Thursday, 24 October 2013

Clegg and his Champions League

This morning Clegg announced his grand new idea for education, a ‘Champions League’ of head teachers who could be sent in to show other heads in ‘failing’ schools how it’s done.

When we tweeted our scepticism of the idea one person replied, “What’s wrong with giving it a go?”

Well, where to start?

The fact is that teachers are constantly being told that they are doing it wrong and other people know how to do it better. This is demoralising whether you are a classroom teacher, middle management, or a head. Being ‘offered support’ has come to have a whole new meaning in education circles. People wince when they hear it, knowing that it will usually entail not genuine support, but a constant stream of critique that is undermining and destructive.

And it’s not like we haven’t been here before. The idea of ‘superheads' isn’t new. We’ve been presented with lots of people in the past and told that they were JUST the people to show the rest of us how it’s done. The question is does Nick Clegg mean a superhead like Richard Gilliland (who employed his son and his daughter and resigned after government auditors uncovered a series of extraordinary purchases including hi-tech gadgets, antiques and sex games), or like Jo Shuter (despite being given a CBE and a head teacher of the year award, she was forced to resign after a number of serious financial irregularities were found), or like Sir Alan Davies (knighted for services to education he narrowly avoided jail after pleading guilty to six charges of false accounting)? 

Do you see where we're going with this?

For the record we don't know any teachers - heads or otherwise - who don't want to get better at what they do. And mentoring and coaching done in a collegiate way can be extremely effective. Sharing and building on good practice is essential to developing and improving education (and incidentally is one of the many things which performance related pay could destroy). 

But do we need 'superheads' imposed on us again? Thanks, but it didn't work out too well last time around, and we're not convinced it'll be any different this time. If you'll excuse us, we'll pass.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Why are teachers striking?

Tomorrow teachers in the North East, Cumbria, London, South East and South West will go on strike. This is the third in a series of rolling strike action by two teaching unions, the NUT and the NASUWT, who between them represent over 90% of serving teachers.

That they are striking together is significant. Historically the two unions have been rivals and relationships between them have often been fractious.

What has caused them to put their decades of differences aside and work together?

It can be summed up in one word: Gove.

This can’t be said often enough. Striking is a last resort. No one wants to go on strike. Teachers lose a day’s pay, and know that they will be accused of wanting the day off, of being lazy, of not caring about kids, or deliberately inconveniencing parents.  Striking is something you only do when you have explored all other avenues and found them blocked off.

But Gove has united teachers in a feeling that a stand has to be made and, since he won’t sit down and negotiate with the unions we are taking strike action.

So what’s it all about.

Well, where do we start?

First of all Gove has announced that he wants teachers to work longer, pay more and get less for their pension than they agreed when they started the job.

So what, I hear you say. People are living longer, it’s a time of austerity and the country can’t afford to pay out for your “gold-plated” pensions. Them’s the breaks, right?

No. For a start our pension scheme has had £43 billion more paid into it than has ever been taken out. Let me repeat that. FORTY. THREE. BILLION. POUNDS. more has gone into our pension pot, paid for by serving teachers, than has ever been taken out by retired teachers. Our pension doesn’t need any input from the taxpayer to make it affordable; it’s fine as it is.

The increased pension contributions that Gove has demanded we pay combined with the pay freeze over the past few years means that by April next year teachers will have had a 15% pay cut in real terms since 2010. That’s a FIFTEEN PERCENT paycut. We simply can’t sustain such an attack on our wages.

And teaching is a physical job. Carrying heavy boxes of books around a school, standing all day, crouching down next to desks to offer help, standing on desks to pin up displays, intervening in physical altercations – these are all a daily part of teachers lives. Keeping 30 children focused and on task for the best part of six hours a day takes enthusiasm and energy. It’s mentally and physically demanding and while most teachers say they will struggle to make it to 65, Gove is now insisting they go on until 68.  The cynical might say that, of course, he knows that’s simply impossible and means that many teachers will be forced to take early retirement, thereby losing many thousands of pounds from a pension that they have worked hard for for years, often decades. (It's worth noting that already 43% of teachers don't make it to retirement age before leaving the profession.) 

Workload is another issue.  While Gove would like to maintain that teachers waltz in at 9, leave at 3, and sun themselves on beaches for six weeks in the summer the reality is very different.

Any teacher will tell you that a typical day starts nearer to seven, doesn’t finish until well after 6, that breaks during the day are non-existent and that weekends and holidays are taken up with marking and planning. And that’s for more experienced teachers. These days tales of newly qualified teachers being at school until nine or ten at night and then going in again on the weekend are not uncommon. Which is why there is such a high burnout rate in teaching (nearly one in three trainees doesn't stay in teaching beyond a year and 50% don't stay beyond five years).

And Gove wants us to do more. While most teachers need the holidays to keep on top of their workload, see their own children, remind their family and friends what they look like, and physically and mentally recuperate, Gove says we should have shorter holidays and stay in school for longer so that we can have additional meetings and supervise after-school sessions.

