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.

Educating Ruby: What is education for? | Ashley Pearce

If you are able to spare a couple of hours in the next few weeks and raise your head above the endless forms, data entry, verbal feedback stamps and meetings, I’d recommend a book. I was sign-posted the book Educating Ruby (by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucy) by a Primary head but as an Economics teacher of mainly sixth formers, I can vouch that it spans the whole school spectrum in relevance.

 

The “star” of the book’s title is a fictional ex-student called Ruby. She left school a couple of years ago and bumps into one of her teachers in town and says “Thank you”. This confuses the teacher who remembers Ruby and recalls that Ruby didn’t achieve the fabled 5 A-C at GCSE. But Ruby goes on to say the school taught her an invaluable list of skills that have set her up for life, this got me thinking, what are we in education for? If school is to prepare young people for work then we are failing at it. Britain’s woeful productivity levels, stubbornly high NEET rates and disagreement from the CBI tell us that. If it is for kids to enjoy it and gain a thirst for learning then again, we are lacking. Too many students leave school disinterested in learning and the high levels of mental health problems we are seeing in our children show it is no easy ride. If it is to give teachers an easy ride, the huge increase in teacher workload and teachers leaving the profession in their droves say it’s not.

So what is it for? Why did we go into teaching? I believe (and Educating Ruby has helped me remember this) it was to inspire young people, to engage and enthuse them in the hope that they will want to go on and be as enthusiastic about something in the same way that I am about Economics. I don’t believe any of us were nervous at the teaching of our first lesson because we were worried we were not showing Ofsted 20mins of progress in a lesson. We wanted to inspire.

Teachers and schools are like political parties in that they are remembered in themes. I don’t remember much of the facts I learned at school despite how important it seemed at the time. I dare say that if I didn’t go on to become an Economics teacher, I may well have forgotten where the point of allocative efficiency is! And anyway, the pub quiz curriculum is made redundant thanks to Google. But I do remember being gripped by it, I remember the lessons being fun, I remember laughing, I remember wanting to find out more, I remember the teacher speaking to us like adults and being interested in our views. It helped that football was one of the major common interests but there was some discussion of politics and economics in there too.

I keep thinking of two phrases where education is concerned: pluralistic ignorance and collective conservatism. Pluralistic ignorance is where a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but incorrectly assume that most others accept it, and therefore go along with it. Collective conservatism is where groups stick to established patterns even as new needs arise. To me these two perfectly encapsulate where we are in education. The book ends with a call to arms for parents, teachers and communities. If we are not happy with the way education is for children today we have to take steps to change it, these all essentially stem from asking questions. This is something schools seem to beat out of kids from a young age and so adults are not very good at it. But question why things are done in a certain way, to teachers, to school leaders and to politicians.

On my classroom door I have Tony Benn’s 5 principles of education (what I believe to be “British values”):

  1. To discover and realise the genius in everyone.
  2. To learn about the people in the world with whom you have to live and their history and culture.
  3. To acquire the skills to do the work you want.
  4. To build up your confidence in yourself.
  5. To discover the danger of hate and the power of love.

Educating Ruby calls them the 7 C’s (I’ll let you look them up) but whatever they are called, they are a world away from what we are currently doing in schools.

 

Ashley Pearce  (@ashleypearce84) is a secondary school economics teacher in a comprehensive school just outside of Reading.  Last year he was elected as a councillor for the Labour party for an area in South Reading.  He is also a Reading FC fan and keen reader of educational literature.

Finding the Vision

“They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics… I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.”
G.K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy

 

 

Last year, Andrew Old announced he was stepping down as editor of Labour Teachers. He asked if any of the regular contributors wanted to take over: I assume I was the only one who replied in the affirmative. This must have been the case, because my reply was not especially enthusiastic: “if you can’t find anyone else, come back to me.” Come back to me he did, and this is the relaunch.

 

bsd_labour_2014siteV2_logo_1_dy1I was apprehensive about taking over the website, because I feel about Labour the way Chesterton felt about Liberalism. My commitment is to the core political ideals of the party’s foundation: the common good over private interests; fairness; social mobility. I believe in these ideals completely, and my career in teaching has daily demonstrated their veracity to me. I am much less intrigued by the party itself, and although I have been a member for over a decade now, I have only sporadically been ‘active’.

