The Five Worst Education Clichés | @oldandrewuk

photo (10)Andrew is a teacher and editor of Labour Teachers (and writing in a personal capacity). 

George Orwell, in Politics And The English Language, described how a stock phrase, or cliché, could stifle thought. Sentiments that seem disreputable, if clearly expressed, will instead be expressed obscurely and in familiar, over-used phrases.

“As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.”

If I had to identify the phrases used in education that do most to obscure the clear expression of ideas, I would pick the following:

1) “regurgitating facts”. This cliché has become such a crutch for those who oppose testing that I’ve seen it used twice in the same Guardian letters page. But as unpleasant as it sounds, it means little more than “recalling knowledge”. You could argue that the word “facts” indicates a particularly disjointed or atomised form of knowledge, but in practice it would be hard to distinguish between information recalled as facts and that recalled in any other form. Regurgitation might seem to suggest that the recalled knowledge is in some way undigested, but how do we “digest” knowledge other than by recalling it?

2) “a political football”. Education, properly understood, involves consideration of what is worth learning. This is a  philosophical argument, and one where its conclusions will determine the spending of billions of pounds of public money. This is necessarily and obviously political. To put the power to make such ideological judgements outside of democratic control, seems immediately tyrannical. And that’s where this cliché comes in. Public discourse involving those who have been elected to office and are subject to public scrutiny, is dismissed as a game by those who would see less democracy in education and more bureaucracy and control by unaccountable vested interests.

3)  “exam factories”. Another cliché used to argue against academic education and testing. Rather than arguing over what forms of assessment work, or are necessary, we have this dismissal of exams and the implication is that to actually find out objectively, and on a large scale, what is being learnt in schools requires an artificial and mechanical process. While exam systems can be bureaucratic and unhelpful, only in education would objectivity and efficiency be feared. Though the greatest irony here is that, in many respects, the alternatives to exams might seem more like factory work. Anyone involved in the “manufacture” of coursework might see the irony here. Those recommending subjective teacher assessment as an alternative to exams are surely only imitating the “performance management” culture of many private companies, including those that run factories.

4) “educating the whole child”. An odd phrase, given that I have never met a teacher that sought only to educate parts of a child. In practice, of course, it is not the child that is to be treated as a whole, but their life. If you want to extend the scope of education beyond the academic, into therapy, social work, entertainment, preaching and parenting, then this cliché can be used to suggest all aspects of a child’s life fall in the domain of teachers. If you have any faith in parents or a wider community; any belief learning is so important that there should be a profession dedicated to helping children with this above all else, or if you are simply concerned about the intrusion of the state into family life and leisure, then you can, as a teacher, happily develop the whole child’s intellect without feeling you are only doing part of your job.

5) ”one size fits all”. We tend to assume that, at least as a default, human beings should have equal rights and equal entitlements. Therefore, if children are to be treated differently, we would hope to justify it by demonstrating that the outcomes might still be equal or, if that’s not the case, by demonstrating that inequality is justified in pursuit of another aim. The “one size fits all” cliché, beloved both of right wing advocates of selection and left wing opponents of an academic tradition, seeks to reverse this principle. Suddenly those who support equal rights and equal entitlements for all children are expected to explain why they are ignoring differences between children, rather than those who support inequality demonstrating that the differences they perceive justify different and/or unequal treatment.

My challenge to anyone who feels inclined to use any of these phrases in education discussion is to try to express the same idea in your own words. If you find that this makes your argument fall apart, or your opinion seem less plausible, then take this as an indicator that it is time to reconsider.

“You’d never know they were tuition fees…” | @ruthyie

R Smith@ruthyie is a Physics and Chemistry teacher in Oxfordshire and a member of Witney CLP.

Overheard c1998, “You’d never know they were tuition fees…”

I had a rare and precious free evening and was going to sew up the electronic configuration-fabric summer dress that has been cut out for a year, when I saw the call for Labour Teachers posts. I must have been feeling carefree, because my mind turned to HE rather than our beleaguered secondary sector.

As a Y12 tutor, I provide advice on universities and routes to employment. I often cite that I was in the first cohort to be charged £1000 tuition fees, 1998. Back then, a girl from my sixth form college held out on payment in protest almost all year. I saw how my parents, who had saved to help us with maintenance, now had to shell out for three siblings on 4-year courses. It’s a foisted-on debt; not worth counting or rushing to pay off. But was it for tuition?

