Hypocritical kiss

Tristram Hunt

To be fair to Tristram, teaching really is a profession where we could do with a little more commitment. You only have to look at school staff car parks at 3:30pm up and down the land, empty and deserted, to know that. Walk into any staff room during lunch time and, as you listen to every adult within judging distance, giggling with glee at the prospect of being home in time for ‘Pointless’ whilst they book their seventh holiday of the year, it’s clear that any ‘moral calling’ to join a ‘noble profession’ is falling on deaf ears. Teachers are well known procrastinators, deliberately wasting their time and underperforming. If I had a free school meal for every time a teacher said to me during performance management ‘but I became a teacher for the holidays’ I’d be able to feed the juniors for free as well as the infants.

Governments have tried to address this before. Knowing full well that teaching encourages even the hardest working individual to become an opportunistic slothful slouch (the sort of person who avoids ‘professionalism’ like they would the wet footprints left behind by a child wearing a verruca sock), they tried to increase the teacher’s workload. But it doesn’t seem to matter how many initiatives you throw at them, teachers just keep on hiding in the shadows and getting away with it. You would have thought performance related pay, league tables, testing nonsense words, pupil premium, sports premium, SPAG tests, removing assessment systems and having to invent your own, constantly changing inspection frameworks, new curriculums…all these, you would have thought, would have had some impact. But no: teaching remains a sullied profession and Tristram has, quite rightly, had enough.

I mean what makes it worse is that it’s not just ‘those in the know’ who have noticed. Parents are beginning to wise up to the fact that teachers don’t know what they’re talking about. Luckily they can now do something about it. Due to the canniest political move since Blair told Brown ‘of course you can take over after five years’ and then mouthed ‘NOT’ whilst poor Gordon was distracted trying to add the 10% service charge to the bill, parents can have even more control over their children’s education by building free schools. There may only be a few of them, but they are the only schools where the right people are in charge with the right people in the classrooms – the more unqualified the better I say, as it makes it easier to do what the parents want if you haven’t got to view their requests through a lens of ‘knowledge’, ‘experience’ or ‘being an actual educator’. Spare a thought then for all the other parents, who have to live with the fact that their local authority school or academy chain is being run by people who consider weekends as some kind of entitlement.

Luckily, Tristram has a two point plan to change all of this. He will first make teachers take a ‘Hippocratic oath’ and he will then give them an actual compass. I could go into details here about why these two things are brilliant ideas, but I wouldn’t want to patronise you. It is a brilliant plan; anyone can see it: the oath will mean that teachers finally see that they are expected to work hard ‘educating’ and the compass will help them navigate their way to the toilets in a new build. There really is nothing more to add. Bravo.

It is so nice to be able to get behind someone who ‘gets us’ and sees the wood despite all the trees. Like a laser beam zoning in on James Bond’s balls, Hunt has teaching in his sights and knows how to sort it all out. He knows that the profession must elevate itself from the bargain basement expectations we currently have and soar like Icarus towards the light – and his two point plan will make sure we never get anywhere near the sun. Clever Tristram.

What better way to make us better than giving us an oath and a compass? I mean, you could argue that dismantling free schools, redefining assessment procedures so they are meaningful, cutting back on nonsense policies that distract us from teaching and learning, not dumping social issues onto our laps and expecting us to fix them/eradicate them with no more cash or time, creating an inspection system that isn’t driven through fear and inconsistency, respecting schools to make decisions that benefit the whole community rather than pandering to lone, loud voices, and generally valuing teachers for doing an incredibly complex job in an increasingly complex world, would also help restore teaching to its stature as a noble profession, but, like most of us teachers out there, maybe he’s afraid of hard work. Never mind, I’m sure the compass will work just as well.

MOT – Motivate Our Teachers…or Mad Old Tristram?

Image from @MartinShovel

It’s a bloody outrage, how dare he? I’m not a car! I don’t need more hoops to jump through. Yeah, yeah, yeah whatever. As with any idea that could affect how the cogs of education turn, @TristramHuntMP’s suggestion that teachers should have a licence to teach was devoured on twitter and the blogosphere quicker than a teacher’s packed lunch on the first day back after the holidays. It wasn’t helped that his proposal had been abbreviated into an over simplistic idea that provided an easy target for pretty much anyone with access to the internet and at least one opposable thumb.

