How to Blog For @LabourTeachers

We are always looking for contributions to this blog. While there are times when we’ll want something different, we’re always happy to be sent a blogpost that:

  1. Is by a teacher who is a Labour Party supporter (or even better member);
  2. Is less than 700 words long;
  3. Has content relevant to Labour supporting teachers (regardless of the point of view);
  4. Has not been published anywhere else beforehand.

There is more detailed guidance here. Some suggestions are here. Some advice about writing is here.  Advice for new bloggers is here. I will update this post with links to further guidance whenever I add any to the site. You can email content  to me here. It will be easier for me if you include it in the main text of the email rather than as an attachment.

Thank you.

The hardest decision | @RosMcM

JpegAfter 31 years of teaching, 15 of them as firstly Headteacher, then Principal, and latterly as Executive Principal and CEO of an Academy Trust, Ros is now working independently in the sector.

Last December I wrote a blog for this site about why I was staying in the party and why everyone else should too.  So agonising this week and looking again at the decision I re-read it.

My thinking back in December was that we could leave and let the party implode to electoral oblivion or stay and fight. Well we stayed and fought. And we lost. What now?

I realise that many reading this blog are energised by the Corbyn takeover and think it a great thing for British politics. As a teacher I cannot share that view because I remember 1979-1997 too clearly. I remember what our schools looked like. I remember the lack of opportunities for so many of my generation. I remember the condition of our hospitals and I remember the homeless on the streets. And it is all happening again. The answer isn’t to shout about austerity; the answer is returning a Labour government.

“Look at how many people Corbyn attracts to rallies; feel the enthusiasm” they tell me. Yes, well we lost a safe Sheffield council seat after one of those rallies took place in the city. I know from the bitter experience of my youth it matters not how many people you get energised at rallies; what matters is convincing the electorate to vote for us. And the party is shedding, not winning, voters day-by-day. I cannot have a conversation with anyone these days without them saying that Labour is unelectable and any member who has been on the doorstep reports the same. The public are not going to vote for Corbyn as Prime Minister. The evidence is all there but those carried away by the ‘momentum’ and talking to each other either don’t see it, or do see it and don’t care.

The call for unity now means accepting defeat at the ballot box. So what matters more to me – my party or my country? The fake unity “for the sake of the party” plays straight into the hands of the Tory government – an unelectable opposition.

Continuing to tell the truth from within the party only highlights how disunited we are (not that this is a state secret anyway) but it certainly wouldn’t help our electability.

Tearing up the membership card and letting them get on with it, lose drastically and shed all these new energised members – maybe that is the morally right thing to do? I really don’t know.

What I do know is this: I am in politics to get stuff done and that requires being in power. In a democracy gaining power inevitably means pragmatism and compromise. Inside our party now we have two clear groupings – those who are prepared to be pragmatic and compromise and work to gain power to get stuff done, and those who want to talk to themselves and feel good about their principled opposition. The party is in the control of the latter group. This means a nasty Tory government who will unfortunately be allowed to get stuff done: stuff that will damage the young people in our care.

So I, like many others, am having a long hard think.

Teaching in an age of Post-Trust Politics | @GeogNewHoD

IMG_0879Matt Collinson is a Labour Party supporter and has been teaching for four years, most recently in London, and is about to become Head of Department. 

“You need to support your points with evidence.” I need a marking stamp with this on because I write it so many times in pupil’s books. A similar point is expressed clearly in exam mark schemes at GCSE and A-Level in my subject, Geography. I teach student about real life examples, real places, with real processes and real people, stressing that they are studying the real world. We call them ‘case studies’, and by-and-large pupils hate them because they need to learn facts.

In fairness, ‘facts’ are relatively easy to come by. The need to know a fact like a date has been diminished by the easy of tapping a few words into a search engine on a phone and having the answer handed to you (in easy copy-and-paste format). What has not changed for me as humanities teacher is teaching students how to communicate these facts in PEEL paragraphs (point-evidence-explain-link for the uninitiated).

However, the role of facts in debate seem to be being lost, and all walks of ideological life seem to be part of the issue.

This became apparent during the EU referendum campaign when ‘experts’ seemed to be ignored. People seemed to be tired of hearing what academics, economists, and seasoned politicians were saying. The siding with polemical, populist sentiment is not new but the clear distrust of expertise seems newer.

