That Was The Year That Was

There are two types of change: the obvious and the subtle. Obvious changes being things like a haircut, after which I can look at the pitiful mess of wiry curls sticking out of my scalp and appreciate that at least they’re shorter than before. Subtle changes are like going grey. I don’t actually notice the colour of my beautiful locks changing; no, that is for long lost acquaintances to notice when you bump into them on the street and they choose to point it out to you. And so, too, were the changes in the world of education throughout 2014 both obvious and subtle. Some happened overnight, some were a long time coming, and some, like my recent ‘just for men’ dye job, took people rather by surprise and will take a long time to get used to. 

TeachFirst – EducateLast

One of the changes that certainly took me by surprise, but then maybe I hadn’t been paying attention, was the dawn of the teachfirst teacher. It wasn’t until I tuned into BBC’s ‘Tough Young Teachers’ that I saw first hand the deal some of our most challenging and neediest pupils were getting from their unqualified teachers. The impact however, appears to be anything but subtle. The philosophy seemed simple: clever people can teach. This is fine if you also happen to believe that all fat people can cook and players of Minecraft are qualified town and city planners. 

I watched in a constant state of horror and amusement as these plucky graduates taught class after class of secondary school pupils. At best, it reminded me of my own trial and error experience that was my NQT year, but there were a number of times where it made me rather concerned about the state of teacher training for members of our own profession. It seemed like a cheap quick-fix way of getting educated people into the classrooms, rather than training and developing talented, professional teachers. It is, to my mind, an experiment that risks failure a little bit too frequently. 

I have no doubt that there are, and will continue to be, some great teachers that come out of this initiative and I know there are plenty of teachers who went through traditional teacher training methods who, shall we say, require improvement. I am not ‘that’ interested in the teachfirst debate (if you are then search for long enough on Twitter and you can become bored rigid by countless arguments for and against) but I am interested in what it will lead to. Unregulated teaching is my biggest fear from 2014 – maverick, inconsistent and at times just bat-shit crazy approaches to teaching appear to be all the rage. Forget the ‘traditionalist’ vs ‘progressive’ argument, we’re talking about cults of education here, and, in my opinion, this all started when it became OK to be an unqualified teacher. Governmental freedoms to help new types of schools appoint whoever they wanted (soldiers, clever graduates, wizards) have changed the profession at a time when professionalism is needed more than ever. 

The King is Dead

And then Gove left. Possibly the most wished for change of the year actually happened. Our man in Whitehall got himself a promotion and, like all good promotions, he’s hardly been seen since. What did this change mean? Well, not a lot. So many of his personal changes had already happened that it was difficult to see the light at the end of his tunnel vision. With the appointment of Nicky Morgan (more on that later), we now faced more change, but were told that it was going to be a softer and more cuddlier change. If Gove’s regime had been focussed on telling teachers what to do and how hard to work, Morgan promises us that her ears are open. But, like I said, more on that later. 

Gove has been called one of education’s biggest reformers. I think that means that there is now a longer list of stuff that we have to do so that someone else can look at it all and use it to say that standards are higher. He certainly was very personally driven – no harm in that – except that he was more rigid in his beliefs than those folks who laughed at Columbus for saying that the world was round. In fact, so insistent was Gove on flattening the education landscape, in order for him to traverse and rule over it more easily, that in the end he alienated himself from everybody and ended up on his own flat little island. A word of advice, Michael: don’t take up Minecraft. He has left behind him a battered warzone and, through deregulating the market, has left it harder for us to rebuild it.

The Undiscovered Country

A change that we all saw coming, but to which we prepared for by quite rightly hiding in a cupboard hoping it would pass us by, was the end of NC levels and the 2014 National Curriculum. One thing is for sure, some people are getting rich – our children might be getting stupider, but companies flogging schemes of work and attainment trackers are wising up to the fact that no one knows what the hell is going on. Up and down the land, harassed history subject leaders were panic conferencing and booking every Year 3 class to a trip to Stonehenge, while Heads were meeting up and avoiding conversations about assessments, hoping that someone from the DfE would come out and shout ‘April Fool!’

