Issue date: 28 October 2002

Attitudes to work and the job in hand amongst teachers have changed very little in the past 30 years, according to a report by education researchers at the University of the West of England. ‘Developing children’s potential’ Primary school teachers’ views on their professional roles in the twenty first century’ by Education researchers at the Faculty of Education, Penelope Harnett and Elizabeth Newman investigates how New Labour’s methods for raising standards has impacted on teachers views of the role they play. The paper poses the question of whether there are enduring characteristics of primary teaching and the extent to which constant redefinition of primary teachers work has had any impact.

“The results were surprising” said Elizabeth Newman, “We anticipated that the National Curriculum, literacy and numeracy hours and increased paper work might have impacted hugely on the way teachers perceive their role but this has not been the case. The key issues which teachers feel strongly about now reflect those reported in an earlier research study conducted by Patricia Ashton in 1975. We asked similar questions and used the format of the Ashton survey as a model to gauge a historical and an educational perspective.”

Both studies found that a key issue for primary teachers is an aim to help children realise their potential ‘to fulfil their potential academically, socially and emotionally’. Other valued aims include developing the ‘whole child’ and promoting high self-esteem. ‘I try to give the children confidence and motivation so they are willing to have a go and not worry about failure,’ was a typical remark made by one teacher.

Penelope Harnett said, “The context in which teachers now work has changed significantly in the last 30 years. The external influence of the government through development of the National curriculum, more rigorous testing and assessment of teacher’s performance and increasing government guidance on how to teach has, inevitably had an effect.

“The study showed that teachers are short of time and see increased constraints such as paperwork, lack of money, class sizes, lack of adult support, disproportionate time focused on disruptive children and parental attitudes (demanding, over-critical or contradictory with aims of the school) have had an impact on the ability of teachers to carry out their work effectively. However despite the constraints, values held by teachers with regard to their stated aims demonstrate that there enduring characteristics and beliefs held by primary practitioners.”

Elizabeth Newman continued, “Estelle Morris has promised that teachers are entering ‘an era of professionalism and trust’ but this era of trust seems to be reliant on compliance with external standards and a uniform view of teaching and learning. Teachers comments reveal that most are accepting of government initiatives but want greater opportunities for freedom and flexibility to act on their own initiative in the interests of the children.”

One teacher summarised her views thus

“I love my job, I have welcomed all new government initiatives in literacy, numeracy and other areas, but I really dislike and find offensive to the children and teacher, the regime of testing and target setting and publishing of test results which set up a climate of panic, mistrust and sense of failure. I am not against testing and targeting per se, simply the way the targets are set with little consultation."

Penelope Harnett and Elizabeth Newman are about to embark on the next stage of this project. They are seeking primary teachers who would be willing to discuss this research in the light of their own experience at a meeting at the Faculty of Education

Please contact Elizabeth.Newman@uwe.ac.uk and Penelope.Harnett@uwe.ac.uk


Editor’s notes

A full copy of the report 'Developing children’s potential’ Primary teachers views on their professional roles in the twenty first century’ can be obtained by calling the UWE Press Office.

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