We make no apology…….

Regular followers of my little blog will have noticed a slight hiccup in postings of late. Thanks to a plague of various ailments, all my energies have had to be directed toward the day job, so my apologies. That’s how it would have continued if it were not for the absolute deluge – literal and literary – of the last week or so. Along with the rain (my heart goes out to all affected) has come a steady flow of education news and comment from HMCI report to Pearson’s review of international performance and the old mercury bubble of annoyance has been steadily climbing the gauge of irritation!

Have you noticed that, every time there is a news story, they wheel out a spokesperson for the DfE. It seems that this is rarely Michael Gove unless he is promoting his latest ideological claptrap. This has always happened, even under New Labour and their job, essentially, is to say “we know best, lalalalala, now go away oik!” Today, having been contacted regarding the UK’s sudden and inconvenient promotion to sixth (yes… 6th) in the Pearson Green Square league – one of the mysterious spokesperson’s appearances went, thus http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20498356:

“A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are driving up standards right across the board by bringing the best graduates into teaching, developing a world-class curriculum, and restoring order to our classrooms.

We are driving forward the academies and free schools programmes with more than half of secondary schools now enjoying academy status.

We have introduced the EBacc so more pupils are encouraged to study the core academic subjects that universities and employers demand and we will be introducing a new, far more rigorous examination system.””

Let’s consider the discourse on display here. Clearly the tone is self celebratory and phrased as to imply that the starting points for each action were low (drive up, bring in the best, etc). It is also unattributably inclusive (sec schools enjoying, universities and employers, etc). What is clearly absent from the comment is evidence-able fact. So let’s consider how we, from a position of academic curiosity, might respond.

Dear Spokeswoman for the DfE.

Further to your statement of the 25th November, we would be grateful if you could provide us with the research evidence, preferably post peer review, to which you allude.

  • you state that you are driving up standards across the board yet the data on which you base measures of standards and against which OfSTED make their judgements, at least in part; appear to show a decrease at both GCSE and A level.
  • you state that you are bringing the best graduates into teaching. Where is the evidence for this? Teachfirst appears to have limited throughput ( http://www.jsavage.org.uk/the-failure-of-teach-first-the-retention-chart-they-didnt-want-you-to-see/) and you have closed off hundreds of PGCE places. In addition you have deregulated the requirement for both QTS and CRB so that unqualified staff will fill vacancies and the risk of another Ian Huntley is significantly increased. Not only do you make the mistake of claiming an unsupportable truth, but you ignore the fact that a person’s quality as a teacher is not necessarily directly related to the class of degree they earn. What may have been more accurate is to have said “we have seen thousands of teachers leave, prevented hundreds more from training and created a significant risk factor in both quality and resource levels for future provision”.
  • You state that you are creating a World Class Curriculum. We presume you mean this in air travel terms – like economy class. Voices from across the field of Education ( you know, people who know what they are talking about rather than looking for votes) arts, design, Engineering, etc – have decried your curriculum plans. Again, what I think you meant to say was “we have destroyed an education system envied around the world and used as a model for many others. We have eroded trust and confidence in the system to such an extent that it is unfit for purpose and have done so to further our ideological aims. Admittedly, we have had to “game the system” in order to achieve it, but learners of the future will thank us, even while their parents struggle to accept their role as collateral damage.
  • You state that you are restoring order to our classrooms. This is as much a surprise to us as it must be to the successive HMCI who have commented on the fact that behaviour is generally good. We are sorry to inform you that one disgruntled Senior Manager speaking at a party conference does not constitute sound evidence. How is she enjoying her own free school, by the way? In addition, the impact of Sponsored Academy exclusion policies on non-selective maintained schools should have been considered as a risk factor when viewing behaviour. In essence, you may have created the lack of order you claim to be addressing, in the first place
  • while we don’t dispute the fact that you are “driving” the Academies and free school agenda forward the claim that schools are “enjoying” it may take some proving. Incidentally, we note evidence this week that sponsored Academy performance lags behind maintained schools – seemingly opposite to your claims.
  • Encouraging students on to Ebacc subjects appears, at best, a slight misreading of what is happening in many schools. You made Ebacc a measure – schools make students do Ebacc. Cause and effect – push policy, as well you know. We have no objection to these subjects being valued – but then we have no objection to Art, PE, DT, ICT, Drama, music, etc either! Once again you imply a consensus of opinion on this issue when the reality is highly contentious. Toby Young and Michael Gove do not stand as accurate representation of the views of those in the Education field. How is Toby enjoying his own free school, by the way?
  • finally your statement regarding Universities and Employers. Both the Universities and CBI have expressed concerns over your plans for exams but you haven’t mentioned this. Also, It is quite unusual for many employers to be that bothered about the EB assuming they even know what it is. Morrison’s don’t require it for their shop floor staff and I don’t believe it is a minimum requirement for any of the many apprenticeship routes available, either. In fact, many people seem to be of the opinion that, what you have done, is destroyed a decent, albeit flawed, exam system which could have been improved to meet the concerns of grade inflation, at much lower cost.

  • Well, you get the idea, anyway.

    I can’t recall a time in my relatively short career, where I have felt such dissatisfaction in the profession, and that is saying something! A feeling of fatalistic despondency descends whenever the DfE or SoS is mentioned. But, it is also a time where I am seeing greater peer support and engagement online and through teach meets than I have experienced before. The phrase “in it together” currently has a deeply ironic sense when spoken by millionaires, but in the spirit of the blitz, for the tens of thousands of dedicated, hard working teachers who care about every single individual they work with; it may just be true.

    Whatever is happening in school improvement terms (and I wouldn’t get carried away by the Pearson report anymore than Pisa) is done by teachers and DESPITE Gove and the DfE. But it’ll be a cold day in Sanctuary buildings before the spokeswoman would admit to that!

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