What is Pedagogical Knowledge and Does it Matter?

Its the specialised knowledge of teachers in creating and facilitating effective teaching and learning environments for all students, independent of subject matter

Improving student outcomes depends on improving the quality of the teaching workforce and the quality of teaching.

Empirical research tells us that teacher quality is an important factor in determining gains in student achievement, even after accounting for prior student learning and family background characteristics.

So, it follows ,its important that energy, resources and incentives are directed   to improving the quality of teacher education and training. Although teachers’ education starts in ITT,  the reality is its  a lifelong process.  After all, if you are a member of any Profession, you are expected to have had a lengthy period of specialised training, as well as continuous professional development. And Teaching is a Profession.

An increase in the quality of teacher education and professional development, throughout the career (CPD) can contribute to an increase in student achievement through more effective teaching.  So giving access and support for teachers to regular,  high quality professional development is important.  Teachers are expected to process and evaluate (and be supported in this) new knowledge relevant for their core professional practice, and to regularly update their profession’s knowledge base.  Hence the concept (now a mantra) of ‘ research informed practice’. This means using high quality research about effective classroom interventions,  and combining it  with teachers’ professional judgment, to improve teaching practice and student learning. In short,  relying on research alone  is not seen as sufficient , as it underplays the potential importance of teachers’ professional experience. As teachers observe and reflect on student learning in the classroom, their decisions are influenced not only by a well -established knowledge base but also by their real-time experience.

Research is important. It can  tell us what works. For example, the work of John Hattie (2009), who conducted a synthesis of educational research studies, looked at which teaching practices had the most influence on student learning, and which didn’t.    Research is also telling us much more about how students learn, the difference between knowledge and information, how knowledge sticks, and how our memories work. There are learning strategies that have been identified, that clearly  aid the process of memorisation and knowledge retention, which is at the heart of learning.   The corollary of this is that this  also means dumping some traditional  practice that evidence shows has little ,or no effect on students learning.

We frequently hear the term ‘ Pedagogy’  or ‘Pedagogical Knowledge’ when referring to the nitty gritty or ‘ skills ‘ of teaching. Its accepted that a high level of pedagogical knowledge is essential for  competent teaching. So it really does matter. But what does this  mean?

The OECD has defined general pedagogical knowledge as ‘the specialised knowledge of teachers in creating and facilitating effective teaching and learning environments for all students, independent of subject matter ‘.  So we are talking about Teachers’ specialised professional knowledge that enables them to teach, and their students to learn.This knowledge is not simply acquired in teacher training.

Shulman (1986, 1987) proposed a typology of teachers’ knowledge base comprised of seven categories, of which ,the OECD suggests,  three have been particularly influential to further research:

First, general pedagogical knowledge (principles and strategies of classroom management and organisation that are cross-curricular)

Second, content knowledge (knowledge of subject matter and its organising structures)

Third, pedagogical content knowledge (knowledge of content and pedagogy).

So what about the specific content of Pedagogical Knowledge?

A review of empirical evidence on teachers’ general pedagogical knowledge concluded three main overlapping components:

 instructional process (teaching methods, didactics, structuring a lesson and classroom management)

 student learning (cognitive, motivational, emotional dispositions of individual students; their  learning processes and development; student heterogeneity and adaptive teaching strategies)

 assessment (diagnosis principles and evaluation procedures)

For a detailed discussion and definition of general pedagogical knowledge, see Guerriero, S. (Ed.) (2017). Pedagogical Knowledge and the Changing Nature of the Teaching Profession. Paris: OECD Publishing. Link to Research

Also see OECD Report

OECD- Understanding teachers’ pedagogical knowledge report on an international pilot study

Kristina Sonmark, Nóra Révai, Francesca Gottschalk, Karolina Deligiannidi, Tracey Burns 11 Oct 2017





Select Committee calls for radical reforms


Schools are only as good as their teachers, the saying goes.

Of course, that’s overly simplistic, given that a schools intake and the socio economic profile of its pupils are an important variable.  But we know good teachers and good teaching have a significant impact on outcomes, even after  taking  into account the   socio economic context .  Indeed, this   goes some way to explaining why schools   with similar socio-economic intakes can perform so differently.

The DCSF Select Committee has just reported on Teacher Training, calling for radical reforms.

The committee confirmed that recruiting and retaining the best teachers can transform pupil attainment and bring new vision and energy into schools. It is not enough it claimed   to make-do-and-mend existing policies:  instead radical changes must take place.

The report said that teaching must be seen as an attractive career option for high achieving individuals. Entry requirements should therefore be raised, (echoing Tory policy proposals) and there must be better support for teachers once they are in post.

Barry Sheerman MP, the Committee chairman said “A failure to tackle the pressures faced by new teachers risks not only a dearth of teachers from the profession but also lasting damage to the educational experience of pupils. This must not be allowed to happen.”

Major reforms must be introduced to help newly qualified teachers make the transition from their initial training to their first teaching post, the report concluded.

Their report also says embedding a culture of continuous professional development (CPD) is imperative to ensure high levels of teacher quality and effectiveness.

The pressures on teachers at the start of their careers are considerable and the Committee calls for measures that reduce the front-loaded nature of teacher training. Much greater space and incentives for early career teachers to supplement initial training with a relevant masters qualification are vital. Mentoring support for these teachers must be improved and extended.

The Committee urges radical changes to teachers professional development, including the introduction of a single overarching framework for the management of teachers’ career progression. It says the ‘Chartered Teacher’ framework would encompass a licence to practise and link pay and progression to the completion of a master’s qualification and, thereafter, to completion of further accredited training.

The Committee seems to agree, at least in part, with the Tories view that it is important to raise the bar for entry to the profession. Entry requirements for much initial teacher training provision they say are too low and the bar must be raised.  Reforms should include discontinuing undergraduate programmes for those wanting to be secondary school teachers, which attract the poorest qualified candidates, and requiring postgraduate trainees to have a lower-second degree or above.

The Committee also said  that supply teachers must be brought into the mainstream of the profession, that, in the context of the 14-19 reforms, school and further education teachers should have much greater mobility across the two sectors, and that the training of early years, school and further education teachers should be harmonised through generic standards.

This report follows in the wake of a number   of others ,from think tanks and McKinsey, the management consultants,  which  all reinforce the same basic message-the best education  systems attract  and recruit the best graduates, train them  to a very high standard initially and then  support them throughout their careers,  while ensuring  that their pay and working conditions are attractive  and afford  them high professional status.