At Oxford, it soon became apparent that not all lecturers were any good at speaking, let alone teaching. I remember filling in a feedback form that called for one particular lecturer – easy on the eye, reassuring northern accent, left-handed so we could see the board – to deliver them all. It was easy to say ‘so much for the tuition fees’. The lie was in in the name, though. The cost of providing a university course transcends mere ‘tuition’ – for example, libraries and subscriptions and any services not obviously in the capital funding pot. These ‘fees’ have always been funding shaved off that given from the government to the institutions.

The HEFCE’s Funding Guide charts how the government’s payments to undergraduate courses have decreased from 2010 alone as fees have increased to £9000 (p18) (NB increase in funds is due to projected increase in student numbers):
HEFCE chart
The basic situation now is that no extra funding is allocated for pen/paper/waste-paper basket degrees, and the payments per student for studio, laboratory and clinical courses are significantly smaller than their 2009 levels:

Band 2009 £ per student 2015 £ per student
A clinical 15 788 10 000
B laboratory 6 710 1 500
C1 technical, art, archeology 5 131 250
C2 language labs, field work etc 5 131 0
D classroom-based 3 947 0

from https://www.shef.ac.uk/finance/staff-information/howfinanceworks/higher_education/calculate_grants and http://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/HEFCE,2014/Content/Pubs/2015/201504/2015_04.pdf p19

When fees went from £6000 to £9000, the government basically took well over £3000 off every undergraduate degree yet led students to believe they were buying more.

That, according to the HE white paper, “Success as a Knowledge Economy”, universities are somehow supposed to improve the quality of their teaching so that ‘taxpayers’ get value for money in this tight climate is somewhat rich. It is admirable to improve quality of teaching, but it should be for its own end, not for ‘value for money’. University courses have delivered priceless education for centuries.

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to be set up will involve a panel including employers and students. Student satisfaction surveys already skew the various ‘Top 100’ lists of institutions and the white paper states that there is no current evidence about the quality of teaching (point 9, p43). In the 2017/18 academic year, will universities be measured by the TEF against a raft of opinions about teaching quality, contact time and readiness for the workplace? Where is the value of academic learning and time spent reading and thinking for oneself? I shiver when I consider the feedback forms I filled in!

My second gripe is the complete absence, in the white paper, of the link between quality of research in an institution and quality of teaching. Being taught by those at the forefront of research should contribute a weighting in the TEF. Research Excellence is well-established.

This white paper seriously needs to revisit the purpose of higher education. Clue: the word ‘Market’ should not appear.

There is a consultation of the construction of the TEF, open till 12 July.

Don’t let the word ‘technical’ put you off – it wants input on:

  • how the TEF will assess teaching excellence;
  • the criteria that will define teaching excellence;
  • how judgements about excellence will be made, including the evidence base and use of core metrics;
  • how TEF outcomes will be communicated.

Labour Teachers needs you more than ever | @oldandrewuk

photo (10)Andrew is a teacher and editor of Labour Teachers (and writing in a personal capacity). 

About a month ago I wrote a post desperately appealing for more blogs. I observed that we’d had similar difficulties a year before; this half term seems to be the toughest.

However, what I’d forgotten is that a year ago there was a general election which, perhaps not surprisingly, prompted a lot of posts and political activity. This year, the lull in posts for the half term after the Easter holidays has just continued. I have reduced the number of posts per week from 7 to 6, by using Saturday’s slot for a round-up of the week’s posts, but still we are struggling from day to day.

Obviously, if this continues we can just reduce the number of posts further. However, I suspect things might pick up soon, as primary teachers recover from the SATs, year 11s leave and half-term starts. So there’s a fair chance we can keep going without a further reduction in posts, if we just get through the next week and a half.

So here’s the pitch: Labour Teachers exists to provide a forum for Labour supporting teachers. There is no editorial line other than that and we encourage debate and we try not to turn down any posts at all. The only real guidance on content is that posts should be of interest to Labour supporting teachers, which means they don’t always have to be about education, and they don’t always have to be overtly political. We would like to get as many Labour supporting teachers taking part as possible, so if you have something to say, please get in touch.

