1. Why did Gove only celebrate academies and free schools? Because he was busy aping the Americans turning a public service into a private one. In 1969 the first black paper was written attacking comprehensive schooling on principle; its authors were disgusted by the post-war egalitarianism that had begun to creep into society and positively horrified by the student protests (US and UK) that were an indication of what might happen if entire populations were properly educated.
Below is my response to an article written by Francis Gilbert (one of the founders of the Local Schools Network) entitled ‘What is Good Teaching and How Can We Encourage It?’ The piece begins with Gilbert explaining that he’s just been on Newsnight. He goes on to say that the majority of the discussion on Newsnight was about whether performance-related-pay (PRP) will improve teaching standards. I decided to comment on PRP:
So it was off to central London today to take part in a march and rally ostensibly about pay and pensions; my good old placard (https://jennycollinsteacher.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/homemade-nut-strike-placard/) was spotted by three different news organisations who all interviewed me. The placard stood out because it was homemade and also because it didn’t just say ‘Gove Out’ but instead made some attempt to draw attention to the reasons behind the current attacks on teachers and schools (marketisation). Here are the three websites that carried out the interviews.
At one point a fellow protesting teacher reacted to the line on the placard that reads ‘Marketise, Monetise: Tory, Labour: All the Same’ by asking ‘What alternative do we have?’ I suggested a cabinet that was not made up of millionaires – i.e. genuinely representative – as one example of a preferable alternative. Later on I was approached by an Argentinian couple, one of whom was a teacher, who looked at the placard and told me “We are having just the same problems in Argentina, only worse”.
I was also approached by somebody who wanted to know who Joel Klein was, a name written on my placard. It interested me that this person, the only person to ask me about the names on the placard, retired from teaching ten years ago having taught for forty years. I don’t think teachers of this generation are asking the right questions; they seem pretty naive. I don’t see the NUT as a tough union and I’m not convinced teachers in this country are up for a fight. As far as I can see this is down to a lack of knowledge about their own circumstances combined with both a sceptical attitude towards any sort of political posturing and a lame ‘I’d rather be shopping’ type apathy.
It was good to see the Firefighters out in strength on the same march. They had a good sense of solidarity to them with matching Fire Brigades Union T-shirts, partners and children in tow and even playing some music (‘Get Up, Stand Up’ by Bob Marley, not the most original of choices perhaps but appropriate enough and a welcome, cheerful sound).
I also met one of the people behind this intriguing blog: http://www.theunlessonmanifesto.blogspot.com It is similar to this blog for a number of reasons . It’s the first blog I’ve found that is.
I had been planning to write a response to an article written for Civitas* about the ‘progressive’ ideas of ‘the blob’ (teachers, schools, lecturers, universities etc). You can read an article summing up the paper (full title: Prisoners of the Blob: Why Most Education Experts are Wrong About Everything) here:
or you can read the full booklet here:
I’ve been saved the trouble of writing this article by the excellent Debra Kidd:
* Civitas are a right-of-centre Think Tank set up in 2000; if you’ve been reading recently about how Ofsted are way too progressive and should be scrapped it’s largely because of Civitas. With Ofsted declaring various free schools and academies as ‘in need of improvement’ and ‘inadequate’ the obvious thing to do is attack Ofsted! But how to do this? Employ some foot soldiers – or creeps if you prefer – like Daisy Christodoulou (Ark Academies) and Toby Young (a free-schooler) to bash ‘progressive’ thinkers in education like John Dewey, Rousseau, Ken Robinson – I’m not making this up – and eventually the public will surely get behind the idea. Much as I dislike what Ofsted have done to teacher morale over the last twenty five years the idea of Civitas and Gove helping influence the design of a new inspectorate is appalling. Consider once more the title of Young’s booklet: Why Most Education Experts Are Wrong About Everything. Of course it’s intended as a wind-up but it does imply the answer must surely be to have people who are not educational experts running things. Why not Gove and Young?!
You can click on the picture to see it enlarged.
I spoke to a number of teachers on the day and I was surprised that none of them had heard of http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/
Here is the apparently extra-terrestrial ‘Mein Herr’ holding forth on the subject of exams from a book by Lewis Carroll (an Upas tree is a poisonous tree):
Oh this Upas-tree of Competitive Examinations! Beneath whose deadly shade all the original genius, all the exhaustive research, all the untiring life-long diligence by which our fore-fathers have so advanced human knowledge, must slowly but surely wither away, and give place to a system of Cookery, in which the human mind is a sausage, and all we ask is, how much indigestible stuff can be crammed into it!…Yes, crammed,” he repeated.
“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
We had an INSET about teaching grammar today. The DfES have decided to jiggle the curriculum about and, as part of this process, the teaching of grammar has been redefined. This means some aspects of grammar have become more or less important and the order that these grammatical elements should be taught has been tinkered with. The whole process is petty. The DfES reasserts its position over and above ordinary teachers while achieving nothing of real value.
What are the origins of this site?
I am a Primary School teacher. The background to this website represents a personal journey wherein my belief in the English education system has been gradually eroded. Below are a number of key events on this journey that have helped to create this outlook.
- 2000AD – My first task at the start of my PGCE was to observe a school for two weeks. This school was being inspected by Ofsted. One teacher was told by an inspector that the ‘mental and oral’ starter to her maths lesson was a minute and a half too long. I listened to the teachers describing the inspectors as ‘unsuccessful teachers’ and ‘overpaid’.