Then Monday’s US Presidential Debate took to the stage. Donald Trump has played the anti-establishment card as fervently as Nigel Farage has done in Britain but this has become synonymous with anti-truth. Trump flat out lies, time and time again. For just one example, he said he has never denied climate change but his twitter timeline suggests otherwise. Both candidates said some things that are not quite true but, as this graph suggests, Trump was far less accurate and was spouting falsehoods like an alternative reality Trevi Fountain. How far this has gone even led to the somewhat bizarre situation where Hillary Clinton told the audience to check her website out for it live fact checker. I even had my head in my hands when Clinton referred to expert economists verifying her economic plan, thinking that such an endorsement whilst well meaning is possibly futile and worse, detrimental. How far have we strayed from facts, reality and integrity?

Back in Britain, aspects of the Labour Party seems completely unable to come to terms with facts and reality. Polly Toynbee in a piece in the Guardian has written about the way she has found some Corbyn supports so blinkered by their own passionate views that they display similar levels of suspended reality to religious faith. At first this seems an unnecessary attack on religion but perhaps hints at a new secular religion of political support where stone cold facts are not required for impassioned belief. She describes how one Corbyn supporter heckled a speaker who pointed out the electoral reality that Labour need to win some people who voted Conservative in the 2015 election. The heckler retorted that, “Why? We don’t want Tories.” Toynbee points out that the electoral mathematics does not add up for Jeremy and Momentum but this will fall on deaf ears despite the very transparent statistics. This is all before we get into debates about ‘othering’ of people who might be slightly different and assuming that all people who vote for a particular party are therefore automatically the enemy.

Such generalisations, lying, blatant untruths and distrust of people with different perspectives are anathema to good Geography and I believe to bringing up good global citizens. That is why I will keep telling my students to use facts, statistics and evidence to support their views. First, it helps them communicate their points in a persuasive and robust fashion; second, it teaches them the importance of informed discussion around an issue and not just mud-slinging; third, it helps them realise the importance of critical thinking for when they hear things on the TV or read things on the internet so that they are conscious of when someone does not use evidence and wary that such ‘facts’ may not be entirely true either; forth, reality is the basis of our understanding of the world and if we disregard it then we will make terrible errors of judgement.

All is not lost if we work with the power we have | @MikeBerkoff

IMG_20150721_173141Mike Berkoff began his career in 1974, teaching in a comprehensive for three years. He was a lecturer/course organiser in Further Education for twenty three years and a senior manager in Adult Education for nine years. His main teaching was in mathematics and computer science. He is now happily retired.

We find ourselves in an era where the clock is being turned back. The move by May’s administration to expand grammar schools is a direct attempt to return to the false certainties of a non-existent bygone golden age. How as educators do we react to this and other backward and damaging moves to reform the education system?

Firstly, it could be suggested that parliamentary opposition is important but, sad to say, the leadership (at the time of writing) is pretty hopeless at Westminster. This is not because the parliamentary Labour Party is not on side as there is a huge amount of talent and expertise in education available among our MPs. Those who know how to operate in Westminster are pretty much sidelined ideologically and our response is therefore blunted in that sphere. Tragic but true.

The fact is though we have a huge representation in local government and, as can be seen in London and elsewhere, there is a great deal of success in running education by Labour authorities. Even at a time of academies and free schools Labour education policies at local levels have had a beneficial effect at driving up standards. I could not truthfully have written that last sentence a few years ago. We learn and apply the expertise our basic principles have taught us. Our strength at local level is no accident. Labour at its best knows the areas it operates in and has forged strong links over many years. In education this is as true as elsewhere. Let us be aware that a big expansion of the grammar school system will damage existing provision and marginalise huge numbers of current and future school students. So let us consider what can be done about this.