 

This lack of interest is compounded by my belief that much of the debate, in blogs and on twitter, that surrounds the Labour Party is not useful. It often refers to issues peripheral to the core aims of the party, or topics that are actively harmful to the successful implementation of them. The pro/anti Corbyn civil war is a distraction that does neither side any credit, and only serves to bolster the ambitions of rival parties. I did not, and do not, want to be a participant in this. To defer to Chesterton again:

 

“The net result of all our political suggestions, Collectivism, Tolstoyanism, Neo-Feudalism, Communism, Anarchy, Scientific Bureaucracy–the plain fruit of all of them is that the Monarchy and the House of Lords will remain. The net result of all the new religions will be that the Church of England will not (for heaven knows how long) be disestablished. It was Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Cunninghame Grahame, Bernard Shaw and Auberon Herbert, who between them, with bowed gigantic backs, bore up the throne of the Archbishop of Canterbury… As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same. No ideal will remain long enough to be realised, or even partly realised.”

Ibid.

 

So, why am I taking on the responsibilities as editor of Labour Teachers? Because, although I am weary of tiresome factionalism, I remain inspired by our core values. Whilst I am disinterested in party politics, I am passionate about education. And I believe that I am not alone. This website can play a crucial democratic role. It can link the lived experience of the thousands of Labour supporting educators with policy-makers and politicians within our party.

 

We are on the front line; we are at ‘the chalk-face’. We see clearly what the problems are and we feel the effects of education policy. We live with its consequences every day. And we should make our voices heard.

 

If you are a Labour supporting teacher, join us. Subscribe to the website. Write for us. Share the content. If you feel the party has been to quiet, too inexact, or just plain wrong in its education policy: get involved. It is in the finest democratic tradition of the Labour movement that you do so.

 

Robert Pepper      @rbnpepper

Secret Insights of Parents’ Evening | Zeno of South Glos.

After a long break, Labour Teachers will be relaunched soon under new editorship. Before that happens we will be sharing some posts sent to us during the hiatus.

Zeno is an RPE teacher who is in his fourth year of teaching in Bristol and the South West. He has been a Labour party member for nearly 7 years and used to dabble in journalism before he settled down to a more noble profession.

IMG_1552Parents’ evening should be something we all hate, but it’s actually more important than we realise. I don’t mean that it empowers us to improve behaviour or attainment. I think its most important role for society at large is as a vital way to start to burst through the bubbles we insist on living in.

If you strip it back to what it really is, the evening is 3 hours of awkward conversations where you shatter parents’ and guardians’ illusions about their little darlings. The fact that it usually follows an already hectic 8 hours or so of working day means that your ability to think and articulate is usually quite diminished. You stammer out some half-baked positive psychobabble and recite some grades which you know relate to a pointless assessment, against a target set by a computer with a very different agenda to yours.

The thing is though: I secretly love parents’ evenings. They epitomise a lot of the best things about the job:

  1. Being able to repeat the same jokes 30 times to different audiences and watch as they either flop like a badly timed bottle flip, or land perfectly, like a well launched one (if you don’t get the reference: just go into any playground and watch).
  2. Organising your life into 5 minute slots so that you’re far too busy to feel bored or tired.
  3. Explaining why RPE is really the most important subject in a world of decreasing tolerance and heightened existential dread.

All these things help to get me through an otherwise painful evening (and career) but what I appreciate the most is the ability to snoop on the way other people live.

A parents’ evening is much like being a fly on the wall of different families’ homes. There are the ones who regale you with their in-jokes and gentle joshing while the embarrassed teenager rolls their eyes. There are the parents who write down everything you say so that they can pass it on to the other side of the divorce at a later date. There are the students who you’ve barely heard speak who brighten up in front of their parents and talk to you like an old friend. And sadly, the conversations where you feel like you have to step in to defend a child from getting a hard time.

It truly is a unique aspect of the public sector job; those in the private realm don’t often find themselves teleported between so many households to see how ‘the other’ lives. Those happy in their comfy bubbles will vote to keep them that way. Those at the chalkface, or who make home-visits or run walk-in sessions of any kind, work between the contrasts, divisions and juxtapositions of our society.

The cliché that we all live in bubbles is due an update. Bubbles are soft and floaty and easy to burst. The chasms in our society are not so. Many people can’t name anyone who voted the other way in the referendum. Many people cannot see further than immigration as the reason for all the world’s problems. Political parties of all kinds rip themselves to shreds rather than compromise and work together.

