Sunday, 16 October 2016

Reflections on ‘The Global Fourth Way’

During my week of annual leave, I had time to delve into the ‘The Global Fourth Way’ by Hargreaves & Shirley (2012), below are some thoughts and observations from this.
The globalisation of education has led to extensive policy borrowing and transmission across continents. In their book ‘The Global Fourth Way’ Hargreaves and Shirley (2012) discuss the changing paradigms of education across the globe and build on their previous work in investigating the conditions and readiness of education systems to move forward and react to our 21st century learners.
Global education has many influencers and as we are influenced by a global economy we are in danger of education moving from being a traditional and altruistic venture into what Diana Ravich calls “venture philanthropy”. This is where prominent individual who create education foundations “converged in support of reform strategies that mirrors their own experience in acquiring huge fortunes, such as competition, choice, deregulations, incentives, and other market driven approaches” (p2). This backward looking model also has a foothold in the aspirations of parents who have a nostalgic attachment to traditional schools and their familiarity. This is well meaning and brings much needed money into the system but the direction of travel can be regressive referencing at ‘what worked for me’ and trying to replicate this in a different time not taking into consideration changes and developments.
Moving to a more innovate way of being and learning requires change. Christensen et al put forward their theory of disrupting innovation which predicts that a “vast wave of innovation” will overtake schools, leading to a transformation in public education. They warn that this may include the termination of schooling as we know it, unless the education system can adapt to digital innovations and embrace alternative providers. The current thinking of subject silos is one of the inhibiting factor which may prevent a reinvention of schooling but there has to be a will to change from the ‘purity and hierarchy’ of subjects and manage the backlash which will inevitably come from any innovation that challenges this particularly at ‘life determining points’ for high achieving children.
The Third Way found in some countries, e.g. England and Canada, evidenced some gains in terms of teacher’s morale and student achievement. The Third Way emphasises a top down model where data, in the form of target setting, is championed. The extensive use of data usually goes hand in hand with the use of technologies to support the data driven education system. Hargreaves & Shirley give caution here as technology can quickly become ‘overextended, distracting, and self-defeating’ (p39) and ‘exacerbate an already excessive belief in or dependence on data’ (p39) as a mean of improvement.
This leads us onto the Fourth Way which can be characterised by an ‘inspiring and shared moral purpose to transform learning and achievement for all’, with targets being self-directed ‘not politically imposed’ (p9). A broad curriculum with a range of learning for all young people, where teachers develop the curriculum collaboratively are also in integral to the Fourth Way of educational change.  Alongside this is an aspiration of data to inform teacher inquiry and decision making within communities of learning, where leadership is ‘about developing and sustaining responsibility for innovating and changing together’ (p9) – collective responsibility
The issue of assessment and testing is one that is predominant in the discourse in Scotland at the moment as the National Improvement Framework is being actioned. An issue with high stakes testing is that it can lead to a distortion of learning and teaching as teacher can ‘teach to the test’. Assessment should be seen as a signpost for the learning that has happened and how well it has been taught. It is more about the progress in learning rather than the product of learning at a particular point in time. Hargreaves & Shirley frame this as “learning is the true purpose of schools and the point to testing and all assessment should be to support that learning, not diminish and distort it” (p182). In the Fourth Way testing is
‘prudent, not pervasive. It is part of the system but does not dominate or distort it”
 Hargreaves & Shirley define five principles of professionalism, which are
·         Professional capital
·         Strong professional associations
·         Collective responsibility
·         Teaching less to learn more
·         Mindful uses of technology
 Professional capital is the product of human capital, social capital and decisional capital. Valuing professionals begins with the signals of trust and respect sent from leaders and policy makers. Where professionals are highly respected and engage with the public, they can enact their social capital that has a positive influence on the lives of their colleagues and the young people they work with.
 The expectation of professional educators is in line with all professionals who are expected to undertake professional learning to upgrade their skills and knowledge, professional reflection on their own and the practice of others, professional enquiry through engaging with and in research. Hargreaves & Shirley go further as state that “being a professional means going far beyond what is in any written contract. If you are fixated on your contract then you have a job, not a profession” (p196).
All improvement should have impact on the pupil experience and outcome. As describes by UNESCO, learning should be about “know and learning to do” but also “learning to be, personally and spiritually, and learning to live together in community and society” (p189).
However, there are limitation in the cycle of improvement, described by Hargreaves & Shirley as the paradox of improvement which is “knowing you have to quit when you are still look like you’re ahead”. So know where you want improve, know how to improve and the impact of that improvement but be aware of when to quit and move on before you reach the attrition point, Hargreaves & Shirley state this as the need to “harmonise incremental improvements and disruptive innovations” (p27).
Hargreaves, A. & Shirley, D. (2012) The Global Fourth Way – The quest for Education Excellence: Sage Publications: London

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