But all of this, the pay cut, the stolen pension, the increased workload, he might have got away with all of this were it not for his devastating onslaught on education.

Amongst other things he has:
  • Removed the Educational Maintenance Allowance that allowed poorer students to stay on into further education
  • Done nothing to reduce the tripling of tuition fees
  • Narrowed the curriculum into something one academic has called neo-Victorian
  • Removed the need for schools to employ qualifies teachers
  • Stopped the schools modernisation programme and diverted the money into free schools often in places where there is no need
  • Destroyed university based initial teacher training so that we are now facing a significant shortage of teachers in key subjects
  • Created a school places crisis
  • Proposed phasing out all 230,00 teaching assistants
  • Refused to listen to the advice of the profession
  • Refused to implement policies based on evidence and research
  • Constantly denigrated teachers

Teachers have had enough. They’ve had enough of the attacks on their pay, on their pensions and their working conditions. But most of all they’ve had enough of the attacks on education.

It’s time to stand up for education. It’s time to stand up for teachers.

Please support the strikes.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Work life balance?

This is a primary school teacher Kev Payne's visualisation of his work/life balance. Scarily accurate! Many thanks for his permission to reproduce this here. (copyright Kev Payne)

Message of support from a parent

We spotted this message from a supportive parent posted on the website of the Brighton Argus. It's beautifully expressed and nearly brought us to tears!

"Performance pay for teachers is a ludicrous idea - an affront to the very idea of what constitutes a good, rounded education in a healthy environment in which life is shared, discussed and discovered. You ask what makes teachers special. I should say that I am not a teacher, I am a grubby capitalist existing on performance pay and suchlike. Teachers are special because they are the custodians of our children's education and thereby the future of our civilisation. This massive responsibility they undertake for pretty low pay really. You don't become a teacher if you are motivated by money. I am lucky enough to have had some great, inspiring teachers whose positive influence I enjoy every day. My sons are now at school and I have the utmost respect for their teachers, some of whom have inspired them as my teachers inspired me. I'd never dream of accusing them of being "whiny" and "greedy", which is incredibly rude. They teach my children. They earn much, much less than, for example, greedy bankers or whiny Tory politicians. They deserve my support, and they get it. They are educating two people very, very precious to me in the world. Why would I want those teachers' endeavours to be subjected to free-market nonsense or indeed any interference from politicians (the skeptical questioning of whom should be one outcome of a good education)? In striking against silly, uncivilised government plans the teachers are protecting something very precious---our children's education---which is not whiny or greedy but brave and civilised"

Later on the same parent posted this in response to another commentator.

"I think you are right to point out that teaching is not simply "doing". It is much more subtle, complex and valuable than that. Like you I am a doer. I am a software engineer. As I am sure is the case with yours, the output of my job is rather basic and can be measured in a reasonably objective manner which means it can easily be managed by a performance-based, capitalistic framework. Our work has a basic output the production of which is undertaken to make money.

This of course is not the case with teaching, which, as you rightly point out, is not simply doing. Teaching is one of the oldest professions. The most effective way to teach children for the betterment of civilisation is a topic that has been debated for centuries by philosophers, theologians, scientists, entrepreneurs and, yes, also politicians. Unless we want our education system to be some sort of Stalinist production line the aim of which is to produce "doers", replete with practical skills but ignorant of life's wider possibilities and the pleasures offered thereby, I propose that it impossible to measure the "output" of a teacher in the same way as it is easily possible to measure the output of your work and mine. Of course we know that it is not just about exam results - it's about more elusive and therefore at least equally if not much more important things such as inspiring our children to ask questions about life and their place in it, to have confidence in their own opinions about it, to be able to set out those opinions cogently, to find humour in the world around them, to take over from us and to do so with more not less imagination and panache. Obviously, I am merely scraping the surface of the list of benefits that a good education confers on both an individual and the society in which they live. Perhaps you have an idea about how such "output" may be measured and managed via performance-related pay. But I do not. And I would not have today's teachers wasting their time thinking about such matters when they have more important things to be doing. They have ideas to discuss, our children to inspire.

Socrates and Epicurus were certainly not the first teachers but are among the most famous, I suppose. Would you have had them managed in a system of performance-related pay? As an engineer you are no-doubt an admirer of Archimedes, possibly one of the world's first engineers but not one of its first teachers. Do you think he'd have done a better job in his teaching had he been on performance-related pay?

As you rightly state, teaching is not simply "doing". It is the imbuing of the next generation of our civilisation---of our precious children---with a sense of and appetite for life's possibilities. That is why over the millennia the profession of teaching has been, rightly, respected."

Let's make some NOISE!

As you know the next strike action is this Thursday 17 October.

We know that Gove and certain sections of the media will denounce teachers as unprofessional, will say that we don't care about kids, and that we're greedy.  They will say that we don't have the support of the public.

