethink. He believes that Psychology and child development and ideas such as attachment theory should inform not only policy and practice in education and in teacher training, but should also be at the heart of the design and organisation of all our schools.
Tony McAleavy, education director at CfBT Education Trust, warned that teachers receive limited training in dealing with challenging and disaffected young people. He told Children and Young People Now that “There is a degree of amateurishness in the way that teachers are prepared to address young people’s emotional needs,” he said. “Teacher training emphasises the delivery of subjects and classroom management rather than addressing the rounded development of young people.”
He denied that forcing teachers to focus more on the emotional needs of pupils would detract from teaching and learning. “I don’t see why it can’t be win-win,” he said.
Wetz makes a robust case for reform of teacher training. But not everyone agrees. Some, for instance, believe that there is too much emphasis placed on the welfare agenda in schools and the role of teachers should be to educate children and provide a sound learning environment. Leave everything else to other specialists who can, they say, be brought in to schools as and when required .There is a danger of overburdening teachers. Others, on the other hand, believe that Wetz has raised an important issue but believe that rather than ITT being the solution, the key must be in teachers continuing professional development. ITT is not ,after all, seen as the total professional formation of the teacher. It is much more the beginning of a professional journey, the thinking goes, with ongoing opportunities in CPD and indeed the new MTL pogramme to help teachers extend and develop their understanding in this important area.
What is clear though is that the Wetz report has helped catalyze an important debate.