I’m not suggesting that we treat parents’ evening as a door-stepping opportunity, an opportunity to highlight the effects of the brutal cuts or even as a place to slowly and clearly explain that learning about Islam isn’t the same as supporting ISIS. I just mean that we need to recognise that a special thing happens at parents’ evenings which doesn’t often happen anywhere else: people’s bubbles overlap.

What other mediums do we have for mixing out of our kinds? Almost by definition, the people you work alongside every day are from a similar social strata to you. Even if you knew the people who live on your street, they’d tell you of comparable house prices. The local Church or pub as a hub for a diverse community have much attenuated in influence. Even sharing a cinema screen with strangers on a date has become the living-room bubble of ‘Netflix and chill.’

Comprehensive schools are a huge opportunity for lives to cross over. Parents waiting for their appointments are introduced through their child’s friendships. Parents who hated school come back and see it from a different angle. Kids who play up to a role in class, snap out of it in front of the sheer variety of adults who genuinely care about them and their future lives.

I know we don’t exactly break down every barrier nor put the world to rights, but there is a real sense of multiple different worlds meeting. If you don’t believe me, look at the amount of effort that some parents put into looking as presentable as possible. Perhaps they are intimidated by a professional giving a face-to-face rating of their genetics and parenting. Or perhaps they realise, more than teachers do, that they are stepping out of their comfort zone, with their ears open, to listen to that rare thing: an opinion from the other side.

A free press? | @davowillz

After a long break, Labour Teachers will be relaunched soon under new editorship. Before that happens we will be sharing some posts sent to us during the hiatus.

KINDLE_CAMERA_1425511765000David Williams is a former Literacy Coordinator who is now English KS 4 Coordinator at a bilingual comprehensive school in South Wales.

In reality the press have a number of constraints placed upon them. The first constraint a journalist faces is that of interest: you only get to write stories which are important enough or engaging enough to of interest to your readership. Without a readership interested enough to read your stories you don’t have a paper. In order to grow your readership the temptation is to write the most sensational stories and there are clearly newspapers who appeal to sensationalism in order to grow their readership. However the revenue necessary for keeping a paper going comes less and less from people paying for your stories and to a greater and greater extent from advertising revenue. This can create conflicts of interest. You may avoid writing stories which offend your revenue sources for fear that you will lose them. At this point I’d like to be clear that I don’t think this is the healthiest of situations for a free press; it is however the situation we are in.

There are also other constraints; there is for example the Independent Press Standards Organisation which has a code of conduct which the press are supposed to adhere to. However like all the codes which have come before it is voluntary. In the past much of the press have misunderstood or simply ignored codes of conduct like this, simply because they tend to lack teeth to force compliance. (They can get you to print a correction…after a while…in a tiny part of the paper)    http://www.editorscode.org.uk/downloads/codebook/codebook-2014.pdf

And the reason the organisation which created the code does lack teeth is a good one; quite simply we do not trust an independent press regulatory body would be truly independent. If it had too much power the worry would be that a government or indeed other interested powers could use it to silence the press about stories which portray them negatively.

The most important constraint upon the press is of course the law. And certainly the majority of the press would argue that this is enough. The recent Leveson inquiry gave voice to those who disagree; those who feel the press have become too intrusive, tyrannical and indeed corrupt and that more legal constraints should be placed upon them: the stories they choose to write; how they investigate those stories; how they portray their subjects.

There is also a constraint on the freedom of speech in our law. We are not allowed to say anything we like and just like any private citizen the press is not allowed to incite racial hatred. You may disagree with this law because you may feel it shuts down debate, or you may believe that such a law provides a reasonable constraint which benefits society at large.

There are also constraints of time, space and of course information. You can only write about what you know in the space your editor allows to meet a deadline. If one party is unwilling or unable to provide a journalist with information or a counter argument that journalist will write using what is available. Because schools have a duty to protect children very often they simply cannot make a comment and there is a reasonably regular supply of ridiculously one sided stories certain newspapers have published in which some schools have been vilified.

So a free press? – well it is quite free. In a capitalist western country this could be the best we can do. However many would and have argued that the press need further constraints; that certain newspapers are reporting the news in an incredibly misleading, wholly irresponsible and indeed dangerous manner.

The Daily Mail is clearly the most obvious example of this. This is a particularly notorious correction it was forced to make. Very recently the paper also vilified a group of judges for…well…doing their job. Most disturbingly this is the sort of language totalitarian dictators have used to discredit those they sought to scapegoat.

