Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Last Thing That Teachers Need Is A Politician With Vision - As Tory education policy unravels, we can but hope

Jeremy Hunt employs the negotiating psychology of putting fingers in both ears and chanting La, La, La at the junior doctors in the dispute over imposed new contracts. I would be saddened to hear that he picked this up in his schooldays at Charterhouse (current fees £35,529) as my understanding is that such schools are tip top on their “soft skills” of people management, team building and problem solving. The numbers from abroad - an admittedly large place – are rising and 38.5% of the students whose parents live abroad travel from China and Hong Kong to study in our private schools. (Independent Schools Council 2016)They come from education systems we are told we must emulate. In the words of Michael Gove, Oxford educated like Hunt, Osborne , Cameron, Johnson and Morgan, “Yada, yada, yada.” Unlike doctors and teachers Cameron and his crew remain unburdened by integrity.

Listening to Nicky Morgan is painful and sometimes confusing as, for example, when she explained the Chancellor’s overnight reversal on cuts to Disability allowances saying that the Budget cuts were merely a “suggestion” (BBC Question Time March 2016). More worrying was her latest chilling performance :” As secretary of state, people expect me to set out my vision for the education system.” (BBC Question Time April 2016). Schools Minister, Nick Gibb used the “vision” thing three times in a minute on “Daily Politics” last week. Vision is a powerful word and spinning it at will presents a veneer of goodness and insight, unique and perhaps spectacular.

The result of our last General Election (24,3% of registered voters voted Conservative)) is that the Conservative Party claim a mandate to carry out all their manifesto promises. The academisation of all state schools was not in that manifesto. Nicky Morgan claims it as her unique vision. The Chancellor tried to hide his poor maths , announcing in his March 2016 budget the forced academisation of 17,000 schools. Last week, Cameron and Gibb proclaimed it as a no-surrender policy. Then this week we have the novel compromise, in response to vehement opposition from parents, teachers, councils and MPs, that the way to end the powers of the elected Local Authorities is to get those LAs to run multi academy trusts. All this might seem to be hurried, illogical and ill thought out but it was precisely the advice given by the Gove/Gibb created Policy Exchange Think Tank in September 2014.

Whose vision?

I have no desire or need for politicians’ vision or their “passion” and I want them to shut up and get on with their job: supporting teachers in their schools as they continue to provide what is generally wonderful teaching. “Let’s spend a billion pounds on changing school ownership,” is ideology in practice and evident waste. I want them to manage an education system based on evidence rather than their passionate visions. A scheme is not a vision.

Nicky’s vision has the consistency of a plate of overcooked spaghetti hastily discarded by the deposed Michael Gove who is currently busily vying with Boris and Dodgy Dave for the Enoch Powell role in politics.

Here’s a sign of hope for the future: The government ‘s dictat on academisation is looking foolish and the opposition to it has been powerful and immense. Three teacher unions have offered possible strike action to oppose this fag-packet policy and, ironically, been told to keep politics out of education.

Can we all do some more opposing, please.

Schools struggle to find suitable recruits in all subjects, bar P.E. Having a choice of candidates is now quite rare and we are considering abolishing the need to be a mammal as a qualification to teach science. There are lots of statistics around:

18,000 teachers left schools in the UK to teach abroad in international schools in 2014. (SchoolsWeek 24-09-15) 17,001 student teachers joined UK PGCE courses.

Nearly 50,000 teachers quit the profession in the last year – the highest number since records began (Sky News 26-02-16)

38% of teachers left by the end of their first year. (Guardian 31-03-2015)

53% of teachers are thinking of resigning within 2 years (Guardian 04-10-15)

The government’s target for recruitment has not been met in any of the last 4 years and we are short 3,400 teacher trainees in 2016 (ASCL)

Many headteachers are looking to leave their jobs.

Ministers are in talks about funding a new school-leadership college that would parachute graduates fresh out of university into headteacher, deputy and assistant headteacher positions after just two years of training. The college is the brainchild of three of education’s most high-profile figures: Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw (surely part of the problem) Sir Anthony Seldon, former master of the expensively private Wellington College and now vice chancellor of the UK’s only private university; and free-school pioneer Toby Young, whose school has had 3 headteachers in 4 years. (TES 22-04-2016)

Headship is, after all, an unskilled job.