The curriculum is a major factor in the process of delivering success. The move by central government to push the curriculum towards limited employment oriented outcomes is narrow and based on a misunderstanding of how education works. I admit this began before 2010 but that is not to say, as some like to, that in some way the last Labour government was in some way as bad as those that have followed. It was not and produced many fine improvements for state education. The funding mechanisms have moved substantially away from supporting a wide inclusive curriculum in favour of utilitarian outcomes. This limits educators but as is shown up and down the country we can still produce innovative and effective provision. The local authorities themselves encourage many institutions in the belief that it is beneficial to work in collaboration across their areas and pure competition is not the way to produce successful outcomes. I am of course referring to the public sector rather than the private sector. As such many academies function effectively in cooperation with other state providers and often take their lead from local authorities and work very closely with them. This was not the intention of the political ideologues of the Conservative Party so unfortunately we can expect some form of attack on this.

Despite the actions of teachers, local authorities, parents and others we must expect that damage will be done to the attainment of many as the grammar system re-embeds itself. Alternative routes for students, especially those reaching their mid/late teens are needed. Strong sixth form consortia, sixth form colleges, Further and Adult institutions must be maintained. A levels are now less on offer in FE but they are not the only route. The BTEC was always under rated and now there is an emphasis on apprenticeships, there is the Baccalaureate, ranges of City and Guilds, EdExcel and many more. These are all valid but unfortunately we do have a culture that downgrades many alternative to A level qualifications. Our educational institutions are working hard to emphasise the different routes to qualifications at many different levels.

To sum up Labour makes a major contribution to education at a local level and has great influence throughout the sector. Most local Labour politicians know how to work with their communities and be inclusive. This may change if the hard left gain too much influence but for the time being we have a lot to offer and can help deflect many of the harmful influences that are heading educations way.

The ‘Get Out of Ofsted Free’ Card | @FlyMyGeekFlag

flymygeekflag profile picSarah Bedwell is an Aussie teaching English and other things in the north west of England. She loves using technology in new ways to engage and excite learning, though she does believe in pedagogy before technology. Sarah is currently the ‘Lead Learner for Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Learning’ – otherwise known as an eLearning Coordinator.

Very few things annoy me as much as hearing from politicians that we need to ‘drive standards up’ so that ‘all children’ can access the same high quality education irrespective of where in the country they are, whilst those same politicians are striving to fracture the education system beyond all recognition. If you insist that schools don’t need to hire qualified teachers, then you’re not driving up standards. If you’re not ensuring that there are limits on class sizes in all schools, then you’re not driving up standards. If you’re not funding every school equally and fairly, you’re not driving up standards. If you’re allowing failing schools to have another three years’ grace without an inspection, you’re certainly not driving up standards.

I think we all know by now that turning a school into an academy is no magic potion for achieving success, and that many academies are still pulling off results that are no better (or in some cases worse) than their LA counterparts. It takes more than a rebrand to make improvement and when the focus is on choosing a sponsor and all of the potential implications that go with it, the focus is not on learning and achievement. The very idea that giving a failing academy a three year gift of no inspections by calling it a ‘new’ school as it is being, or just after it’s been, rebrokered is ludicrous. That’s three more years for a failing school to continue to fail their students.

Not only do they receive a ‘Get Out of Ofsted Free’ card that lasts longer than most inspection cycles for LA schools, they also get their previous inspection data discarded. Let that sink in for a minute. They’ve failed their students, they find a new sponsor, and they get a clean slate and three years to try to get it right without interference. 

The government is struggling to find sponsors for academies and so is giving them a break. Wouldn’t it be great if that same logic applied to the teacher recruitment crisis? Hire some new staff and get a three year break from Ofsted! Come to think of it, that might help with recruitment – do your three years, change schools, and get another inspection-free period as a gift to your new colleagues. I can’t help but think of this as some sort of balance transfer system to encourage you to change your credit card. That only encourages further spending which potentially gets you into more trouble – failing academies need the same oversight as failing LA schools to avoid them getting deeper into trouble than they already are.

I work in an LA school that is due for Ofsted any day, and we’re going to be absolutely slated – rightfully so – for a downward trend in results. We could change our name, get a nifty new uniform, replace our governing body, and we still wouldn’t escape the inspection. Nor should we. I may not agree with Ofsted as an institution, but the fact is we’re not doing a good enough job and we shouldn’t escape that scrutiny because we went with a new sponsor. 

If a school fails its students, they must face inspection, and quickly.