We also run a schedule that gives people a regular slot. Please get in touch if you’d like to write for us every month or every two months.

If you are stuck for what to post about,  the Queen’s Speech today springs to mind. But also it would be interesting to hear your views about how to vote in the referendum on the EU. I believe there have been changes today in who is running Scottish education, and it would be great to get in touch with some Scottish Labour Teachers. I don’t think we have published anything on the recent education white paper that wasn’t about the proposals for academies, so anything about that would be great. Recently there’s been debate online between teachers about whether teachers should use social media anonymously or not and about whether schools should make use of permanent exclusions, feel free to add your views on this site.

Anyway, if you are a Labour supporting teacher we hope to hear from you. Further details of how to contribute can be found here. Also, if you can share this post with anyone you know who is a Labour supporting teacher, that would also be appreciated.

Thank you.

Forget “Nasty Zac” – the dog whistle was blown from Downing Street | @doktordunc

me coolDuncan Hall (@doktordunc) is a lecturer in FE from Yorkshire. He’s a self-described “old Bennite” and always happy to engage in a debate, so comment away!

A lot has been made of Zac Goldsmith’s Lynton Crosby, “nasty party” campaign for London Mayor with its air of Islamophobia; a campaign that sought to divide the city not unite it. The campaign drew plenty of criticism of Tories (mostly after the polls had closed) with Sayeeda Warsi, Steve Hilton, Ken Clarke, Andrew Boff and others all saying that it had damaged the party, especially with Muslims but across the board too, with Hilton saying that “the nasty party” image was back.

Of course, they are absolutely right, but it seems surprising that they should aim their fire purely at Goldsmith or, in Clarke’s case, at some unnamed “advisor” when the dog whistle was blown so loudly and firmly by much more senior people than Zac Goldsmith.

Top of the list must be the Prime Minister himself who chose to use the big stage of Prime Minister’s Questions to do precisely what so many Tories have criticised Goldsmith for. Cameron twice chose to highlight the fact that Khan had “nine times” shared a platform with radical imam, Suliman Gani. Cameron twice chose (with slightly different words) to allege that Gani supported “IS”. Even after Jeremy Corbyn pointed out to Cameron that Gani was a Conservative and had campaigned with Conservatives against Khan (because of Khan’s support for gay marriage) and even after a “selfie” of Gani with Goldsmith had gone viral, Cameron repeated his bizarre statements. The second time he made the comments he would also have been aware that Gani – whatever his other views – had spoken on platforms opposing ISIS/Daesh and was never a supporter. This didn’t stop Michael Fallon repeating the allegations.

After the election, Cameron chose to apologise for the “misunderstanding”. What he had meant was that Gani supported “an Islamic state”, not “IS”. Of course this was all planned and calculated. Cameron made a big deal about how we should call the organisation Daesh and not IS only a few months ago. As he accused Gani of supporting “IS” he knew full well that what he was saying was untrue.

At least on the second occasion that Cameron used PMQs to berate Khan for who he shared a platform with, he must have been aware that Gani was a Tory who opposed Khan (and didn’t support ISIS/Daesh anyway) but chose to repeat the claims anyway. Because associating Sadiq Khan with terrorism and extremism in people’s minds was more important than telling the truth. Winning a municipal election was more important than honesty, decency, community relations, opposing racism. Fallon later suggested this was all part of the “rough and tumble of elections”.

It isn’t.

It’s dreadful behaviour and David Cameron is not a fit and proper person to hold the office of Prime Minister.

Educating the Whole Child | @JulesDaulby

unknownJules Daulby is an advisory teacher for SENSS (SEN Specialist Service) in Dorset. Originally a Secondary English and Drama teacher, she has also taught in Further Education, Higher Education and for Parent Partnership.

Today I had two reminders of educating the whole child and how, by doing this, one sees various parts of said child.

Reminder 1

A group of year 11 students who follow a Level 1 ASDAN Certificate of Personal Effectiveness organised an American buffet for some key staff today. They all had roles and we were invited via email. On arrival I was officially welcomed by the student in charge of meet and greet. I then helped myself to a bagel and some pretzels advised by the person in charge of savoury food. Behind the buffet was a huge drawing of the American flag annotated with ’50 stars for 50 states’ and ’13 stripes  for the first 13 colonies’. On the ceiling was Trump/Obama bunting, possibly my favourite touch.

