I’m sorry you think I have let you down. I thought I was doing a good job and that you respected my efforts. I thought you weren’t serious about the holidays, after all my pay reflects this. I thought you understood that a contracted teaching day of five one-hour lessons, only reflects my contact time with students, not my total working hours. I thought you knew that planning lessons takes a lot of time, creativity and ingenuity and that there is a lot of marking to be done at weekends.
I thought you believed I was doing the best for our children; that I was fighting the exam machine with all my might and teaching our children to think for themselves and to enjoy learning for learning’s sake.
I thought we were on the same side and that you realised I can’t fix all the problems in society, only ameliorate the damage. I thought you understood this phony war between us was borne out of political ambition and a need to apportion blame for the effects of deep cuts to provision.
If education is the football then we are the grass, gouged and churned by the players who come and go in a perpetual reshuffle.
I can’t do this job alone. I can’t make our children want to learn all by myself. I need your help. I need you on my side. My job and yours is to hold a steady course, to not be distracted by lurid headlines, to remember we want the same thing.
If you really think about it, I am damned either way. If results improve it is because of grade inflation, and if they don’t it must be my fault.
I don’t do this job for the grades or the holidays or the pension. I do this job because I love teaching and it is something I believe I am good at. I do this job because working with teenagers is exhilarating and challenging and hilarious and I get a huge amount of satisfaction from seeing them succeed. I do this job because I love sharing the passion for my subject and seeing the same passion ignited in my students.
I hope this letter goes someway to repairing our relationship and the next time you read about how inadequate I am, you consider the intent behind the words.
Despite the relentless negative press stories and attacks on my professionalism, pay, pension and conditions of service, I can’t think of any other job I would rather do.
I’m not perfect. I admit I get things wrong. Not every lesson I teach is ‘outstanding’. I have my off days and occasionally I get behind on my marking, but I am in this job for the right reasons and I am trying to do the very best I can.
Why is it I feel somewhat shameful about admitting what I do for a living?
A fly on a wall somewhere in Westminster…
Civil servant: So Minister, how exactly are you going to leave your mark on Education in Britain?
Michael Gove: I am going to encourage all schools to become Academies, open as many Free schools as I can, utilising empty office space, bring back O-levels and Latin, and save the country millions of pounds in teachers wages, by opening up the profession to non-graduates. The army need to make a lot of redundancies, so we will turn the soldiers into teachers. Oh, and I am going slash the pension fund to help pay for the deficit.
Civil Servant: Very good Minister, but I feel I must point out that under the previous administration, schools were only turned into Academies if they were failing.
M.G.: Right. Then we must do the exact opposite. A school can only become an Academy if it is graded as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.
CS: And what about the other 80% that aren’t oustanding? Surely you want all schools to be taken over by parents and idealistic teachers, and of course [cough] profit making [cough] private enterprises.
M.G.: Mmmm. I know. We will tell the rest of the schools they can apply tobe Academies too, but only after the ‘outstanding’ ones have already applied.
CS: And what about the schools that don’t want to apply?
CS: Right. So all schools will be Academies. And what is the reason we give the outstanding schools for why they should become Academies? Clearly they are doing very well already.
M.G.: We don’t need to give them a reason, we just need to give them money.
CS: But there isn’t any money.
M.G.: There isn’t any additional money. We’ll Slash schools budgetsby bringing the amount per pupil over the age of 16 in line with Further Education colleges– that’ll serve the National Union of Head Teachers right for demanding parity in funding. Demand all schools repay deficits in their budgets immediately, and then offer them the money back if they become and Academy.
CS: We are going to bribe them. I see. Very good idea. But how do we sell this idea to the public? More and more children are achieving the benchmark 5 A to C’s each year in grant-maintained schools.
M.G.: That’s easy. I’ll invent a new performance measure. How about saying the 5 subjects must contain English and Maths.
CS: We already measure that statistic.
M.G.: Do we? Right then. A bit of blue sky thinking is required. What subject/s do children not tend to get a GCSE in?
CS: The Labour government made Languages optional because there was a shortage of language teachers, so lots of 14 year olds drop languages at the end of Year 9.
M.G.: Perfect. The new measure will group the core subjects together: English and Maths and science, ummm? What other subjects do schools offer?
CS: History, geography…
M.G.:Yes one of those, and of course a Language like Mandarin.
CS: I take it, Minister, we will apply this new measure once we have informed schools, so they can advise their students about GCSE choices.
M.G.: Don’t be ridiculous, man. The whole point of this new qualification is to show how badly schools are doing… what should we call it?
CS: There’s the IB – the International Baccalaureate, it groups subjects together in a similar way…
CS (whispered): E. Bacc? Sounds a bit like a nasty type of food poisoning.