This all brings us very neatly to the question at hand and the reason I am writing this blog. There are those on the left who feel that action must be taken to force the Daily Mail in particular to report the news in a fairer manner. They feel that the newspaper misleads the public and fuels hatred in order to portray their own xenophobic view on the world. So they have started to try to pressure companies like Lego into withdrawing financial support for the paper by refusing to advertise in it. I would argue that there is little difference between a campaign like this and other consumer driven campaigns to pressure other companies to behave more ethically.

@oldandrewuk clearly disagrees with this course of action and has made the case that some on the left are trying to “silence the press” and shut down debate, and in a perfect world in which papers like the Daily Mail genuinely regulated themselves I might agree with him. However we don’t live in a perfect world. I don’t believe that the Daily Mail is a paper which regulates itself either in terms accuracy or journalistic integrity. They seem more than happy to produce a sensationalist and inaccurate headline and publish a correction after the fact, when the damage has already been done. In my opinion given this context activists are perfectly entitled to lobby companies to withdraw financial support. Essentially activists are trying to force the Daily Mail to regulate itself, because it doesn’t.  I don’t accept that this constitutes “shutting down the press”. It is, however a means of trying to make the Daily Mail more accountable for the stories it writes and the language it uses.

Difficult times; simple solutions | @MikeBerkoff

After a long break, Labour Teachers will be relaunched soon under new editorship. Before that happens we will be sharing some posts sent to us during the hiatus.

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.

I thought like most people that the Trump thing would be a footnote in history and somehow sense would prevail. Of course, now I am incredibly less sanguine. I have put some thought into the features that seem to mark out the strange era we are living through. Certain ideas are becoming common currency and not just in America. Let me list a few of the common occurrences that seem to be increasingly with us.

Rallies are used as a substitute for considered discussion

The rally has never had much affection for me. Everyone re-enforcing each other’s preconceptions and tricky use of mass psychology.

Personality cults

Well here is an old idea making an unwelcome comeback. Suddenly a particular individual can do no wrong. Icons appear and devoted followers hang on every word. Rather pathetic if you think about it but very appealing for some.

Attacks on those who bring uncomfortable or challenging messages.

Here the ridiculous phrase ‘Main Stream Media’ or MSM has appeared (in the US the phraseology is different but the meaning is the same) as a kind of catch all dismissal of any outlet that dares to produce contradictory narratives to the accepted ideological correct versions.

Making a movement totally compliant with a narrow set of ideas and paradigms

If you are not completely on board with the leader or his acolytes then you must be a traitor of some kind. Open debate and challenges are not acceptable in this kind of set up. The inevitable splits and factionalism will occur. Give it time it will happen. Conspiracy theories and attacks on existing or former allies will always follow.

The pretence that true believers are in some way outsiders to society

Pretty common this one. If loyal adherents feel they are special in some way it encourages their feeling of self worth. The fact that many are simply easily lead would horrify them.

The use of a pseudo special interest to validate their beliefs

We have all seen the ‘Women for Trump’ banners but I have also spotted ‘Women for Corbyn’ equivalents. This is so wrong on so many levels that it almost beggars belief that those holding them can be completely of this world. Similar use of ‘Veterans for Trump’ or ‘<name a minority ethnic group> for whom ever’ are also in evidence. I would be pretty sure similar nonsense can be found in such movements across the globe. Examples would be helpful.

Casual racism/anti-Semitism

For there to be acceptance of any group as valid in promoting progress and the best of enlightenment values the minimum would be to see if it is inclusive. Those that single out minorities for attack or allow space for others to do so fail that basic test.

Ignoring failures as unimportant and seeing all as correct.

I had expected to include the Trump movement as having failed in their main initial aim of winning the election. As that did not happen (damn it) leads us all to examine just what has gone wrong. Or it should! Already one or two have claimed that in some way the US election result opens opportunities for them. This has occurred recently even in our own party. What utter piffle. The US election result is a massive defeat and to say any different is a step back from reality. We are in horribly dangerous times and this should be clear to us all.

Demagoguery/Populism

The defining aspect of all the above. The use of crude simple solutions to vastly complicated issues is profoundly dishonest. From Hungary to Turkey to The US to our own party (and who knows where else soon) reaction is on the march. We have a history of democratic pluralism that needs defending. Let us get to it.

 

 

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