After filling my savoury plate I was taken to the drinks bar to choose from cream soda or coca cola.  And once I scoffed my bagel I went over to the dessert area to be served pancakes with maple syrup and cream. There were also Oreos and cookies. When I finished and had to return to my class (who were being brilliantly supervised by two TAs), I was handed a feedback form. ‘What did I like?’ What could be improved’? And smiley or sad faces for evaluation purposes.

The experience was interesting; one student was quite stressed by the responsibility telling me he found it hectic and another struggled to multi-task pouring drinks and giving out spoons for the pancakes. There was no music as the boy in charge of this had gone home. What was absolutely clear to me however was that this event was a learning opportunity and, just before study leave, I realised how many more life skills these students who are leaving us on Friday, still needed.

Reminder 2

I came home this evening to three girls up to their elbows in flour. They were making Mayan tortillas. Rather than the SATs parties Nicky Morgan complains of, my daughter had a Mayan day. She went to school  dressed in Mayan costume. They learned ‘codeX’ (I’m trusting my daughter here), Mayan writing and designed and painted a Mayan God.

Next came Mayan maths; learning numbers and adding them up. They then went into the kitchen and tasted Mayan chocolate and made tortillas. Once home, Katy taught her sisters how to make the tortillas and they all sat and ate them with great satisfaction.

 image1 (6)

What fabulous learning days for the whole child. Dare I suggest that the current narrative of learning every second of the day does not always have to be the tangible tick boxes and multiple choice questions so many advocate? Let’s celebrate teaching the whole child.

The DfE Workload Protocol – a review | @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.

It’s a little over a year now since the DfE published its “protocol for changes to accountability, curriculum and qualifications”. The document was pulled together as part of the department’s response to the Workload Challenge that drew over 40,000 responses from teachers, and intended to set out how the DfE would change its practices to help reduce (or at least, not increase) teachers’ workloads.

So how has it gone? Well, certainly from a primary point of view: not well. Let me address some of its key points:

  1. New policies relating to curriculum and assessment should introduced “at the beginning of the school year”.
  2. There should be a lead in time of at least a year for changes that have an impact on staff workload. Primary schools started this year with no idea of what teacher assessment would look like. Even overlooking the fact that exemplification materials were produced as late as Easter, the framework itself wasn’t even available until after the start of the academic year. Rather than a lead-in time of a year, we didn’t even have it on time! The frameworks were also intended to be interim – it doesn’t leave much time for a replacement to be in place with a lead in time of a year.
  3. The department should avoid changes during a key stage. Arguably, the protocol came too late to affect the changes to statutory assessment, but pupils have been required to sit tests based on a 4-year programme of study after just 2 years. The teacher assessment framework changed during the final year of the key stage, and looks about to again for 2017.
  4. Significant changes should take into account the impact on workload. The disaster of teacher assessment this year has led to delaying the process and altering the moderation arrangements entirely to try to counter the unmanageable workload that has been introduced. The introduction of a new approach will doubtless add to the burden.
  5. The DfE won’t ask Ofsted to change the handbook. Well, they got this right at least. I can’t help but wonder whether the credit ought to go as much to Ofsted as to the department, though!

Hardly a clean bill of health for the department. And no indication of any reduction in teacher workload so far… it seems we still have a challenge on our hands.

Posts for the Week Ending 13th May 2016 on @LabourTeachers

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

Testing Times | @davowillz

As I’ve blogged about before and as has been widely reported in the UK politicians and bureaucrats have managed to pervert almost every sort of assessment I have ever  encountered in the last 14 years. Largely this is a result of increasing the stakes. I think when you begin teaching you don’t really understand why there is such a fuss about league tables, but after a while you see how pernicious and prevalent their influence is. I’m sure at this point someone will quote some statistics to me to prove that league tables have actually dramatically improved standards, because, of course, if the numbers are going up the quality of education must be improving, right?

Monday

Musings on the Academies U-Turn | @68ron

Here are some reasons why the academies u-turn is good news. I think it demonstrates quite clearly that there is a lack of coherent strategy at the heart of government. It was odd how this policy was announced by the Chancellor in the first place and then odder still how it was left to the Education Secretary to announce the U-turn (however partial).

