National Teacher's Standards and Learning the Ropes

The ART approach was developed when, according to its website, ‘National ringing institutions recognised that the aging population of Tower Captains meant that the old ways of teaching had to change’. Dr Clare Lawrence learnt to ring under those old ways of teaching, and now considers the ART approach – and the Learning the Ropes scheme in particular against the Teachers’ Standards used in the world of school education.

As we all know, teaching has changed. In Initial Teacher Education, we stand or fall by the National Teachers’ Standards, introduced in 2012 to give a ‘clear baseline of expectations for the professional practice … of teachers’. Every observation, appraisal or self-reflection for the trainee teacher is aligned with this set of guidelines and requirements.

I only discovered recently that the teaching of bell-ringing has also moved on.I found the ART website fascinating, and also deeply encouraging. Bellringing, it seems, is alive and kicking, and being brought to the next generation in an exciting, innovative, considered and forward-looking way.

So what happens if you put both together? How does the Learning the Ropes (LtR) scheme fare if evaluated using elements of the Teachers’ Standards? The answer, it seems, is that in general it seems to fare rather well.

Standard 1: Set high expectations and ensure a safe learning environment

The Learning the Ropes (LtR) scheme certainly emphasises tower safety from the outset. Before anything else, the new ringer learns to handle a bell properly and safely, and to respect tower rules.

Standard 2: Promote good progress

The LtR scheme has done a great deal to de-mystify progress in ringing.In the old days, you learned to handle a bell, then it was very much a case of ‘just do more, and do it better’. There was also very little sense of personal autonomy. The new ringer took whichever bell he or she was directed to take, and rang whatever the captain directed. The LtR scheme gives learners the opportunity to understand and reflect on where they are in their ringing journey, and through this to take responsibility for their own progress.

Standard 3: Demonstrate good knowledge of the subject

Clearly, a ringing teacher needs competency in ringing; this is a skills-based activity and the teacher needs to have mastery of those skills before they can be passed on. How to pass them on is a whole other matter. Bellringing is, I would suggest, not something that can be advanced through discussion or exploration. You can’t ‘try out’ a new way to handle a bell, nor ‘see how it goes’ in Stedman. This means that many of the more socially-constructed pedagogies (teaching methods) are unsuitable, and it may therefore be a challenge to foster and maintain the interest of younger ringers used to a more negotiated learning style at school. Conversely, though, for other people it is the very exact and concrete nature of bell-ringing which draws them to it, and many may relish the precision of the teaching required.

Standard 4: Provide well-structured sessions

Equally, ringing is not a skill you can master on your own. You can’t take a bell home to practice basic bell-handling, and although there are all sorts of ways of getting methods fixed in your head, at the end of the day you need a team of ringers to try that method out for real. With this in mind, one of the skills of the tower captain is to clarify the structure of practice nights. When will time be put aside to encourage new ringers, when are experienced ringers needed in support and when can those same ringers be let free to try their hand at their own challenges.M any a case of umbrage can be avoided if that expected round of Reverse Canterbury Doubles really does take place as promised at the end of the practice.

Standard 5: Adapt to respond to different strengths and needs

Meeting diverse needs remains an important challenge in all teaching, but the LtR scheme is at its core learner-centred, enabling progress to be measured against that learners’ previous position and allowing for individualised learning.

Standard 6: Make accurate and productive use of assessment

I remember, when I learnt, there was very little talk in the tower. You rang, you swapped bells or stood out, you rang again. The only real feedback came in competitions, when your bell might be singled out for praise or admonition. The LtR scheme makes the criteria for success at each level so much more transparent so that new ringers know what they are being assessed on, and how to do well.

Standard 7: Manage behaviour effectively

A bell tower is no place for ill-disciplined behaviour, and the LtR teacher and mentor training supports effective management of clear rules and expectations. Furthermore, the ART guidelines, policies and codes of practice brings safeguarding and the responsibilities of working with young people and vulnerable adults firmly into the 21st century.

Standard 8: Fulfil wider professional responsibilities

I don’t know if the ART approach has reconciled the old adversaries – ringers, vicar, organist, verger and churchwardens – and the timing of when the bells stop before the service and when the organist begins his or her prelude may still be disputed in many parishes. However, there is every evidence that the ART approach is bringing ringing up to date, valuing the teaching of ringing as a serious concern and supporting bell ringing to thrive on into another generation. So, who knows – may be one day even the wider public, may be brought on board. Perhaps one day they will learn to say, not that the bells are ringing, but that people are ringing the bells – and that they are ringing them well!


Dr Clare Lawrence
Clare has been a bell-ringer or organist (and very occasionally both) at various churches over the last 40 years.

She is Senior Lecturer in Teacher Development at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln.