FLOATING VOTERS WEEK: Educational policy should be devised at the front line | @leonardjamesuk

FloatingVotersWeekIn Floating Voters Week we are presenting views from teachers who didn’t vote Labour at one, or  both, of the last two general elections. This one is by Leonard James, a secondary science teacher at a comprehensive school and occasional blogger from the south west of England. He tweets as @leonardjamesuk and blogs here. 

A circus sits at the summit of the British education systems managemental hierarchy. It is a toxic mix of feuding CEOs, consultants, gurus and bureaucrats that compete for access to politicians. It is often the ideological differences between some of these people that draws attention but it is their similarities that I find the most concerning. Be it an academic from a subject association or the CEO of a multi academy chain every member of the educational establishment claims to possess expertise about the education system from a position far removed from the day to day operations of schools. They all seek to control schools via targets, specifications and compliance inspection.

This is immensely damaging as the establishment’s lack of knowledge about frontline operations often means that it produces hit and miss policy prioritising things that are often unimportant to teachers and service users. Worse are the inevitable consequences of using targets and specifications as a management tool. Targets always lead to unintended behaviour, teachers who game the system or even cheat to hit targets and the resultant decline in educational standards are a direct result of this. Perhaps the most abhorrent manifestation of target culture is the, often celebrated, minion of Ofsted; a school manager whose modus operandi is inspection not leadership.

It would be unfair to say that every single policy introduced via the educational establishment has been a poor one. For me, Michael Gove’s curriculum reform was good policy in that paved the way for Ofqual removing time consuming and easily exploited controlled assessment from Science GCSEs. It was an immensely popular development amongst Science teachers that will improve provision yet it has been mendaciously opposed by the Science subject associations and the teaching unions whose innate educational progressivism far outweighs the opinions of the teachers they are supposedly representing. The whole sorry episode highlights the dysfunctional nature of the educational establishment as an entity that can’t be trusted on policy.

When educational policy is popular amongst teachers it is usually because it is equitable and it works. Direct collaboration with teachers, head teachers and even service users is surely the most efficient way of devising more of these policies – Ofqual’s excellent consultation about practical work in Science and Ofsted’s recent improvements informed by Sean Harford’s interactions with teachers on social media are examples of this. I would like to see the Labour party distance themselves from the vested interests of the educational establishment and devise educational policy informed by those doing the work instead of those that think they know about it.

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