- During my PGCE Year I found a book in the university library that outlined recent changes in the British Education system. I was particularly struck by the fact that the National Curriculum came into being in 1988 with practically no consultation of the people who actually work in education (in fact 20,000 responses from a consultation in 1987 were simply ignored)
- At the end of my PGCE I had to go and sit an exam at a computer. It was to make sure that I could do basic arithmetic and that I could write in full sentences. I wondered about this as I have got lots of GCSEs, 3 A levels, a Degree and by then a PGCE. Is this the system’s way of telling me that it doesn’t trust itself?
- At the start of my career a number of older teachers warned me about the constant changes and new ‘initiatives’. It was clear they found these endless shifts in focus irritating, even exasperating.
- I found the Literacy Hour in its prescribed form particularly difficult to deliver. The expectation of a little bit of word level work and then a next part that may be unrelated just never did work for me. I began to realise that I was not developing my own style as a teacher. The challenge was to fit the expectations of a prescribed system.
- Two years into my career I was observed teaching a Maths lesson. I was heavily penalised because one pupil – out of 25 – had not been sufficiently challenged by the activity. This simple point was considered grounds enough to rate the entire lesson, and by extension all my teaching, as ‘unsatisfactory’. The way this judgement was delivered was terribly demoralising. For some time I felt like stopping teaching. After a few weeks I had a realisation: The job is about the teacher and the taught, an inspector’s judgement is of no further interest to me since a negative reaction can be based on such minor details.
- A few years later and a change of management led to a whole crop of equally bogus judgements. At this point I realised that it would be petty and unproductive and, most importantly, unenlightening to vent my anger and frustration at the individuals concerned. The time had come for this educator to get educated about education. And so I bought a pile of books and began my own informal ‘bedtime reading’ MA (see ‘Educate Yourself: a short reading list’ at the top of this blog)
- At a meeting about Assessing Pupil Progress (APP) very recently I was struck by the attitudes of the other eight teachers present. These were not hard-bitten old-school veterans but young twenty-something teachers. They were all inclined towards not taking APP too seriously as “it will probably change to something else in 2 or 3 years time so why bother?”
- On inspecting websites like the TES and others I noticed that there are a lot of disgruntled teachers out there. Blogs refer to absurd inspection regimes, senior management openly fiddling with books and results to secure approval from Ofsted, the constant changing of expectations (or ‘moving the goalposts’), time-consuming record-keeping (or ‘excessive paperwork’) and a good deal else besides. However there is rarely any sense of context to all this grumbling. This website is intended to provide that context. There are historical reasons and political decisions that help us understand why we have our current situation.
Through understanding we seek to transform
“For the past two decades English primary schools have been expected to conform to a state theory of learning …based on the idea that a national curriculum, repeated high stakes testing of pupils and mandated pedagogy in literacy and numeracy will raise standards… There is little doubt that the machinery of surveillance and accountability makes it difficult for schools to deviate from focusing on test performance.”
“Dialogue is the antithesis of a state theory of learning and its antidote”
Cambridge Primary Review, 2010
Christine Gilbert, Ofsted chief inspector, says she thinks that boring teachers are responsible for the deteriorating behaviour in our schools. I wonder if she launched this crackdown as a smokescreen to divert attention away from the failings of her own organisation. After all Ofsted had just described Haringey’s children’s services as ‘good’ shortly before the death of Baby P, and as ‘grossly inadequate’ shortly afterwards.
The Guardian reported on 5 January that the chief inspector felt there was a link between pupils’ “boredom and achievement” and that their “behaviour is deteriorating because they are not being stimulated enough in the classroom”.
Representatives of both the NUT and NASUWT pointed to evidence allegedly showing an improvement in the quality of teaching over the last 15 years. However there is no independent evidence on how standards have changed. Ofsted judgements have varied throughout the period (with greatly fluctuating interpretations of the 3 grade – is it sound? Is it satisfactory? Is it unremarkable? Or is it unsatisfactory after all?)
Is it possible to make every lesson exciting? It’s very difficult to conduct four to six exciting lessons every day, five days a week, plus having to deal with late night and weekend marking and preparation. Not every child is interested in your subject or likes your approach. Not every child comes from a loving and supportive home. Or maybe the school is lacking the resources to help the teacher make their lessons more exciting?
When I joined the teaching profession in the seventies, we were encouraged to be creative and collaborative. I organised residential courses, educational trips and theatre visits for my pupils. I invited speakers in, introduced educational games and role-play exercises, used quizzes, puzzles, videos and computers, and team taught, to instil a love and enjoyment of my subject.
By the time I retired two years ago I’d had enough of government initiatives. Their insistence on a mechanistic approach to the national curriculum, their obsession with testing and examination preparation, the pressure of league tables, the naming and shaming, the negative impact of Ofsted and its dubious political role. Performance management led to increased teaching to the test, which, while it may have caused temporary test improvements, has also led to narrow, restricted and extremely boring teaching.
The conclusion is obvious. Schools could be happier places, and children could enjoy their education more, if New Labour would drop its insistence on the national curriculum, testing and reductionist approaches to teaching. It’s time for this government to listen to teachers and educationalists.
Chris Newman, Cardiff