Tuesday

Repeating History | @MikeBerkoff

Let us look back to the interwar era. The London County Council (1889 – 1965) and other major conurbations performed huge actions that eventually lead to the setting up of the welfare state and the model for a proper universal education service. The LCC became Labour in 1934. Think of that time. The country was stuck in years of right wing government.  That government was ideologically wedded to major austerity and lack of intervention in the economy.

Wednesday

FE, politics and the impact on teachers | @DebLFisher

The Further Education sector includes students from fourteen years upwards who study programs from basic literacy and numeracy through to postgraduate courses. My A-level class the other year ranged in age from 16 to 70 years old. The FE sector is made up of voluntary, public and private institutes and is funded by government, employers, agencies and individuals. Hillier (2007) writes that it is ‘seen increasingly by policy-makers to be fundamental to the economic success of the country as well as contributing to the well-being of society.’ And that ‘a distinct feature of the sector is its flexibility, particularly when being subject to numerous policy initiatives aimed at ensuring residents in England are knowledgeable, skilled and qualified to meet the challenges of a fast changing globalized world.’

Thursday

Will anyone admit they were wrong? | @oldandrewuk

I said after the general election that I thought the the key to winning general elections is to actually try to win them. That’s why I thought Labour’s leadership election was a disaster. We elected a leader who seemed almost guaranteed to reduce our chances of winning.

Friday

School leadership can teach the party some things | @RosMcM

Some random thoughts – probably poorly thought through, but they seemed appropriate as they spilled out!

NB When reading these notes think:

School leader = Party leader

School leadership team = shadow cabinet

Staff = PLP

When you are leading a school you need to be aware of the different individuals and groups in the staff room and deploy them effectively.

School leadership can teach the party some things | @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.

Some random thoughts – probably poorly thought through, but they seemed appropriate as they spilled out!

NB When reading these notes think:

School leader = Party leader

School leadership team = shadow cabinet

Staff = PLP

When you are leading a school you need to be aware of the different individuals and groups in the staff room and deploy them effectively.

There are the “impassioned idealists”. These staff are essential in developing vision and brilliant in working with the NQTs. If nurtured carefully, and supported through the emotional drain the job can have on them, they are highly productive and a great advert for the ethos of your school. If unguided and unmanaged they can become very unpopular with their peers pretty damn quickly as they allow their ideals and passion to become sanctimonious and condemning of other colleagues weariness. They are definitely not best at representing you at a “Fair Access Panel” meeting! I was an impassioned idealist once and I experienced being poorly managed and also being brilliantly mentored and managed. As a school leader I valued my impassioned idealists to remind me and everyone else about why were there – especially in the toughest times and I always felt that keeping the impassioned idealists on board was a Key Performance Iindicator of my leadership skills and great moral purpose.

Then there are the “technocrats”. These staff get jobs done efficiently; always quick to understand business strategy, whether that is improving teaching, maximising value for money, implementing strategy or delivering named objectives. Again technocrats need nurturing and mentoring and it is vital to use them appropriately. Great at timetabling and delivering CPD programmes, but may need some careful “pairing up” with others when developing vision and ethos. I learned to be a technocrat when a deputy head and thoroughly enjoyed being allowed to glory in “the job well done”.

Every school has its “magicians”. These staff are generally quiet and often operate in their own areas weaving magic on a daily basis without anyone else being aware of what they are doing. Most magicians are natural introverts and if they are not noticed and nurtured the school will never benefit from their particular magic. Their inherent creativity can make them “loose cannons” and so they need to be coaxed into overall strategic development in order that the school benefits and that they are developed. I have never been a magician, but I have always found them and made sure that they have a voice, which can be very difficult as they find the technocrats quite intimidating.

It is usually quite easy to spot the “careerists” as they are the ones who are desperate to please and get it right. They volunteer easily and are willing to work well outside of their brief. Careerists can often be misunderstood by their peers who see their desire to “get it right” and “get on” as some kind of personal self-aggrandisement. Actually careerists need mentoring to become the natural servants of the system and the school, because their ambitions are actually about making things better starting with themselves. I was always a careerist and I needed to be mentored to understand that my desire to change the world for the better demanded I develop an understanding of those who didn’t share that drive.