If the government truly want to drive up standards, then stop treating different schools in different ways. Inspect all schools in the same way and on the same time scale. Stop allowing trusts to take on more and more academies – bring them back into a single system. Stop allowing schools to escape intervention just because they have a new sponsor. Ensure that the expectations of one school are exactly the same as the expectations of another. That way, irrespective of where in the country the school is or the sort of students that the school has, there’s equity in the process and as a profession we can perhaps regain a little trust in it.

A letter to parents | @joirritableowl

jogartonJo Garton is a primary headteacher and has been for eight years. In a former life she was a Labour local councillor for five years, chair of the education committee and a parliamentary candidate.

Dear Parents,

I have had some really brilliant times at Bridlewood, but after eight years I’ve decided that I have had enough. The government’s assessment system for both this year and last in year six is completely hopeless and is putting huge strain on children, parents, teachers and school leaders. The continual criticism of schools by the media and the government encourages a small minority to expect more that can possibly be given, particularly with the shrinking amount of money coming into the service. Children with special needs have to wait years to be diagnosed, putting unmanageable strain on teachers and their parents. Added to which the mental health and social care services for children are completely inadequate through underfunding.

Most of all I do not believe that the government have the correct curriculum. How can it be right in the twenty-first century that children are wasting time on Roman numerals, but are not able to use calculators? The National Curriculum is 50% English. I have two English degrees, but even I think that this cannot be considered broad and balanced. Added to this the interim assessment framework in year six is absurd and further narrowing the primary curriculum. Children have been used as guinea pigs by politicians, yet again, which could affect their life chances for the future. This is unforgivable. We have done our best and will continue to do so to provide a broad and balanced curriculum, but we are working against the government in this.

In our school, we were in the top 6% of the country for reading last year, yet this year only 50% of our children met the expected standard in reading. This is not because the children are not able or because our teaching was any less good, but because the government set a standard for tests which is completely unreasonable. In writing, there is no way that using hyphens, dashes and semi-colons should be more important than the actual content of the writing. I suspect than almost all great writers would fail the government’s standard.

I am conscious that we are expecting an Ofsted inspection; I would not let anyone in Bridlewood down, so I am happy to stay until April 2017. March will be five years from the last inspection so we should have been inspected by then.

I have always said that the children of Bridlewood are wonderful and I hope the school will allow me to see them in the future by volunteering with reading or in the library. Thank you for sharing them with me- they have been a complete pleasure. I would like to thank you all and the governors for your great support of the school. I have been exceptionally blessed in the chairs of governors at Bridlewood: Jayne Keen, Steve Bentley, Paul Russell and Mark Boffin. I am happy to support the school in any way possible in the transition to my successor.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Garton

Last Week’s Posts on @LabourTeachers (Week Ending 17th September 2016)

Here’s last week’s posts. If you are a Labour supporting teacher and you’d like to write something for us, please get in touch.

Sunday

The Annual Shaming of Parents | @RosMcM

The culture that surrounds education and schooling in the UK is so dominated by social class it is really quite extraordinary. We know from research that the biggest factors in success at school are family background, parental support for education and aspiration.

Monday

An end to ‘radical reform’ in education? | @kevbartle

And so it begins again. Another school year – my 22nd, for the record – and another massive structural change plan for education. According to the reports on Radio 4 this morning (well, it is my 22nd year in teaching and so you can forgive me for living the middle-age, middle-class dream) this is the most radical reform of schooling for half a century. I confess to giving a hollow laugh as I negotiated the journey to work. Whether it was the emphasis on ‘reform’ or the emphasis on ‘radical’ that caused my sarcastic snicker I’m not quite sure.

Tuesday

Selection and Despair | @68ron

If there is anything that crystallises my sense of despair with the national political situation it is the government’s latest attempt to expand academic selection.

Wednesday

Should I stay or should I go? | @MichaelT1979

I’m not an active member. If I’m honest, I’ve always been put off by emails that invite me to meetings that begin with “Dear Comrade…”, so the thought that now I might be insulted or abused as a Blairite (and a Blairite I unquestionably am) hardly entices me any further.

