Tag Archives: Free schools

On teaching: Why I am quitting after fourteen years

Dear Mr Gove,

Like many other highly qualified and experienced teachers, I am quitting the profession. I can no longer work in a system which pretends to be inclusive while widening the gap between rich and poor; places no value on the arts subjects; treats its teachers like naughty children who need constant monitoring; makes changes to courses, content and assessments with little regard to evidence; and reduces children to target grades. Although I am leaving to pursue a career in Educational Psychology, the timing of my leaving is no coincidence.

I really don’t get what you are doing? I don’t understand why you believe breaking up the collective strength of Local Authorities and encouraging schools to open in unsuitable buildings with unqualified staff is the right way forward? I don’t understand why certain subjects are being elevated above others? Schools are not training camps for the Corporations. Are they?

Schools should be where minds are opened and critical questions formed. Where literature, art, dance and film are celebrated and our future actors, writers, directors and choreographers are nurtured. That’s what I signed up for. To share my passion for my subject and foster a curiosity and desire to learn that extends well beyond the school years. Teaching is so much more than just knowing your stuff. I have spent fourteen years developing expertise in how we learn.  I am at my peak in terms of experience and mastery, but I must redirect this expertise into a new career in order to regain my autonomy.

The reality is I am impotent in the face of damaging policies that are leaving students stressed and disillusioned. I am sick of having to positively spin changes to assessments and courses to keep the students motivated. I am sickened by the media frenzy every August that grows ever more hateful, fuelled by a government that accuses teachers of cheating and manipulating results and belittles the hard work of our students. I am sick of the constant monitoring and grading of lessons that has crept into every school. I am sick of ever moving goalposts, attacks on my professionalism (and the impact that has on my relationship with parents and students). I am sick of the vitriol.

I never thought I would want to leave teaching. The very first day I entered the classroom I knew I had found my calling, my place, my home. I have loved being a teacher. I am teacher; it runs through my core like a stick of rock.  But I can no longer be a teacher.

My profession, full of dedicated people who go the extra mile, is being trashed on a daily basis. Each morning I hear another news story in which teachers are exam cheats, lazy, militant, uncaring, in it for the holidays, the pay, the pension, unfit to do anything else, whinging tax burdens. The school I was once loved to arrive at each morning has changed. Learning walks, monitoring visits, work sampling, quality assurance observations, performance management observations and mocksted’s are stifling creativity, experimentation and fun.

The constant changes to how we teach and what we teach, to appease a baby boomer electorate (with rose-tinted glasses of a 1950’s idyll that never existed), heap on more and more pressure. The progressive attitudes such as modular exams, which level the playing field and give students a chance to build their knowledge and skills incrementally, as is the case in the real world, are gone. Despite the media hype, more and more young people are leaving school with qualifications and permanent exclusion is at an all-time low. Compare that to the ‘golden era’ of 1950’s education, which you seem so fond of invoking,

[when] the school system did not do particularly well by the great majority of those born in 1958, leaving them with few qualifications and putting them at a considerable disadvantage in earning power.

Unlike your empty rhetoric, the The National Child Development Study, from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, which has been following 17,000 people since 1958 provides conclusive evidence that the grammar system was divisive, labelling many (usually working class) children as uneducable.

Only 12% of them moved on from primary schools, via the 11-plus, to a grammar school. Most of the rest attended schools that lacked pupils in the top end of the ability range. A similarly small proportion went on to university. By the age of 33, just 14% of men and 11% of women in this cohort had achieved a degree.

Academies and Free schools are the grammar schools of today, able to apply their own selection criteria, leaving Local Authorities impotent to challenge them. Well done, Mr Gove, for returning the UK to a two tier education system, which only serves the elite. Bravo!

nearly two-thirds of those born in 1958 left school as soon as they could at age 16. By the time they were 33, around 15% still had no educational qualifications and a further 10% were only qualified to a level below O-Levels. A further one-third had O-Levels but no qualifications higher than that.

Today, by contrast, the great majority of young people stay on in education to 18. Some 40% go on to university.

This may come as a surprise to you, but I wasn’t in it for the pay. I wasn’t in it for the holidays, or the pension or because I am lazy. I wasn’t in teaching because I was unable to do anything else. On the contrary I chose to be a teacher. And now I choose not to be a teacher.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying the education system in the UK doesn’t need improving. We need to invest in high quality teacher training that ensures the profession uses evidence based techniques in pedagogy and doesn’t assume that children – complex, intricate individuals – can be taught with the one dominant method; however compelling it is to present a simple solution to the electorate. We need to invest in science and technology, but not lose sight of the need for a civilised society to contain more than just engineers and mathematicians. We need to respect and trust our teachers, nurture their talents and listen to them. They are the experts not the enemy.

So, I say to you Mr Gove, stop painting us as incapable, inadequate and selfish when we challenge you. Please. Before you lose even more of us. Change and progress can come about with the support of teachers not in spite of them. We are a pretty well educated bunch. We can see what is wrong and what the solutions need to be. Engage with us, don’t alienate us and please stop dragging education backwards into a ‘golden age’ that never existed.

The 1958 generation also had poor basic skills. When they were aged 37, a sample was tested for basic numeracy and literacy: almost half had ‘very poor’ numeracy skills and 6% had difficulty with reading.Those with poor numeracy and literacy were, not surprisingly, much more likely to be unemployed.