This is typical of bad change. No, that’s wrong; I don’t have a problem with getting rid of levels if that’s what the government wants, or changing the curriculum – what I have a problem with is the management of the change. The ‘over to you’ approach is not just lazy, but sets the whole country off on a wild goose chase. If we assume that judgements are made by comparing like for like and, where appropriate, taking into account contextual differences (we do don’t we?) then this massive example of buck passing must surely mean that we can no longer be compared accurately, therefore we can no longer be judged via statistics. This should mean that ofsted inspections should go back to those six week long endurance tests so that inspectors really get to know the school and how it operates…but I didn’t read that in the last updated inspection framework. In short, these particular set of changes – coupled with the fact that external judgements will not change – sets too many schools up to fail. 

Stressed Out

When I reflect back on 2014 what springs to mind is the feeling of pressure those in our profession are currently under. The workload has become unsustainable. Don’t get me wrong: you work in my school, you should be prepared to work hard, and, if you can’t stay on top of planning, teaching, marking, assessing and behaviour so that your pupils achieve (however we’re judging that today) then you should choose a different job. If you’re a middle/senior leader, be expected to do that, and more, with a smile on your face, and whilst supporting others. But it saddens me that we appear to be teaching in an age where nothing is good enough. I know how hard teachers work and many of the previous reforms and new initiatives often fail to take into account the contextual challenges of teaching. Therefore we are perceived as talentless fools who can’t even get a child to sound out a nonsense word. Teachers feel unloved because their masters have only been cracking the whip and inventing more stuff for them to do. 

All hail Nicky Morgan then, who is listening to us and wants to tackle the challenge of teacher workload. Call me a cynic but I don’t buy it. It’s election time and, as the scorpion stings the frog, the politician lies to the voters. She says she will carry us on her back and help us move forward. She can say that now because none of us bloody know what success is anymore! You wait until the standardised scores in Reception and Y6 start rolling in and they don’t start adding up: I’ll wager she won’t have carried us too far before we notice the sting in her tail.

Teach, Die, Repeat

Each year, after making substantive changes in my own school, I kid myself that this next year will be the year of no more change – this will be our consolidation year. It never is though because education never stands still. The profession, our communities, our politicians are ever changing, and we adapt and adapt and adapt because that is what we do. 2015 will bring with it more changes (obviously) but, for once, I think we are in dire need of them. I have no idea what the future holds for education but, as always, and despite the rather dystopian tone, I’m kind of looking forward to it…gives me something to blog about don’t it? 

7 thoughts on “That Was The Year That Was

  1. @TeacherToolkit December 24, 2014 / 6:44 pm

    I found this particular blog excellent. One which sums up the divides and the current landscape.

  2. @TeacherToolkit December 24, 2014 / 6:46 pm

    I found this blog an excellent overview of where we currently are with education in England.

  3. @timepoorteacher December 24, 2014 / 9:03 pm

    A great summary of 2014, thanks for sharing. @timepoorteacher

  4. Mike Ball December 25, 2014 / 9:10 am

    Surely this is the whole point. They want schools to fail and thus be privatised. What happens then? You get the feeling they don’t really care. With the movement towards 50% disenfranchisement, low paid jobs, zero hours contracts and the reduction of the state to the level of the 1930s I guess it’s not surprising.
    You acknowledge the unsustainability of the workload but still demand it be completed: how unsustainable is that? That’s why we can’t trust heads.

  5. jameswilding December 31, 2014 / 8:21 am

    What a great read at the close of the year. I dont think you are wrong to have high expectations of your staff, nor do I think it wrong for teachers to be sceptical of leadership behaviour (ref Mike Ball). One only has to look at the numbers of headteachers in trouble to know that power corrupts. As a private school head, I guess the public debate about our roll in the landscape has certainly affected my 2014; my school is not a charity, pays full business rates etc and yet still plays its part in supporting both provision and community. I passionately oppose ability selection, and it’s in this area I feel the profession seriously self-harms. 50 years of resourcing the mixed ability ideal still sees there to be such dramatic differences in provision between adjacent schools that I too look forward to further change in 2015 and feel the current atomisation of schools needs to be reversed into some form of local education authority development – yet at a time when there is little money to spasre would have to fear for the implications on school budgets such reorganisation would bring. A final plea to stay further GCSE and A level changes for 5 years. Secondary staff currently are as adrift as primary schools without levels, and to suggest we need a rollacoaster of continuous change for 3 years with exams scaling up in terms of difficulty asymetrically is a mad house strategy.

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