Thursday

Where is our creative revolution for music in schools? | Christopher H

In February 2006, Sir Ken Robinson asked the question at his TED talk, “Do schools kill creativity?” His speech was charming, funny, engaging and gave a convincing argument that we should be doing more to engage in creativity in schools. The talk is the most viewed TED talk of its history seen over forty million times in the talk’s ten-year history. It has made Sir Ken Robinson a well-known name in education and often referred to in professional development.

Friday

The Unbearable Language of Grammars | @JulesDaulby

When justifying why we need grammar schools, Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, said:

“Because some children need to be academically stretched”.

= 80% of children in the UK don’t need to be.

“We must reward hard work and aspiration” said Prime Minister, Theresa May.

= 80% of children have low aspirations and don’t work hard.

 

The Unbearable Language of Grammars | @JulesDaulby

unknownJules Daulby is a Literacy and Language Co-ordinator in a comprehensive in Dorset.  As part of her role, she leads a specialist Speech and Language base, an alternative curriculum for students who follow ASDAN instead of a GCSE option and is responsible for whole school literacy.

When justifying why we need grammar schools, Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, said:

“Because some children need to be academically stretched”.

= 80% of children in the UK don’t need to be.

“We must reward hard work and aspiration” said Prime Minister, Theresa May.

= 80% of children have low aspirations and don’t work hard.

“We are lucky enough to have grammar schools in Kent; other counties are not so lucky” exclaimed MP for Sevenoaks, Michael Fallon.

“We” = minority of parents who get their children into those grammar schools.

“Meritocracy” = The deserved few.

“Deserved” = Children who are not clever enough to get into grammars don’t deserve our money because they don’t try hard enough.

“Some children are better doing vocational subjects” = 80% of children are good with their hands and a test at 11 will decide.

Vocational = Cor blimey, governor.

Academic = Spiffing.

Non-tutored IQ tests = We’ll get your child through the 11+ if you pay us lots of money.

Where is our creative revolution for music in schools? | Christopher H

Choddinott photoChristopher H is a Music Teacher from Hull in the UK, who has a passion for creativity. He has worked in education for the last eight years and has a love for music and drinking tea.

In February 2006, Sir Ken Robinson asked the question at his TED talk, “Do schools kill creativity?” His speech was charming, funny, engaging and gave a convincing argument that we should be doing more to engage in creativity in schools. The talk is the most viewed TED talk of its history seen over forty million times in the talk’s ten-year history. It has made Sir Ken Robinson a well-known name in education and often referred to in professional development.

However, since his inspiring and famous speech, has much changed to inspire creativity and promote the creative arts in schools? In my opinion, the standards to support the arts in school have been minimal. The importance of standards and emphasis on the subjects such as English, Science, and Mathematics has continued to be the measure by governments of education as a whole. How well a school is doing is assessed by the criteria set in those main subjects. As Sir Ken Robinson says “it places less value on practical disciplines, art, drama, dance, music, design and physical education.” Creativity is stifled by the emphasis on the “core” subjects.

Schools have to realise the beneficial effect that music and the arts in the school as a whole. Not only does it teach creative skills, such as how to innovate, evaluate, reflect, problem solves and communicate ideas, it improves the learning environment for the whole school. It is proved that music and the arts improve academic standards as a whole. For example research by Nina Kraus showed “children who learned how to play a musical instrument showed stronger language skills than children who took music appreciation courses.” It is not only true for language learning but true for a whole range of subjects, the fact that students who play a musical instrument perform well academically overall.

With the evidence and research that is available, it would be thought that music and the arts are actively encouraged in schools. However, that is not the case, not just in the UK but across the world as Anita Collins, an academic in neuroscience and music education, says:

“Music education is often one of the first programs to be cut or scaled back when the purse strings are tightened in a school. Again when considering the research that now exists, this also seems flawed.”

With this statement, it has meant the numbers of students opting to take GCSE music are low and continuing to drop. Around 8% of all students choose to take GCSE music which compares to 20% taking Physical Education. So what is the cause of a decline in music? There is a lack of purposeful investment in music, as it is expensive to run and many schools cutting back on their music programs and are not offering GCSE music as an option. Ofsted has failed to hold to account schools for neglected art programs. Many students also find the KS3 material stagnant and uninspiring, where more focus should be on helping students play an instrument in school, or developing skills in music technology and music production. Students are also put off having careers in music by a lack of support from peers, teachers, parents and society.