So, as we contemplate the almost daily bad news about class sizes, school drop-outs, and the poor basic skills of school-leavers, we should perhaps pause to remember that – while there is certainly still plenty of room for improvement – the answer does not seem to lie in a nostalgic return to a past system which served the few very well and the majority poorly.

And watch out Mr Gove, I may be leaving teaching, but I am not leaving education. Once I have my Doctorate I will make it my mission to support the profession that has given me so much joy and satisfaction. I will fight every policy that is based on nostalgia and flim-flam. I will insist that teachers are trained to teach before they are let anywhere near a classroom.

Long after you’ve moved onto to whatever will promote your political interests further I will still be working to improve the life chances of all children.

 

 

 

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On education: Free Schools are anything but free!

michael-gove-cartoon1I really don’t get Free Schools – the concept I mean – which is to set up a school in a building that wasn’t built as a school. It is the exact opposite of the Building Schools for the Future concept the previous government introduced, where current schools would be rebuilt to make them fit for purpose in the 21st century. Out of the two ideas, the former will improve education of the few, while the latter would improve education for all.

Current schools (like mine) are in desperate need of refurbishment. We need a new boiler, new windows, new science labs and roof repairs. We need an IT infrastructure fit for the technological revolution that has taken place; Wi Fi, class sets of tablets, many more PC’s and an upgrade of existing machines (some are getting on for 8 years old).

Instead, we are told there is no money for capital investment in the building. No money for IT upgrades. We will have to make do with what we have. There is a deficit. The country is on its knees. Stop whinging, you overpaid, underworked, useless teachers and stop blaming social inequality for the difference in performance of your pupils and accept it is your fault. If only you were a better teacher, then all the problems caused by poverty would go away.

How come then, the Education Funding Agency is able to give over half a million pounds to a new Free School just a mile up the road. A Free School that my current school is opening, mainly in an attempt to survive the savage cuts to 16-18 funding and secure our 6th form provision, rather than through some dire need in the community for places, or educational ideology.

I will be slapped around the face with the real cost of education every day from September as I move between these two schools to teach. In one I will have everything I could possibly need to encourage my students to work independently and collaboratively (Wi Fi, tablets, enough PC’s to go round, heating that works and a roof that keeps out the rain). In the other I will face the same frustrations I am suffering now; having to print out resources from the internet because there aren’t enough computers and the ones we do have, have been booked out for weeks in advance – stopping the class on mass to show them an interactive resource, if the internet doesn’t drop out that is, rather than letting them access resources at their own learning pace (as I should be doing, as Wilshaw insists I should be doing). Drafty, damp classrooms, with poor lighting and a heater so noisy, it has to be switched off so they can hear me.

Despite the fact we are in effect one school operating on two sites, sharing the students and staff, not one penny of the money we have available for the Free School can be spent on our current school. Not a single penny.

How can that be right? How can that improve the educational experience for the majority in our catchment area?

It can’t and it doesn’t. The government isn’t pushing its Free School agenda because it cares about all children. It is pushing the agenda because it wants to score points against the opposition – and appeal to middle class voters, who want private education on the state.

It makes me sick. Opening a Free School does not tackle the issues in current schools, rather it diverts funds away from them and condemns the majority of children (who are likely to be from the poorer sections of society) to a worsening fate as their school literally falls down around them.

“… it’s not just the huge waste of resources that should concern us. Worse, perhaps, is the fact that free schools will not raise standards overall – indeed, they are likely to damage the prospects of the country’s poorest pupils. Gove claimed that free schools would narrow the attainment gap between the richest and poorest children. However, existing free schools admit fewer poor children than the national average, with figures showing that only 9.4% of their pupils are on free school meals – a key indicator of poverty – compared with a national average of 16.7%.”  Source: The Guardian

I will be living this hypocrisy every day from September. Every day I will see the impact of this elitist approach. It will be my reality.

But if I complain, who will listen to me after the hatchet job Gove and Wilshaw have done on teachers’ reputations. I am not respected or valued anymore.  My twelve years in the classroom count for nothing. My voice has been silenced along with any ounce of common sense in educational policy.

Free Schools are like playground bullies, taking away lunch money from those less able to stand up for themselves. When will this madness stop?

[cough] [foot shuffle] My name is Juliet O’Callaghan and… [deep breath] I am a teacher

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 to be Academies too, but only after the ‘outstanding’ ones have already applied.

CS: And what about the schools that don’t want to apply?

M.G.: Will accuse them of being obstructive and prejudiced; of being happy with failure.

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 budgets by 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…

M.G.: Marvellous, we shall call it the English Baccalaureate. E.Bacc for short.

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.

M.G.: Exactly.

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: But grade 4 is already unsatisfactory.

M.G.: Then grade 3 will be, ummm…any ideas?

CS: A little below average?

M.G.: No, grade 3 will be; ‘not good enough‘.

CS: Isn’t that the same as unsatisfactory.

M.G.: Exactly. Is that it? I’m due at the PM’s for drinks.

CS: No minister. Not quite.

M.G.: What else? We’ve made half the schools unsatisfactory, with terrible EBacc results, surely the public will accept Academies and free schools now?

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.