Julie Clarke: Dear Tristram

This month, in conjunction with #blogsync from Edutronic, we have invited people to write an open letter to Tristram Hunt giving their views on Labour education policy; as it is and as they would like it to be.

From teacher blogger Julie Clarke

Dear Tristram

You seem like such a nice young chap that I’m sure you will be pleased that teachers are taking the time to let you know how they feel and suggest ways that you can excel in your job. Some of us hope you will be able to take notice of our suggestions in a Labour government at the next election.

Tristram, we are desperate and you can make a difference. As a historian, I am sure you will understand only too well the cause of our desperation – we are constantly under attack, besieged and invaded.

What is it about teachers that makes politicians want to meddle in our working lives, play with our conditions of service and denigrate pretty much everything we do? In recent weeks we have been labelled variously as “lazy” and “enemies of promise” by the person who is essentially the ultimate line manager – the Secretary of State (SoS). It’s hardly motivating but more than that, it’s simply not true. Why is teaching uniquely disparaged in this way? YOU can change this by using the language of encouragement and by giving credit where credit’s due.

And then there’s the military arm of the DfE – Ofsted. The bullies and boot boys sent at the behest of the SoS – despite denials to the contrary. Every week Sir Michael Wilshaw finds that we are failing in some way – first the black kids, then the poor kids, then the bright kids, then the not-so-bright kids. I’m not sure how we continue to function as a society when our teaching force seems, according to the Wilshaw world view, to fail just about every cohort. How do we fill the colleges and universities? Then there are the inspections, which are a con trick causing widespread anxiety and often misery. I have blogged separately about the two experiences I had of Ofsted last year – one as a teacher and one as a Governor (yes, I’m that lazy I give up my time to be a Governor at a primary school with which I have no personal connection)which had identical threads. In both cases, the schools were not allowed to be adjudged as anything better than good because of one small element of a whole raft of data. This seems to me to beg the question “What are they doing in schools?” If nothing they see or hear at the school can change their judgement then what is the point? And please don’t think I’m against being accountable. I’m not, but what I would like – and here is where YOU come in – is an honest process that doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t and which doesn’t viciously and deliberately look for fault – witness the fact that some schools had Ofsted inspections in the week we broke up for Christmas when we were all on our knees.

I’m not sure if politicians understand the notion of stability and how important that is in schools. They plainly don’t understand how much time, effort, thought and energy it takes to put together a curriculum, schemes of work, resources and lesson plans. If they did, they would surely not change the curriculum every five minutes. Lots of the changes are good and some overdue but schools can’t make changes in five minutes – well not if you want quality. Politicians plainly don’t understand how much effort we put into working out what is best for each of our pupils. If they did then they would not announce key changes AFTER the start of term and PART WAY THROUGH the course. This year we had rule changes on re-sits that threw our school into days of soul searching and discussion. In the end, we decided to do what we thought was best for the pupils and take the hit, if necessary. Well, guess what…all but four of our November entrants gained at least a C grade. Just think, if we said only the first attempt at the driving test counted we’d have fabulously uncrowded roads for those of who manage to pass first time. (Not me, I might but I’ve managed 31 years of trouble free driving.) YOU could behave in a more measured way considering the impact of your pronouncements on the people at the sharp end. Year in and year out teachers are working like the clappers to make the bloody unworkable workable!! It needs to stop.

Teacher licences … what is that I hear? The clunk of the barrel being scraped! We all have QTS which others have pointed out is, in effect, a licence. We are scrutinised constantly, through performance management, Ofsted, data, learning walks, book scrutinies, parents, governors. Exactly how much monitoring does one profession require? Have you thought about the bureaucracy you would create? Paperwork, files of evidence, and rafts of consultants making money hand over fist- shelled out by the tax-payer – visiting schools to do the granting of licences. And if this is such a fab idea why aren’t we having it for police officers, doctors, lawyers, barristers and fire-fighters? YOU could decide that this is a bit of a nightmare idea and come up with something better. For example that teaching is a degree and qualified profession and that all schools of all varieties must have a fully qualified workforce.

And that brings me to academies and free schools – enough already. Academies had the grain of a moral purpose when they started out – if you overlook the truly appalling PFI caper where public bodies like schools and hospitals are put in hock for donkey’s years because we’re afraid to put taxes up a bit. Academies were originally designed to be in areas of deprivation and to show their pupils what is possible and thus raise their aspirations. They were about ensuring our young people are educated in buildings that don’t leak or crumble on a daily basis. Of course, academies and now Free Schools – except they’re not-are actually about the privatisation of education. Selling our children’s futures to those with their own agenda – generally a faith one – lining the pockets of the sharks and the shrewd – many of them prominent Tory supporters and financers. YOU could put a stop to this and bring the schools back in to public “ownership” overseen by – let me think about this – local authorities!

YOU could decide not to mess with our conditions of service – longer days, fewer holidays to mention but two elements. Anyone who has been in a school for any length of time knows that in week six everyone is tired, focus is harder to maintain, tempers are frayed for both staff and pupils. Working days may seem short but when do politicians think the planning and marking gets done? And the various meetings? And the extra-curricula stuff. If the hours and holidays are so fantastic how come there hasn’t been a stampede to join the profession? Puzzling.

I have other ideas but that’s enough to be going on with. Except one last thing – perhaps it would be a good idea to talk to actual real teachers – a whole variety of them and not just ones in London. Venture to the North West, for example and see what teachers think, feel, need, want and have to offer. Aim to be SoS who isn’t autocratic, self-aggrandising and creating an education system based on your own experience but who wants to work in partnership with the profession.

What a relief that would be.

Twitter: @JulieEClarke

This post was originally posted on Julie’s own site, Love learning

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