At least the glaringly obvious crisis in teacher retention is acknowledged.

There are various reasons why teachers leave teaching and workload is a major headache, trying to meet the expectations of Ofsted and school managers at the same time as preparing excellent lessons. In response to 20,394 teachers substantive statements, Morgan set up three working groups on planning, marking and data management. I’m sure we told them to take a joined-up sort of holistic approach but they must have thought there was too much work for one group.

Each individual group agreed that workload was problematic and each concluded that school leaders ought to do something about that. It’s almost like they talked to each other.

We have masses of government data and simultaneous initiatives in every aspect of education, often last minute and sometimes retrospective. We can be dammed and sacked according to annually stiffened new Ofsted inspection criteria.

The working parties could have said, “Let schools implement the last 100 government demands and initiatives before new policies are announced, possibly with a little more consultation and planning.”

I think we all know that using on-line resources and electronic marking would strip away hours of tedium. Could we have a vision of this from the DfE, please.

We know that schools can be driven by fear of Ofsted. Look at what is said in a 2016 Ofsted Report on a school they judged as “Good”. The report is typical and explains why teachers work so hard outside the lesson:

Teachers do not always use the information they hold on students’ prior achievement to plan interesting activities that are of the right level of difficulty for all groups. This has limited the progress of some students over time, particularly in science.

Sometimes, students continue to make mistakes because feedback on their work does not make clear how they can improve, or because they are not given the opportunity to make the changes needed.

In response to the workload reports, Ofsted’s chief inspector, Michael Wilshaw, says, “It is very important that schools maintain a sense of proportion when preparing for an Ofsted inspection. If they are devoting their energies to getting things right for pupils, then an Ofsted inspection will take care of itself.”

Oh yeah, that’s all right then.

I want to thank Geoff Barton for permission to use his school’s job description – is it still like this, Geoff?

King Edward VI Rules for staff in 1550

They shall abstain from dicing, gaming and tippling. They must not keep their family on the premises. Women like deadly plagues shall be kept at a distance. The masters shall not be excessively harsh or severe or weakly prone to indulgence. They shall teach a little at a time, with plenty of examples. They shall never advance to fresh subjects ... until the earlier ones are thoroughly understood. The teachers shall appoint two boys called censors to note offences. The teachers shall secretly appoint a third boy to watch the other two and report to the master any offences overlooked or not noticed. Shouting, quarrelling, noise, thieving, lying coarse language and the impertinence of boys leaving their proper places shall be repressed by the teacher. When it is thought fit to allow some relaxation to unbend the mind and sharpen the wits the boys shall amuse themselves in decent sports such as running races, the use of the javelin or archery. They shall not play dice, knucks (knuckle bones) or chuck farthing (tossing coins). These games are unworthy of a well bred youth. The privilege of recreation shall only be allowed on Thursdays and only then if the weather is fine and the work of the scholars justifies it. It’s a little different in 2016 and perhaps my themes of workload, academisation and teacher recruitment combine to reside in the Harris academy chain.

More than 1,000 teachers have left schools in the Harris Federation over the past three academic years. The data shows 465 teachers leaving Harris schools in 2014-15, 422 in 2013-14 and 375 in 2012-13. Latest DfE data records that Harris schools employed 1,116 teachers as of 2013-14. Harris reject the claim that this shows an annual teacher turnover of about 30%. (Guardian 30-10=2015)

The government respect the OECD and tell us we must perform at least as well as the best schools in the world. Here’s some help from them

An OECD annual report has revealed that teachers in England taught for roughly one hundred hours longer than the average for OECD countries.

The average UK primary teacher to pupil ratio is 1:21 (6 pupils above the OECD average) and the average secondary teacher to pupil ratio is 1:18 (5 pupils above average). (BBC News 25-11-2015)

UK teachers’ pay has declined in real terms from 2005 to 2015

A DfE spokesman responded, “Great teachers are at the heart of this government’s commitment to delivering educational excellence everywhere”

I told you there was hope.

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