Is the DfE employing the Chewbacca defence over the retention crisis?

Originally posted on Labour Teachers, March 6th, 2016. If you haven’t read the posts on Labour Teachers, you really should. Even if you aren’t a Labour supporter, or even a UK teacher. The blog – contributed to by a variety of educators – articulates many of the concerns and hopes of people working in education today.


 

As reported by Schools Week today, the DfE have announced a new strategy “in an attempt improve teacher retention”.

Are they going to actively reduce the workload of teachers? Nope.

Are they going to reduce contact time for classroom teachers in order for teachers to keep up with workload then? Nah.

Are they going to improve pay and benefits for classroom teachers? Of course not.

No, what they are going to do is spend more money on professional development.

Okay, that doesn’t sound so bad. I mean, that might allow classroom teachers more agency and it could be quite motivational for many thinking of leaving.

Well, that might be true if they were actually going to spend the money on classroom teachers. The reality is that they aren’t. No. They will be spending more money on courses for leaders. To be precise, they will be doubling support for the Teaching Leaders programme.

This seems to me an example of ignoratio elenchi: it fundamentally misses the point of the retention issue. Excessive managerialism seems to be one of the causes of the issue, so spending more money on more leaders would appear a daft response. In fact, it may seem such an irrelevant response to the issues of workload and retention affecting classroom teachers, that any who are currently bogged down by these issues and who are considering leaving the profession might just conclude that the DfE are employing the Chewbacca defense.

For any who don’t know, the Chewbacca defense is a concept born of the satirical cartoon South Park. It is a strategy in which a party will counter an argument with an irrelevant response in order to confuse those they wish to persuade. In South Park, they satirised O.J. Simpson’s defence counsel Johnny Cochran’s closing argument in the infamous trial:

Cochran …ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!
Gerald Broflovski Damn it! … He’s using the Chewbacca defense!
Cochran Why would a Wookiee, an 8-foot-tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of 2-foot-tall Ewoks? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense! Look at me. I’m a lawyer defending a major record company, and I’m talkin’ about Chewbacca! Does that make sense? Ladies and gentlemen, I am not making any sense! None of this makes sense! And so you have to remember, when you’re in that jury room deliberatin’ and conjugatin’ the Emancipation Proclamation, does it make sense? No! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit! The defense rests.

Tackling the teacher retention issue by spending more money on leadership seems as nonsensical to me as Cochran’s argument here. I’d argue that leadership already gets the largest slice of the professional development pie as it stands, so it seems such a mistake to spend more money on this and hope to improve the situation.

The most pressing issue of the retention crisis is having teachers in classrooms. Trying to do this by taking them out of the classroom to be leaders is like a doctor trying to fix a headache by hitting someone on the head. Does that make sense?

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