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By Marcia Hutchinson


Monday, March 16, 2009.


On my first day at primary school, the teacher asked us to do a forward roll.  I didn’t know what that was.  She demonstrated. I knew the move by a different name, my hand shot up.  “Miss, me can pitch puppa lick.”   She looked at me with scorn.  “What are you talking about, silly child.”  I was speaking in the Jamaican patois I had heard at home.  She thought I was being difficult.  She probably didn’t mean to belittle me.  Had I spoken French she would have accepted that translation was necessary.  She knew nothing of my culture and therefore assumed naughtiness where there was none. 

The government has floated the idea of reducing the teacher training course from a year to six months?  It’s a nice idea but it just won’t work.  There are many reasons why it won’t work in practice but I’d like to look at one in particular.  Cultural diversity; or rather the lack of it. 

The majority of teachers are white female and middle class. The impact of this in schools where the majority of children are not white can be serious. (Class is a whole other ball game but is linked with race as most minority ethnic children are working class).  The lack of understanding by teachers of the culture of the children they teach has been acknowledged both by teachers themselves and by the government to be a problem.  There is no training on cultural diversity in the current one year Initial Teacher Training  (ITT) course.  It seems there is too much to fit in and diversity training is one of the things that is left out.

The government surveyed trainee teachers and they overwhelmingly said they needed training on cultural diversity. This need was accepted by the government who decided to put the work out to tender.  In the end they decided (on cost grounds?) not to hire any of the companies who tendered but to create a website Instead,  www.multiverse.ac.uk

Whilst this is a good website it is not the same as including issues around cultural diversity in the ITT course itself.  No one would suggest that the basic elements of the teacher training course could be delivered by a website.  A lack of understanding of other cultures could well contribute to teachers being unable to manage pupil behaviour in urban schools, just the ones with the highest NQT drop out rates. 

Teaching practice is also one of the elements that is likely to be reduced or eliminated if the course is reduced to six months.  For teachers who have had precious little exposure to other cultures, this will exacerbate their inadequacies in this area.  The actual experience of working unaided with a class full of children is crucial.  If a teacher can’t keep order in the classroom they cannot teach the children anything. 

More time, not less, needs to be spent on teaching practice and behaviour management in particular.  Please note, I am not saying that minority ethnic children are more difficult to teach than white children per se.  I am saying that a teacher with little or no experience of their culture will find it more difficult to teach them.  The NUT estimates (because there are no official figures) that a third of all newly qualified teachers drop out during their first year.  I suspect that this rate is highest in inner city schools.  Could the clash of cultures have anything to do with this?

The government is just storing up trouble of itself (or more likely it’s successors) with this short sighted policy.  Retention is every bit as important as recruitment. Any business with a one third ‘churn’ rate in new recruits is going to deliver a poor service to it’s clients.  They might get more teachers in to more classrooms faster by cutting the training course time in half, but how many of them will stay?

Marcia Hutchinson is the managing director of Primary Colours, a learning development company specialising in cultural diversity. Her organization provides high quality, culturally inclusive resources, theatre in education and INSET training, helping schools to embed cultural diversity within the Curriculum while broadening their teaching and learning. Its website is at www.primarycolours.net


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