Let’s get the basics out of the way: There will always be those who feel hard done by and who live their lives eternally bothered by the fact that their job warrants scrutiny by people other than themselves. Those people should largely be ignored. Criticise by finding faults/flaws and suggesting better alternatives not by screaming ‘It’s not fair.’ So if you have read what Hunt has suggested and object in principle to the profession seeking out robust quality assurance and methods of self-improvement then maybe it’s time you just went away.

Now let’s focus on the idea – there are some good thoughts hidden in what Hunt said but in my humble opinion they are either not good enough or facsimiles of what already happens in schools up and down the country.

He talked about teachers being ‘motivated’ and ‘passionate’ as if these were equal to competency in the classroom. It was as if the media-savvy side of his brain was thinking ‘They’re not going to like this so if I just go on for ages about how teachers are important and passionate – and I mean really go on about it – I might be able to slip the idea in and they won’t mind.’ Don’t insult us: yes passion is a great motivator but we all know that sometimes it can count for bugger all. As the saying goes: just because a cat has kittens in the oven, that don’t make them biscuits.

What I’m sure he meant to say is: ‘If you’re not a motivated teacher – passionate about the profession and determined to reflect and develop your skills in order to become a highly effective practitioner so all children achieve when they are in your lesson – then you shouldn’t really be in this profession.’

In fact he sort of did say this too but annoyingly I think the weakest part of Hunt’s statement was introducing this ‘licence’ as the way of guaranteeing teachers engage with professional development: ‘If you’re not willing to re-engage in re-licencing to update your skills then you really shouldn’t be in the classroom.’ This does make it sound like it is the process of the re-licence that will keep teachers qualified which I believe is wrong at worst or a distortion of school’s robust appraisal processes at best.

We already have performance management and now a teacher’s appraisal is linked to their pay. If this is done well the Head will ensure that this establishes a culture where teachers proactively engage with their own development in a way that not only meets the needs of the school at that time but also improves their personal approach to teaching. So…do we need a licence to prove it?

Ah yes, but what about those schools where performance management is just a tick boxing exercise and the teachers don’t respect the views and judgements for the senior leadership team? Well, I hate to break it to you but a licence ain’t going to change either of those problems. The biggest problem there is the leadership: it is your job leaders to create that positive culture where reflections are not attacks and improvements are individualised rather than regurgitating the latest initiative of the week. Putting in an extra layer of accreditation through a teaching licence seems to me to be either fixing a problem that isn’t there or an inadequate way to patch up failing schools.

The most noble part of Hunt’s statement was the notion that teachers should be valued as a profession to the same degree as Doctors and Lawyers. I and I’m sure everyone in education would agree that we should be as valued because we ARE professionals. But surely the point here is the perception of our professionalism rather than the nature of it? If (and I know it’s a big ‘if’) but IF schools are led effectively everyone in that organisation can hold their heads up high. If Hunt has an issue with unqualified teachers working in schools, well, address that issue on its own and leave the rest of us out of it.

So I thank you Mr Hunt for your efforts and you at least gave me something to write about this Sunday.  If you are desperate to develop this idea you can count on me to engage with it positively. But you haven’t got long, the election’s coming soon and I’ve got my car booked in for its MOT next month and that hunk of junk has got less chance of passing than Gove being asked to appear in the new series of Blackadder.

When Tristram met ThePrimaryHead


I was very excited to be invited to a round table discussion with @TristramHuntMP on Friday. Not least because there is a chance he could be our new man in Whitehall for education: making decisions that will impact upon us all but also because it was at 2:30pm on Friday afternoon which meant I could be home early after popping into Asda to buy a box of wine!

I had no idea what to expect or more worryingly what to ask. I certainly know what I think is important in education and what direction I would like to see it move in but I wasn’t sure if that was the point. I’ve been completely brainwashed by the last ten years of lesson observation expectations: I need to know the learning objective or else I just can’t function! I was also a little bit scared that my question would be too small minded – did he really want to talk about ‘Levels’ or SPAG tests? Is that honestly all I could bring to the table? The big grown up table of education? It would be like the first Olympic committee when Seb Coe asked everyone around the room to think strategically about holding the Olympic Games in London and I’d be the one fixating about the colour of the medal ribbons or why on the Olympic logo, London, didn’t use a capital ‘L’.

