Stephen Twigg MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary today said: “We must learn from high performing nations like Japan to radically transform education in England.
“Labour will bring reform into the classroom by learning from the Japanese system of lesson planning, known as ‘jugyou kenkyuu‘.
“Education in England has had years of reform to structures, exams and accountability measures. But the style of classroom teaching has changed little since Victorian times.
“In Japan, teaching practices have changed markedly in the last 50 years, through a process of gradual, incremental improvements over time. Japan gives teachers themselves primary responsibility for improving classroom practice.
“Raising the quality and status of teaching is Labour’s number one priority when it comes to education reform.”
Teaching in Japan
As part of Labour’s Policy Review, Stephen Twigg is announcing today that he plans to visit Japan to look at how they have reformed education.
Along with other Far Eastern countries such as South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, Japan consistently outperforms England in the TIMSS international study on maths and science, coming in the top 5.
While Labour made great progress in improving results in core subjects during our time in office, it is clear that more of the same isn’t the answer. So Labour will look at creative ideas and best practice from the highest performing jurisdictions across the world to improve education in England, as part of our Policy Review process.
Kounaikenshuu is the term for the continuous process of school based professional development that Japanese teachers engage in once they begin their careers. While teachers in England are considered to be fully equipped once they have gone through initial teacher training, Japan considers participation in professional development a core job requirement, with lesson planning and on-the-job training often taking as much as half of a teachers time.
Run by teachers for teachers, kounaikenshuu consists of teachers working together in grade level groups, subject matter groups and special cross-cutting committees (e.g. technology). The activities are focussed on the goals set out in the annual school improvement plan. Many teachers also get involved in district wide groups which normally meet once a month.
One of the most important parts of kounaikenshuu is jugyou kenkyuu (lesson study). The Japanese system places a very strong emphasis on collaboration between teachers in the planning, delivery and evaluation of lessons. In lesson study, groups of teachers meet regularly over long periods of time (ranging from several months to a year) to work on the design, implementation, testing and improvement of one or several ‘research lessons’. The premise is simple: if you want to improve teaching, the most effective place to do so is in the context of a classroom lesson. If you start with lessons, the problem of how to apply research findings in a classroom disappears.
In England, teachers tend to lead students through a series of steps to develop procedures for solving problems. The emphasis is on constantly succeeding, and on the demonstration of techniques for solving problems, followed by a process of memorisation and practice. By contrast, in Japan the focus is on allowing students to develop their own procedures for solving problems, through a process of structured trial and error with feedback. Teachers design lessons so that students are likely to use procedures that have been developed recently in class. The Japanese approach allows a deeper understanding of the rationale behind a solution and for students to develop independent learning techniques.
Improving Teaching not just Teachers
We should professionalise teaching as medicine has been professionalised. Studies show that in the classroom of the best teachers, students learn in six months what students taught by the average teachers take a year to learn. Teachers are skilled professionals. But if we’re honest, they don’t have the same parity as doctors. That should change.
Teaching standards need to be robust and progressive – reflecting development through a career. And there should be genuine systems of reward and progression for those who invest time and effort in their own continual professional development.
The focus should be on improving quality of teaching, not just teachers. Improving the quality of teachers, does not necessarily mean you will improve what happens in a classroom. International studies have shown that what teachers do in the classroom are not determined by their qualifications as much as by the culture in which they teach. The methods most teachers use are inherited from earlier generations of instructors, not invented when they reach the classroom. So if we want to change teaching, we can’t just change teachers, we must change the culture of teaching, its very fabric and DNA. The most effective way is to change teacher training, collaboration and lesson planning.Other news from The Labour Party