Sunday, 8 November 2015

It's Time for Headteachers to Don Balaclavas and Take To The Streets

Where’s the union ballot on “No confidence in this government?” Heads sit behind late night office doors worrying about Ofsted, recruitment, dire finances and exam results treating this as an individual school problem. Our timidity in the face of attacks on our students, staff and teaching principles is an embarrassment.

Under rehashed arrangements, children in high income areas will be encouraged and those in low income areas will just plod along, and know their place. Sensible school leaders might be wise to marginalise the ordinary but unique, hard working kids who earn their C grades. Following well practised methods: select and be praised

We used to say, “Every child matters.”

Nicky Morgan is a very poor education secretary. She sees the children’s future as a self promotion tool, a short stay on the way to more important matters.

Morgan has a rigorous geography that can create a grammar school annex in Sevenoaks, 10 miles from the main school and not break the law that forbids new grammar schools. As an office joke her advisors told her that important people were saying she was prime minister material. She regurgitates old, failed policies as part of an incoherent shambles designed solely to replace Princess Diana in the eyes of Daily Express readers.

Even Gove’s Policy Exchange group present evidence that the grammar school system does not work for the middle class she yearns to entice but Morgan prefers to decide our children’s future on the recommendation of a Daily Mail editorial.

There is a teacher recruitment crisis – we can’t get teachers. PGCE training places have been cut. 220 more teachers left teaching in 2014 than joined - enough to fully staff 20 primary schools. 18,000 experienced teachers left the UK to teach abroad. Step forward Morgan to announce that she is going to drop 1500 of the very best teachers into the lowest performing areas. To go to Ramsgate or Knowsley teachers will be given money, money and management jobs. Just where does she think these 1500 elite teachers are working and living? How much would it cost to get you to leave your family and home to live in a bedsit in Margate? And who replaces them in their current schools? If this policy sees the light of day I will eat the blinkers through which Nicky Morgan pursues mediocrity.

Morgan wants to instruct that 90% of all kids will take GCSEs in the EBACC subjects, up from 39% in 2015. Her party said that heads and governors have the freedom to choose the right curriculum for their schools, because these are the people who know and understand their communities. Apparently not.

Here’s my consultation response: I’m not inflicting an artless curriculum on 90% of our kids precisely because I do know better than you.

Health professionals are alarmed by the problems of unreasonable expectations a rigid exam system imposes on children. Measure school success by exam outcomes and schools will teach to the tests. 11 year olds frustrated by endless SATs practices will be joined by the nation’s 7 year olds as we will have compulsory SATs at age 7. She believes that constant testing improves learning. Young kids are stressed out by desperate teachers and sleepless heads. Childhood, school and education should be fun, creative, enquiring, progressive and life enhancing. Tests are just tests.

Morgan says heads will devise the tests, so that they will be responsible for the mess. Primary schools have boycotted tests before and parents admired your courage. NAHT, oh go on! Tell me how I can help.

School budgets are being cut whilst our costs have risen. Of the 1,069 heads polled by the NAHT 82% claim that “budget cuts will have a negative impact on standards.” That’s nearly 900 primary schools where heads know they are set for a deterioration in how well we teach our children.

In July 31 Hertfordshire secondary school headteachers lobbied MPs on the impending financial disasters. So why don’t we all go on a headteachers’ demo through our city centres? How about the bloggers and tweeters write something together and circulate all parents? Or are we just individual egos? The government rely on our feeble, well-mannered silence.

When Free Schools were first promoted we were told to follow the Swedish success story. Sweden now claims this experiment failed, Stubbornly, Pigshead Cameron ploughs on with determination to imitate Scandinavian failure whilst waiting to bomb someone in the middle east.

To compete with Shanghai we have been told to adopt their approach to schooling. China rightly, concentrated on the needs of a developing economy.

Now, they intend to replace an emphasis on facts and testing with the “soft skills,” our CBI claims we need: problem solving, decision making, team work and communication, as required in a mature economy.

The Tories created a massive mess in society in the 1980s: an under educated, alienated youth made to feel hopeless and worthless, responsible for their own lack of prospects. When the mines and the shipyards closed unemployment was the workers’ fault.There were riots on British streets. At least now our school leavers can look forward to low paid, zero hours, prospectless jobs, some with fries, in areas of neglected and abandoned working communities.

Perhaps our best headteachers will be Morganed into steel towns as those jobs are lost forever. She says one teacher can turn round an entire school ethos – more fanciful nonsense from someone who has never spent a day as a teacher.

I am sure employers are unaware that it is impossible to compare any set of GCSE results between 2011 and 2019. As grade boundaries are manipulated, content doubled and papers mismarked by amateurs, a C grade in Maths from 2011 would be a D grade in 2015 and a 4 in 2017. This means they passed in 2011 but failed thereafter. Morgan calls it volatility; the independent OFQUAL head calls it volatility.

To the 1300 school leaders in Westminster for PIXL conferences, let’s cross the road and sightsee parliament, I’ll even make mild mannered placards.

Schools need to ensure that every effort a child makes to improve is recognised. Progress from one grade to another should be standardised. We use the alphabet to move from d to C to B. Nice and simple. Using numbers how about 4 to 5 to 6?

On new official Perfomance Tables the movement from grade a C to a B grade is worth 1½ points, From a B to A and from an A to A* is worth 1½ points. The movement from F to E is worth ½ a point. To score highly in the e published tables our school should concentrate resources on the C-A*end and let the others have the coloured pencils.

Perhaps we could reintroduce mines and chimneys.

I don’t know Russell Holtby, General Secretary of the NAHT, but I will invite him and Brian Lightman (ASCL) to join me to handcuff ourselves to the DFE’s front door as an initial protest against government attacks on a generation of schoolchildren and the best teachers I have ever known.

Or else pay lip service to the old lie “every child matters.”

Dennis O'Sullivan (Headteacher)

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