And, of course, all staff rooms contain the “survivors”. These colleagues just want to do the job they were trained for and do it well. Teaching is how they earn their living; not an all-consuming, self-defining aspect of their lives. These colleagues need to trust the direction the leadership are taking, they need to feel supported and valued and if they don’t then the school is in serious trouble because they fall into the next group – although the they are not natural members of that group. There have been occasional times in my life when I have been a survivor – all I needed then was to be well led in order to do my job well.

And my final (gross over exaggeration) category is the “born cynics”. The best thing a school leader does with these is make sure they are isolated or gets rid of them. You have to be very careful with this group as most of their members are not “born cynics” at all; they have been forced into that group through poor leadership. I nearly became a born cynic once but thankfully instead of the impassioned idealist joining this group, the bit of me that was careerist sought the development I needed to avoid it. Good school leaders dissect this group of staff, reinspire them into their natural group of the above, and then get rid of the hardcore.

And so a school leader needs to ensure they have a leadership team containing the natural impassioned idealists, the natural technocrats, the magicians and the careerists. The great school leader makes sure that such a team values each member of the team, understands what each other offers, develops their skills so that they can ultimately work across natural groupings, and directs them to ensure the entire staff receive the development they need. Such a team gains the trust of the staff.

But perhaps most importantly – leadership is about leading. It is about understanding how important all the staff are, but about exercising your power to make the difficult decisions. Leadership is not about seeking popularity – popularity is a bonus – sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. It is about compromising in order to get things done. Hence the need for your impassioned idealists in the background, the need for your technocrats who know how to get things done, your magicians for their inspiration and your careerists for their commitment to making things better. Ultimately leadership is the exercise of power and the understanding of how to gain it, keep it, and exercise it for the greatest good without the loss of moral purpose, but with realism.

The Labour Party currently has elected an impassioned idealist to lead them. Someone with none of this understanding. I suspect that part of our unelectability currently is that we have a leader who has his place in our party, but who the electorate can easily spot has no understanding of the complexities in exercising leadership of any organisation. Why would anyone trust him with leading the country? Meanwhile his PLP seem to have no clue about how to deal with the problem.

Will anyone admit they were wrong? | @oldandrewuk

photo (10)Andrew is a teacher and editor of Labour Teachers (and writing in a personal capacity). 

I said after the general election that I thought the the key to winning general elections is to actually try to win them. That’s why I thought Labour’s leadership election was a disaster. We elected a leader who seemed almost guaranteed to reduce our chances of winning.

However, many people claimed that I was mistaken, and that our chances of victory would be improved by a swing to the left. The arguments were largely as follows: Labour lost because we were too close to the Tories. Even under Ed Miliband. Moving further to the left would win back disillusioned people who found Ed Miliband too right wing. This seemed odd because the polling suggested Ed Miliband was seen as quite left-wing by the electorate:

Left-Right-02

However, this was ignored. Suddenly “Red Ed” was a closet Tory who had betrayed us. I heard repeatedly that non-voters and SNP voters (and most implausibly of all, UKIP voters) would return to Labour under Corbyn.  And no, nobody could support any of that with hard data.

The first real test of the theory was last week. Labour stood on a left-wing platform in Scotland, and ended up in third place behind the Tories. In England we actually managed to lose council seats. In Wales, we lost control of the Assembly and saw UKIP become significant for the first time. Only in London, the one place where the party put forward a more conspicuously more moderate option than 4 years ago, did we make significant progress.

As you can imagine, people who supported Corbyn have fallen over themselves to admit that they were wrong about our electoral prospects.

Oh no, wait…they haven’t.

We have instead become the party of low expectations. People have seriously argued that doing worse than Ed Miliband is still a remarkable triumph or no worse than the party should expect. I’ve heard one theory after another to explain how the strategy that just failed to deliver will still work. Or how, if it doesn’t, then the leadership of the party will still be blameless. If we aren’t blaming the media, we are blaming the “disloyalty” of those in the party who warned this would happen. Two different ways of blaming the messenger. And don’t get me started with the people who just pretended we hadn’t lost ground.

No doubt pointing this out will also be seen as disloyalty on my part. But you have a chance to persuade me to abandon this complaint. Tell me when Labour’s recovery will happen. Not, when will we win a general election, but when will we be able to say we are doing better now than under Ed Miliband. And if you can’t tell me that, and can’t get it right, then for pity’s sake, admit that we’ve made a huge mistake. A political party that isn’t interested in winning elections isn’t principled, it’s pointless.