This was my chance to make a profound contribution to the future of education and I had nothing! Luckily, neither did he.

Now that’s mean, I’m sorry. That was a cheap gag and in all fairness it does him an injustice. He had some ideas and he went through a few of them; and ok at times his delivery was similar to contestants on ‘Dragon’s Den’: the ones who half way through their pitch realise that their big idea makes about as much sense as the word ‘foap’ in a year 1 phonic test. He would occasionally trail off in the middle of his idea for ‘re-shaping localised school accountability measures through a single representative body who had ultimate accountability for securing improvement measures in sets of locally aligned schools’ (or something) and look at us saying ‘I mean, what do you think?’

Now I can’t speak for the other five head teachers who were there but at no point did we stand up and say ‘By Gove, I think he’s got it!’ But neither did we get up, slap him about the chops and tell him to get a grip. We recognised (at least I did) that he is engaging with school leaders to find out about issues that matter and in my mind he genuinely seemed to care. (I can’t say whether he cares because it’s his job or because he cares about education but either way he’s motivated and he wants to listen.)

I’ll admit the first thirty minutes did sort of go over my head/interests: academy take overs/new schools planning/school improvement models/executive heads. But eventually we settled in to interesting things that will affect everyone in education rather than specific schools in specific circumstances. So what were they? I have tried to summarise some of the things we talked about and what I write will be what I walked away thinking about whilst queuing to buy my box of wine.

Local Authority: There is no model and there isn’t one being planned. The landscape of education is doomed to be disparate groups ‘challenging and supporting each other’. I hate this. It really depresses me. Loads of little power hungry groups all looking for the next weakling to eat up and digest. No shared accountability, no shared vision for standards across cities. Everyone doing what they want and proving that it is working for them even though we’ll all be judging ourselves against different criteria and against each other. I hate it. I actually want to live in a world where we are ‘all in it together’ and this ain’t it. I don’t think @TristramHuntMP wants it either but I think we’ve gone too far to get anything like a unified front back again. I think he looked most pained when trying to establish how getting joined up support and accountability over large areas of the country could work because he knows it’s never going to happen. Gove’s freedoms are in fact opportunities to divide and conquer – destroying consistency, professionalism and looking after all children, families and teachers.

National Curriculum: I think @TristramHuntMP thought I was joking when I said I genuinely wasn’t getting ready for the curriculum because a) I like my school’s topics as they are b) I’m trying to make sure that my ‘standards’ are too good for any ofsted inspector to care about our deviation from the NC and c) I’m banking on him winning and reinstating the lovely curriculum we nearly had through the Rose report. I did say that I was concerned that as there were all these different models of schools that could weasel out of implementing it leaving us poor state maintained schools at a huge disadvantage. His reply was that he was going to make it so that any school could not do the NC which begs the question what is the bloody point of having it anyway?

Standards/Ofsted/Gove: There were questions about the relationship between ofsted and DfE and the need to re-think how primary schools are inspected. Also about the fact that the expectations put on us are being constantly raised but there is no substance underneath to guide us on the path to improvement. 85% floor targets, getting rid of levels, changing tests: all just put out there followed by the caveat that if you moan that it’s not fair you get beaten by the ‘low expectations’ stick. Finally we tried to say to him that as long as you’re not Gove you’ll be fine. He looked at us rather sternly and said ‘But what do parents say of Gove? He wants high standards and discipline in schools. How do I compete with that?’ Therein lies what I think will be the hardest part of his success: convincing parents he also wants that but assuring teachers he’ll achieve it standing alongside us.

He’s made a start: he spoke to six primary head teachers and none of us left angry (although we were all going home early on Friday and this may have been a factor). His main strength is that he hasn’t got a good plan (stay with me Tristram, stay with me) but he’s willing to talk to us in order to get one. So my advice: keep listening!

(oh, and get rid of SPAG, give us back a good national curriculum, change ofsted, get rid of free schools, make assessment procedures consistent from EYFS to KS3, don’t give free school meals for all but help us give FSM breakfasts, make primary uniform compulsory, and stop the birds crapping all over my car outside my school-probably should have said this at the meeting, would have saved us all some time.)