We want to show them that they're wrong.

That's why we want you to sign up to our Thunderclap.

This is a flooding of social media with messages of support for striking teachers. It's set to happen at 9pm on the eve of the strike (i.e. Wednesday 16th). So far over 600 people have signed up and their combined 'reach' is well over 400,000 people. The support is coming in from all quarters. Natalie Bennett the leader of the Green Party has signed up, as has renowned science writer, journalist and broadcaster Marcus Chown.

How can you join in?

It's simple. If you use Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr you can click on this linkand then on the Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr buttons. This will authorise those sites to publish a message on your behalf.

So far we have over 600 supporters. Can we get that to 1000 before Wednesday night? Can we do even better? Come on, let's see just how loud we can make that ROAR of support for teachers!

Show your support. Click on the link and share, share, share.

Wendy explains why she is taking strike action

A teacher called Wendy posted this on our Facebook page where it got 20,000 views. We thought we'd share it here as it's clearly striking a chord with a lot of people.

"I love the children I teach and have taught over the years. They continually make me smile and laugh every single day. They make me want to get up in the morning. That's why I WILL BE STRIKING on Thursday 17th October. To protect their futures. They don't want a one size fits all curriculum, they don't want a 70 year old teacher, they don't want to be confined and seen as a level. They don't want a stressed out teacher who works over 60 hours a week, but gets paid for 27, but is still told they are "just good" and need to be "outstanding" at all times. They love their Teaching Assistants and Meal Supervisors and even the 6 year olds see their significance (unlike Michael Gove). They don't want to come to school on the weekends, or stay at school until 7pm every night, or get their school holidays cut. They understand that play is fundamental to their development, learning and social emotional well being. Many of the children in state education in London do not necessarily come from "middle/upper class" backgrounds, therefore they will not all learn in the confined way Mr Gove proposes they be "taught". They need and want flexibility, cuddles, love and understanding, not a one size fits all approach. They need a Government who understands the average person. Fights for and supports the average Joe. Supports public workers. Supports their heroes such as fire-fighters and nurses and doesn't condemn them. They just want to play, love learning, have fun and be kids. That is why I WILL BE STRIKING ON THE 17th October. Because I am willing to fight and do whatever it takes to protect the futures of the amazing children that inspire me each and every day. Will you stand up for what is right? Unity is strength. Together we can win."

A letter to Tristram Hunt

Following Hunt's support for Free Schools and Parent-Led Academies yesterday, a Labour Party member wrote to him and shared the letter they wrote with us. We have permission to reproduce it here.

Dear Mr Hunt,

I left the Labour Party after Blair got elected because of his education policy and rejoined fairly recently in the belief that Labour Party policy was changing.  I am about to resign again because of your statements.  The support given for any form of state funded school which lies outside the oversight of local authorities has to be a cynical attempt to curry favour with a certain type of middle class parent.  As a retired teacher I am fed up with those who have not set foot in the classroom making continual overt or covert criticisms of community schools and their teachers.  Michael Gove must be one of the most reviled Secretaries of State for Education there has ever been and you have already been labelled as Gove-lite.

"Free" Schools

I have been following the Ofsted reports and costs of "free" schools.  This information was recently supplemented by leaked information which included the number of surplus places in the open "free" schools. 
  • The proportion of parent/community led applications to open "free" schools has declined, overtaken by academy "sponsors"
  • The proportion of teacher led applications has also declined.
  • 47% of 2011/12 openers are deemed by the DfE to be undersubscribed, demonstrating that they are not popular.
  • The 2011 openers have all been Ofsteded, 6 of them have been found wanting.
  • 6 of the 2011 "openers" were not new schools: 1 was an independent previously rated outstanding but, as a "free" school, rated "satisfactory".
  • It would appear that some "free" schools have reported higher levels of pupils on roll than shown by the Autumn Census.


I have also been looking at the Ofsted reports for academies because my local secondary school is being forced to become one.  Whatever the reasoning behind the previous Labour Government's academy programme, the truth is that it has not been the success which was claimed.

  • Many of the new academies have claimed credit for an improvement in results which was achieved by the predecessor school.
  • Many of the predecessors of academies were already showing improvements in their results.
  • In the 2012 GCSE results (I have no access to the complete 2013 results yet), 83 academies, both sponsored and converter, failed to achieve the benchmark of 40% %A*-C e/m.
  • Of those which returned 4 or more years of results, 14 had worse results in 2012 than in 2009, some with 10% lower results.
  • Ofsted reports on "failing" academies frequently mentioned the positive value of the support given by local authorities.
  • Others have looked at the amount of "gaming" and exclusions which have been carried out in academies, deliberately to try to inflate results and against the interests of the pupils.

I trust that you will reconsider and start supporting real locally and democratically accountable, properly planned education overseen by local authorities.

Yours sincerely,

[Name withheld]