In short, we should be doing more to pressure the powers that be to agree that creative subjects such as music hold an important part in the school community. We should encourage each child to play one instrument and give them the opportunities to practice, perform and develop. They should be encouraged that many creative industries are looking for talented musicians and a career can be made from music.

References

Collins, A. (2015) Music education key to raising literacy and numeracy standards. (Accessed: 14 September 2016).

Dovey, D. (2014) The link between music and academic success. (Accessed: 14 September 2016).

Maton, K. (2016) ‘Choosing music: Exploratory studies into the low uptake of music GCSE.   (Accessed: 14 September 2016).

Robinson, K. and Aronica, L. (2015) Creative schools: Revolutionizing education from the ground up. London, United Kingdom: Allen Lane.

TED (2007) Do schools kill creativity? | sir Ken Robinson | TED talks

 

Should I stay or should I go? | @MichaelT1979

Twitter PhotoMichael Tidd is deputy headteacher of a primary and nursery school in Nottinghamshire, and a Labour Party member in Derbyshire. He was a member of the selection committee that appointed the trustees of the College Of Teaching.

I’m not an active member. If I’m honest, I’ve always been put off by emails that invite me to meetings that begin with “Dear Comrade…”, so the thought that now I might be insulted or abused as a Blairite (and a Blairite I unquestionably am) hardly entices me any further.

I comfort myself with a small financial contribution each month towards the running of the party. Or at least, I did. And when that meant trying to make the most of Ed Miliband, I went door-to-door on election day and tried my best – to no avail. But now, with what looks like further wilderness years ahead, I’m not sure what to do.

Do I keep paying my subs, in the hope that when another leadership election eventually comes around I’ll be eligible to bring the party back closer to electability? Or do I pull the plug, in the hope that it is recognised that not everyone in the party is happy to prioritise ‘the club’ over the need for Labour government. Perhaps my small monthly contribution would be better spent on cause that actually aim to help those most in need of support, rather than a militant club.

I’ve cast my leadership vote, perhaps with even less hope than I did in 2015, and certainly with as little enthusiasm for any of the candidates as I’ve ever mustered, in the hope that we might at least pull things back from the brink.

But if, as seems likely, we really are destined to be stuck with a leader who refuses to give up his own internal power, despite showing no capacity to gain any collective power, is there any good reason for me to keep contributing to the pot? I’m open to persuasion, but I really can’t see much point.

Recommendations for alternative locations for my monthly cash, or arguments for keeping in for the long haul, are welcome!

Selection and Despair | @68ron

image1@68ron is a teacher living and working on the south coast. He likes to think he can see educational issues from a number of different perspectives, teacher, parent, governor and (teaching) trade union officer. His 16th birthday present was a Labour Party membership card (when it still had Clause IV written on it). His greatest moment in teaching came while listening live on the ‘wireless’ to Mrs Thatcher’s defenestration while sitting in the smokers’ staff room during morning break.

If there is anything that crystallises my sense of despair with the national political situation it is the government’s latest attempt to expand academic selection.

In the first place it is a very bad idea. There is zero evidence that selection advances social mobility and substantial evidence it entrenches social immobility. If you want to be reminded of this see Chris Cook’s excellent analysis of selection that he wrote for the FT a few years ago. We’re supposed to be living in an era of evidence-based policy aren’t we?

Secondly, it reminds me of the failures of previous Labour governments to abolish selection when they had the chance to – a notable failure of Labour governments from 1997-2010. The irony is that when Margaret Thatcher was Education Secretary more selective schools were abolished than under Labour.

Another reason it fills me with despair is that the debate is still framed as if it is about the merits of grammar schools rather than the problems of secondary moderns and de facto secondary moderns. With selection more kids fail than pass – so why do we name the system after the destination of the minority of children? Why are others allowed to frame the debate in this way? Why are more people not challenging this?

Which leads me to my final point…Labour. I could weep. This debate should be led by us. It’s one we can win. We should be building alliances with others on this including Tory MPs. But we can not. How can we credibly build alliances with others when we can not even build alliances within our own party. We are too busy indulging in an internecine war to put the case for comprehensive education. Frankly as a party we should be ashamed.