M.G.: What was that?
CS: An excellent idea, Minister. So we will measure schools on a performance indicator they didn’t know about and then, in two years time, when schools have forced their students to take a Language, it will look like you have single-handedly improved standards.
CS: I’m still worried you might get some resistance to rebranding schools as Academies, when Ofsted only rated 10% of all schools in England and Wales as unsatisfactory.
M.G.: Get me the head of Ofsted on the phone. Who is the head of Ofsted?
CS: Michael Wilshaw, Minister.
M.G.: “Wilshaw. I need you to make more schools unsatisfactory. I don’t care how you do it man, just do it. Uh huh- yes – wonderful idea. Yes do it.”
CS: What did Wilshaw say?
M.G.: He said, Grade 3 satisfactory will be re-branded as unsatisfactory. As of tomorrow, 40% of schools will be failing.
CS: The problem is, year on year, results are improving on individual subjects like English and Maths – which sort of ruins your line that the Education system is in need of a complete overhaul.
M.G.: Well then we must discredit both the exams system and the teachers that administer it – the public barely tolerate teachers for having all those holidays as it is, so it won’t take much to turn their envy to hatred.
CS: But teachers only get paid pro-rata to reflect the extra holiday.
M.G.: Keep that to yourself, man. Let’s blame the grade inflation on coursework modules. Teachers cheat and do the coursework for them.
CS: We have no evidence of that.
M.G.: Evidence? Since when has government policy been determined by evidence? We’ll spread the rumour that teachers cheat and then propose to get rid of coursework all together, which will strain the exam system to breaking point – killing two birds with one stone – besmirch the reputation of teachers and prove the exam system is broken.
CS: What about subjects that need coursework?
M.G.: We will make students do it at school under exam conditions.
CS: There isn’t time in the school day to fit that in.
M.G.: Which means standards will drop and the public will blame the teachers because they are lazy, whining cheats. We will also release a statement saying; it is criminal that the majority of schools are not above average.
CS: That is statistically impossible, Minister. The majority is the average.
M.G.: The general public aren’t clever enough to realise that.
CS: What happens if you get picked up for it, by an education correspondent from the TES, for example?
M.G.: Bloody TES. I’ll blame my comprehensive education.
CS: Excellent Minister. Are you planning on bringing back grammar schools?
M.G.: It pains me to say ‘no’ because the baby boomers would love it, but I just don’t think I can get that one past the Liberals. However, we will bring back O levels and CSE’s – that should secure the vote of the nostalgic brigade.
CS: But if the GCSE is fit for purpose, which it appears to have been for 30 years, how will we float this idea?
M.G.: We must make it unfit for purpose, immediately. Give me the head of Ofqual. “Glenys, we must have a drop in GCSE passes this year. I don’t care how you do it. Tell the exam boards they must regrade all the exams. Yes, send an email if you must, but do not copy me in.”
CS: We could also play up grade inflation by pointing to the number of students that do resits, and the fact we have exam boards competing for business.
M.G.: Excellent idea. I can see you have the right mentality for politics. We will scrap all resits and give students only one chance to pass the exam. And we will do away with separate exam boards and have just the one.
CS: Teachers have been calling for one exam board for years – that should make them happy.
M.G.: We can’t have that. We must have unhappy, militant teachers, who go on strike and upset parents. It is the only way we are going to get away with eroding their pay and conditions, stealing their pensions and make them work longer hours. And they must keep children in school longer so both parents can go to work and therefore consume more, leading to wealth creation for the top 1%.
CS: How are we going to upset the teachers?
M.G.: Apart from freezing their pay, moving to regional payscales and plundering their pensions? A constant drip feed of attacks on their work ethic in the press. We can say ‘some of them’ are lazy, incompetent and in it for the holidays.
CS: But in every professions, ‘some’ people will be incompetent. It is not particular to teachers. I had an incompetent plumber come round the other day and now I have no hot water.
M.G.: Exactly. But by the time the plebs on BBC’s Have your Say and Twitter have finished, all teachers will be incompetent.
CS: An excellent Educational Policy, Minister.
What do you think? Are teachers the ones that are out of step with the world? Should we just put up and shut up? Do you think teaching is worse today than it was when you were in school? I really would love to know what you think.
is a writer. She's also a firm believer in the positive power of prison libraries, a creative writing teacher, and Managing Editor of The Forge Literary Magazine. She's winner of a Waterstones' Bursary and her novel in perpetual progress was runner-up in Faber's Not Yet Published competition. Her fiction has been published in dozens of journals including 3 AM, PANK, Frigg, Neon & wigleaf.