FE, politics and the impact on teachers | @DebLFisher

DebbieDebbie has been a member of the Labour Party since her eighteenth birthday. She teaches history at a general FE institute. She believes passionately in the importance of everyone having the opportunity to develop and thrive and that education is key to this.

The Further Education sector includes students from fourteen years upwards who study programs from basic literacy and numeracy through to postgraduate courses. My A-level class the other year ranged in age from 16 to 70 years old. The FE sector is made up of voluntary, public and private institutes and is funded by government, employers, agencies and individuals. Hillier (2007) writes that it is ‘seen increasingly by policy-makers to be fundamental to the economic success of the country as well as contributing to the well-being of society.’ And that ‘a distinct feature of the sector is its flexibility, particularly when being subject to numerous policy initiatives aimed at ensuring residents in England are knowledgeable, skilled and qualified to meet the challenges of a fast changing globalized world.’

However, Hillier (2007) notes that FE does not enjoy the same status as higher education of compulsory education. Foster (2005) called FE the ‘Cinderella’ or ‘middle child’ of the education system. While, Lingfield (2012, p. 2o) goes further claiming it has been ‘infantilised’ by the excessive demands placed on it by success government’s. Smith (2016) a Director at the City and Guilds argues that we are ‘currently experiencing the most significant period of change in the FE sector for decades” and that … “the reform agenda they have set in motion is putting huge pressure on colleges.’

Kinman and Wray (2015 cited Hunt 2015) research for UCU which surveyed 2,250 staff working in FE colleges, found that in 2008 74 % of staff agreed with the statement, “I find my job stressful”, compared to 87% in 2015. Stress was higher in the FE section of education than any other with 70% of respondents agreeing that too many changes had been introduced in their workplace. This coupled with heavy workloads and a lack of control over working practices were identified as the most stressful aspect of working in FE. Only 10% of respondents found high satisfaction with their job. Satisfaction with fellow workers and line managers remained high, with the lowest levels of satisfaction linked to senior management.

UCU (2016) found that 34% of teaching staff in 220 FE colleges are employed on insecure contracts. They claim ‘’anecdotal evidence backed up by research suggests that insecure contracts undermine teachers’ ability to do a good job” which is something I have experienced. This includes “poor access to facilities and training”, while I had full access to facilities I was denied the right to undertake my teaching qualification until I was given a contract in my third teaching year. I have also experienced the unpaid preparation time meaning one “can only get their job done by putting in unpaid hours”, Wilson (2014, p. 600) notes that ‘The professional approach to work does come at a cost…the teacher does a significant amount of planning, preparation and marking at home.’ I know all teachers put in countless extra unpaid hours and we all do it because we want to do a good job. However, it seems it fair when I am paid significantly less than my colleagues with similar teaching workloads but all their hours on their contract.

I also face the constant stress UCU (2016) notes “about future availability of work”. My permanent contract is only for 6.5 teaching hours per a week despite teaching anything from 16 to 24 hours per week with the rest of my hours on a temporary increase in hours or through an agency. Hours that I want to spend at this busy time of year on student coursework marking and exam preparation and my own DET coursework are been spread even thinner by the need to apply for new jobs.

References

Foster (2005) Review of the Future of FE Colleges, available on http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/5535/1/realising06.pdf [accessed on 02/05/16].

Hiller, Y. ‘Further and Adult Education’ in Brock, C. (ed.) (2007) Education in the United Kingdom, London: Bloomsbury.

Lingfield, R. (2012) ‘Professionalism in further education review: final report’ available on https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/422247/bis-12-1198-professionalism-in-further-education-review-final-report.pdf [accesssed on 24/04/16].

University and College Union (2016) New report lays bare endemic use of insecure contracts in colleges, available on https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/8166/New-report-lays-bare-endemic-use-of-insecure-contracts-in-colleges, [accessed on 24/04/16].

Smith, M. (2016) ‘Opinion: The changing FE sector – risk or opportunity?’ available on TES on https://www.tes.com/news/further-education/breaking-views/opinion-changing-fe-sector-risk-or-opportunity [accessed on 24/04/16]