Tim Cornwall

An evening with Chris Thatcher

Education begins with understanding


Chris Thatcher a well-respected educator and education consultant to international schools, former President of the UK National Association of Head Teachers, and former S.E. Asia Education Development Director of Cambridge Education came to TEN to share his thoughts, reminiscences, and some pearls of wisdom with fellow educators this July at the Roadhouse Barbecue.

When I first met the man, he seemed an austere figure and I felt a bit hesitant to casually chitchat with him. Perception, mine especially, is such a fickle thing. As he spoke, I came to realize that here was an extremely clever man who cared.
• He cared about seeing that education was well rounded and tailored to the student.
• He cared about seeing that this was shared broadly abroad.
• Most of all he cared about the well-being of a child first and foremost before their education.

He was talking my language, had my complete attention and was articulating many of my thoughts as I only wish I could.

Chris' father was a teacher. He was one of the many trained through the Emergency Training Scheme of 1947 when Britannia was shedding an empire and rebuilding the home country. At that time, classes were based on ability and within each class and those with the best grades sat at the back and those with the worst sat at the front.

Many had a predetermined education, just as Chris did with his mum deciding that he would be a dentist when he was only a child. As we know now, that was not to last. He got into teaching as many have because he needed a job. He was an untrained teacher, but had an inspirational Head Master that showed him how to care first and teach second. Isn't it odd how many of us end up walking in our father's footsteps whether we intended to or not.

As his inspiring mentor showed him, Chris related that education is half the art of communication and half knowing what you are going to do. It does not sound so complicated and it is not. Yet we adults somehow manage to make the simplest of things very complicated at times.

It also begins with empathy encompassing care, compassion, concern, understanding and sympathy. We should question the why of a child's behavior rather than responding to their actions. Then our response should always be with an open heart.

While Chris reviewed the past sixty years of education in the UK, as only an expert can. After listening to him for some time, I could pin down what was wrong with education in the UK to six key points:

1. Standards
2. Testing
3. Standards
4. Testing
5. Standards
6. Testing

I realize that there are really only two main points, but those two seemed so BIG, I felt I ought to repeat them a couple of times. Since the Butler Education Act established primary education as law in 1944 there have been at least twenty enquiries, reports, manifestos, white papers, and reviews of education, most of them in the past 20 or so years. Every one of them seemed to come with a new style of testing.

At the same time, they were looking to see if students were maintaining standards. Someone forgot to tell the governments that a standard that that keeps changing, well, it is not actually a standard. However, that is what happens when you gag Ministers of Education and political dogma becomes more important than a child's education. As an example, the National Curriculum of 1964 was meant to be good for all, but was a disaster.

It did not take students environment into account. The league table for schools had hundreds of attainment targets in 10 different subjects. It looked like everyone has to put their two pence in. How anyone was supposed to keep track of it all is beyond me.

What I learned from Chris is that it comes down to this:

Some things you cannot measure.

How can you evaluate a child's ability to lead a group or interact socially in a test? What if a child is having a difficult time at home and does poorly on a test that the school will use to place him or her for the next four years? Assessment is vital but as has been shown in the past 66 years in the U.K., testing to standards can go wrong.

A teacher needs to know and care about all of her or his students, be aware of their strengths and areas with room for more growth. However, most of all a teacher needs to have a big open heart for the children in their care.

Chris closed with a quote out of the Cambridge Review.

Good Teachers: What they have in common

• Secure knowledge of what is to be taught and learned.
• Command of a broad repertoire of teaching strategies and skills
• Understanding of the evidence in which the repertoire is grounded
• Broad principles of effective learning and teaching derived from the above
• Judgment to weigh up needs and situations, apply the principles and deploy the repertoire appropriately
• A framework of educational aims and values to steer and sustain the whole

... and what the children say

Children, as revealed by the Review's 87 regional consultations, are interested in pedagogy. They said that good teachers are those who;
• ‘Really know their stuff' (what researchers refer to as pedagogical content knowledge)
• ‘Explain things in advance so you know what a lesson is about' (advanced cognitive organization)
• ‘Make sure it's not in too big steps' (graduated instruction)
• ‘Give us records of what we learn' (formative feedback)

If you ever have a chance to hear Chris Thatcher speak, I strongly urge you to go and listen. You will come away with more than just a few pearls of wisdom.

This month's contribution was prepared by Thailand Educators Network, Co-Chair, Tom Erickson.




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