Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Tomorrow, I won’t be in my classroom. Instead, I will be taking part in national industrial action for the fourth time under the coalition government, and will be at a rally of striking teachers in Brighton. It has got to the point where Michael Gove’s stewardship of the state education system has been so divisive, it is quite hard to separate out all of the wrongheaded decisions he has made. What is clear though, is the impact those decisions are having.
We now have a GCSE system in disarray. Constant disparagement and change has left students unsure of the worth of the qualifications they have studied for. Subjects such as Art, Music, Drama and Design and Technology, that fall outside of the notional ‘English Baccalaureate’, have been traduced and reduced, and core subjects have been tampered with mid-stream to the point where students sitting the same English exams at two different points in the year were being assessed on an entirely different basis. But meddle enough with a system, say it was broken all along, and then any changes you wish to make will look like the cavalry. And next year, the tier-less, 100% exam-assessed, one-size-fits-all GCSEs, so reminiscent of the ‘O’ Levels Gove sat at his Aberdeenshire independent day school, will come galloping over the hill to make it all better.
Making it all better was what academies and free schools were supposed to do; but they have just ushered in inequitable selection, unqualified teachers and education for profit – in short, all the things the Tories love about private schools. And this is what Gove is really all about: replacing the inclusive ethos of comprehensive, state education with the rancorous mantra coined by Gore Vidal: “it is not enough to succeed, others must fail”. Everything that has helped to widen access to academic qualifications - modular courses, second chances at exams, an element of teacher assessment – are anathema to Gove and his fan club. ‘They’ must not be allowed to succeed – just sup up their beer and play their bingo.
Back in 2011, it was changes to teachers’ conditions that prompted strike action. Paying higher contributions for a lower pension and working to 68 represented a retrospective and punitive change to teachers’ contracts. Since then, a freeze that has seen pay fall by 15% in real terms has further eroded conditions and is having a real effect on recruitment to the profession. Presently, 40% of new teachers are leaving within 5 years and this will only get worse.
Those teachers who stick it out are already finding the job changing rapidly. As Ofsted inspections narrow their focus to the policies, systems, data and audit trails that schools have in place, what takes place in the classroom – helping young people learn and develop - becomes less important. The Department for Education’s own workload survey, that they were reluctant to publish, revealed that secondary school teachers work an average of 56 hours a week. Most will teach lessons for 22 of those hours. Much of the remaining time will be spent planning and marking; but increasingly teachers are being expected to form-fill, box-tick and number-crunch. And that’s why tomorrow, in protest, I won’t be doing any of it.