No more Mr Nice Guy – Cameron and Morgan not making up with teachers after all.Posted: February 3, 2015
The Conservative’s love-in with the teaching profession seems to have come to a shuddering halt after only a few short months. The pressures of the campaign seem to have driven both Cameron and Morgan back to the familiar school and teacher bashing approach that has been their default position throughout this government. Clearly someone has decided that Mail and Telegraph readers are more important electorally than the teacher vote.
First Nicky Morgan announces that every single primary pupil will pass her tests or dire consequences will follow. What the tests will consist of is not entirely clear but they will, it seems, “expect every pupil by the age of 11 to know their times tables off by heart, to perform long division and complex multiplication and to be able to read a novel. They should be able to write a short story with accurate punctuation, spelling and grammar.” Then, Cameron followed this up with “an assault on mediocrity”. His target is schools in the Ofsted category of “requires improvement”. Some might think this amounts to “weaponising” education!
The really alarming feature of all of this is the extraordinarily simplistic approach to school improvement. The argument runs, it seems, underperforming schools have bad leaders, so if you change the leaders all will rapidly be well. And of course they cling to the conviction that making a school an academy is a magic bullet.
We’ve argued before on this blog that real school improvement is a complex business that requires a long term commitment from the whole staff, external support and indeed the whole community in which the school is located. The ability of politicians to believe that the simple things that they can control with the stroke of a pen will make the difference is extraordinary and deeply depressing.
So is the belief that just setting a target will of itself bring about change. This rests on the assumption that without that pressure teachers are just idle and won’t bother to do the best by their pupils. What actually happens of course is that all the attention goes on what is to be measured. We can imagine the regime in year 6 if knowing tables by heart is what everything depends on. It takes me right back to 11+ preparation in the ‘50’s and the grindingly boring repetition of practice papers every single day for a year and a half.
New Labour was of course big on targets. But in all fairness it also understood that there needed to be an infrastructure of support and very substantial funding was put into national and local school improvement services, CPD and classroom resources.
The belief now is that superheads plus academisation is all it takes. The finding of the Select Committee that there is no evidence that academy status makes any difference either way are just swept aside. So are the basic numbers from the performance tables just published. 36.5% od sponsored academies were below the 40% target for GCSE results. Even more shocking so were 5% of converter academies all of whom were supposed to be good or outstanding before they were allowed to convert. Also below target were 22% of the tiny number of free schools and 2 out of 5 UTC’s. Overall 13.6% of academies were below target compared to 11.7% of maintained schools.
So the answer now is that maintained schools become academies and academies change their sponsor. Though it will be interesting to see, if a converter academy or a sponsor got stroppy, just what powers the Secretary of State has when a school is not in special measures.
Above all though, we need to think about the effect of the culture of pressure and punishment. Who will want to risk their career taking on the headship of a school needing improvement? Who will want to lead a primary school if it takes just one 11 year old having a bad day to end your career? Who indeed wants to join a profession where the prevailing ethos is one of mistrust and blame promoted by politicians for whom a quick headline is more important than the real future of the service.
We know that places in initial training are not being filled. Meanwhile just this week the TES reported that
“More teachers are quitting the profession than at any point in the past 10 years, fuelling fears that a recruitment shortfall is being compounded by retention problems. About one in 12 full-time teachers are leaving the profession every year, according to the latest figures. Teachers have cited excessive workload, the pressures of inspection and the relentless pace of change as reasons for quitting.”
And this at a time when pupil numbers are going through the roof!
Nicky Morgan was appointed, we were told, to make peace with teachers. An important symbol of that was the workload challenge. Unfortunately it seems the answer teachers gave when asked what the biggest issue was replied “government policy and interference”.
But clearly the message hasn’t been heard.