Responses to Will Hutton on Accountability in the Teaching Profession

Careers in Teaching – Responses to Will Hutton

There are a number of letters in the Observer today responding to Will Hutton’s article in last Sunday’s paper, “Teachers: Stop Being Defensive”.

Bruce Ross Smith writes that Will Hutton is correct to encourage the “brightest and the best” into a teaching career:

“ At the moment, one of the problems that besets the “profession” of teaching in the primary and secondary maintained sector, and in further education, is that relatively few graduates or graduates-to-be rate teaching as a career choice.”

Perhaps we need to clarify what’s meant here by “rating” teaching as a career choice. Successive governments have put their trust in civil servants who are trying to instill target-driven, short-term outcomes instead of considering the longer term outcomes that education can and should provide.

Of course you can measure some outcomes through examination results but you can’t really understand and appreciate whether education is working until these children and young people move into adulthood and demonstrate high levels of social, emotional and personal intelligence together with creativity and imagination in their work and their everyday lives.

Education is not measurable in the same way that statistical data from other walks of life can be. There shouldn’t be simply or mainly an immediacy measurement in education. That is the whole point of it being a lifelong experience. It is long term.

That is what good teachers do – continue with the journey of learning, constantly assessing themselves as they do so, constantly learning, constantly wanting to learn.

Ask any decent teacher what they think of their ability and skills, and they will never be satisfied, even if they have a series of “outstanding” comments from Ofsted reports. They are always striving to do better, to understand more, to appreciate the values and the purpose of education. They do not stand still but they certainly do NOT underrate the brilliance of being responsible for the learning of younger generations.

Frank Coffield from the University of London also makes a comment on Hutton’s piece. He argues that there is a huge issue in teachers leaving the profession within five years. If society valued teachers, as they do in places like Finland, why would people want to leave the profession?

Again, it’s not the teachers that undervalue their profession. It is policy makers and some of those who still believe that teachers only work for 195 days of the year.

Professor Coffield continues to say, One of the positive outcomes of Wilshaw’s proposals is that teaching and learning will at long last become priorities. Heads and principals of colleges will have to turn themselves from business managers into experts in learning.”

This is indeed a positive view of Sir Michael’s proposals. Undoubtedly, the shift from business management to teaching and learning in schools is long overdue but we must be extremely mindful of the type and style of pedagogy that emerges. Do we and our learners want to return to methodology that is only fit for the turn of the century – the 19th century?

We are in a completely different world than we were even ten years ago. Any amount of knowledge can be received and understood at the press of a button. It is not about gathering facts any longer (not that it should ever have been so). It is about how those facts are interpreted and developed. It is about how young people can hypothesise and develop creative ideas from these facts. It is up to the teacher to enable this learning through pedagogy that is encourages young people to be active and creative learners – through personalised teaching and learning.

Is Sir Michael going to be advocating such practice?

We sincerely hope so.

Fiona Carnie makes the very valuable point about partnership:

When there is a meaningful dialogue between schools and parents and parents’ views are taken into account in school decision-making, experience shows that this can have a transformative effect on children and on schools.”

Whilst this comment is evidentially accurate, 3Di Associates would like to reiterate that the partnership and involvement of the learners is equally important. Too often schools work on an agenda that has not involved pupils in the decision making process.

Engaging young people in their learning is vital. Engaging young people and empowering them by giving them a voice within school and within their learning is paramount.

Finally Terry Wood from North London writes a passionate response that provides an analogy that maybe some journalists can imagine:

Will Hutton encourages teachers to embrace performance-assessment within the profession. After all, we could get more cash and be taken seriously by the intelligentsia!

Well, I wonder how enthusiastic he would be to see a system for the pay-related performance of national newspaper columnists that featured all of the following: assessment by cynical, mantra-driven ex-journalists who haven’t written for 15 years; assessment based on just 20 minutes’ observation of the writing of one column; assessment that leans heavily on numbers of readers but ignores almost entirely the type of reader (Will versus Jeremy Clarkson anybody?); assessment that permits (nay, encourages) the second-rate hack to fit his performance to the latest criteria when he needs to but leaves the committed independent writer at risk; assessment that alters in scope, nature and focus on the whim of election-obsessed politicians influenced by pseudo-liberal teachers who preach to wide audiences each Sunday morning?

As stated in the previous blog, 3Di Associates has huge respect for Will Hutton, and one of the joys of debate is that we cannot agree on everything all of the time.

The teaching profession does need challenge as well as support –  otherwise it would stagnate. But let us please get the balance right between self-regulation and objective professional criticism from peers, managers and external adjudicators.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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2 Responses to Responses to Will Hutton on Accountability in the Teaching Profession

  1. Bruce Ross-Smith says:

    Very many thanks for picking up and developing points made in the Observer letters on Will Hutton’s ‘Comment’ (February 12)

    Bruce Ross-Smith


    • 3deye says:

      Thanks for your comment, Bruce. We’d intended to send a letter to the Observer ourselves – you may have noticed from our blog on Feb 12th we weren’t exactly pleased with Will Hutton’s column either. However, thanks to you and the others who took the trouble to write in there was a fair bit of challenge to Will’s ideas printed in this week’s paper. It’s a pity he didn’t respond to any of the ‘below the line’ comments that were posted on his piece.


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