MINI-BLOGS WEEK: Give Teachers A Voice | @travelgeordie

MiniBlogsWeekRichard Donnelly is a Geography teacher and Director of Connecting the Curriculum at an Inner London Academy.  Originally from the North East of England, he has been a Labour supporter his whole life.  

Jeremy Corbyn has called for ‘grown up’ politics and ‘open debate’ about policy.  This democratic approach to leadership could appeal to teachers and also energise a grassroots movement and teachers’ voice in policy making.  In places such as Singapore and Finland, teachers play an integral role in policy formation and this could partly explain their high performance in global comparisons such as PISA.  Here, neoliberal forces and hierarchical decision and policy making lead to high stakes accountability that can be destructive to learning and teacher morale.  The book ‘Flip the System’ by Jelmer Evers and Rene Kneyber includes chapters by various educators who call for a ‘collective autonomy’ for teachers.  I work in a fabulous school that encourages my own self-efficacy and collaboration with colleagues.  However, I would also like to have a voice in wider policy making.  Teachers who work at the chalk face of education should have this opportunity.  A ‘College of Teaching’ that claims to be free from political influence is one thing, however, an authentic grassroots movement that gives ordinary teachers a voice would be even more powerful.  Under Corbyn, Unions would be supported.  Yes unions should stand for teachers as a worker; salary and industrial working conditions for example.  However, unions should also encourage teachers’ voice in and support a ‘democratic professionalism’.  Unions can help teachers to assert their agency as professionals and influence policy making decisions alongside embracing big conversations about education.  How and if this would work is open to discussion but under the new labour leadership, this could thrive.

MINI-BLOGS WEEK: The Devil’s in the Detail | @JulesDaulby

MiniBlogsWeekJules 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.

I spend a long time getting my students to write well crafted sentences. We are working on capital letters, full stops and conjunctions. Last week we did singular and plural nouns and how to write ‘c’ and its cousins in cursive. We also read some Holes, watched a bit of the film and practised some initial blends.

Normal English lessons right? But to my students I am fussy, fussy, fussy…’that C isn’t quite on the line’, ‘no that’s the wrong direction’, ‘form the letter don’t draw it’. ‘Where’s your full stop?’ ‘Read that sentence again; you’ve missed out the preposition’.

In an hour lesson, we might only write two sentences but they’re really good sentences. We may have spent time talking where I’m reinforcing good language – encouraging them to talk to me in sentences, to expand their vocabulary- all good quality first teaching.

See? I have high expectations- my students in our Speech and Language base, who take mainstream lessons except for English with me, are being pushed, work hard – never give up.

Our work is quality not quantity, it’s detailed, slow and demands accuracy. It’s complex, they are complex but the government’s blanket policies and rhetoric of ‘all’ must get a ‘C’ is simplistic and conveys a damaging message.

I’m all for my students learning academic subjects but the end result does not need to be an exam they will ultimately fail in – we need options – we need to show progress and success – the devil’s in the detail.

MINI-BLOGS WEEK: A New Member Writes | @danielharvey9

MiniBlogsWeekDaniel is an experienced and old teacher who has been teaching since 1992. He has been voting and supporting Labour since the 87 election and is someone who is appalled at the way that Cameron et al see and run this country. He also tries to coach rugby. 

As you will be able to tell, this post was written earlier this week.

I joined the Labour Party the weekend after the election – oddly whilst in a supermarket car park on a Sunday afternoon listening to the football. I really thought that the many many people who rightly want to challenge the current ideology dividing this nation would galvanise themselves into an effective, purposeful and where necessary forceful opposition. That was four months ago….

Today is the start of the Labour Conference. Jeremy Corbyn has been leader – can we call him a leader, does he do leadership? – for two whole weeks. I have thought of many blog posts for Labour Teachers about how I feel about him, the raised expectations around exactly what Corbyn can do and wants to do. Today, we find out the conference are not going to debate Trident at the conference – mainly because the support for it is quite evident, and Corbyn might end up with a policy he might not like.

I  don’t see him as a leader and a prime minister. This might not be popular with my fellow members who all voted for him but I have to ask what exactly is he going to say to the British people to make them see Labour as a credible choice for Government? Is he going to crowd source all his ideas and policies? This is what he signed up for – to lead. His predecessors – both Harman and Miliband – both failed spectacularly to convince and enthuse the party of the purpose Labour is for. I feel that Corbs just won’t be able to do this because all his career he has taken the high road – in his view – and not seen the need to compromise and develop consensus. Europe, the economy, defence, foreign policy and education policy all  need rational and responsible positions to be secured and yet all we have each week is rolling lottery of who says what about what they personally think; this is not going to work.

MINI-BLOGS WEEK: How Labour won the biggest education argument | @LeeDonaghy

MiniBlogsWeekLee Donaghy is a former history teacher and assistant head who in February left teaching to be a full time dad. He lives in the East Midlands.

A little over a week ago the Conservative Teachers blog was launched and the first slew of posts have been explainers for why the contributors are Conservative teachers, with a couple of them entitled: ‘Why I believe the Conservative Party is best placed to deliver a fair start for all’.

Consider this quote from the second post, by Luke Black:

‘I am a Conservative teacher because I want to secure the best future for all children in this country…because I cannot sit back and watch a child’s future dictated by their socio-economic background…because I believe in equality and want to make our society fairer.’

Imagine hearing a Conservative of the ‘Nasty Party’ era 15, 20 years ago writing that? Me neither. In my view this shift in the Tories’ attitude is to be welcomed. But it is also evidence that since 1997 Labour has won the big argument on education: it is now a political shibboleth that demographics need (indeed should) not be destiny. Pupils’ educational achievement is far too highly correlated with their socio-economic circumstances, this is unjust and the main thrust of education policy should be to close the various achievement gaps that persist.

Two thoughts about this:

Firstly, it should give those who would continue to question the motivations of Tory policies pause for thought. We still disagree in many ways on the how, but we’ve forced them to concede the what.

Secondly, it has created a problem for Labour. We won the big argument, what next?

MINI-BLOGS WEEK: The Tradgressives | @Oldprimaryhead1

MiniBlogsWeekOld Primary Head otherwise known as Brian Walton has been a head teacher for over 10 years in schools across the South. He is a national leader of education and strives to work in partnerships.

I can hear the traditionalists shouting at their typewriters, “That’s NOT a word?” I initially went with Tragressive but that showed some dodgy Google results.

On my progressive side I still fume if I hear a teacher say anything negative about children. We are the adults and they are children. They will lie, swear, not listen, threaten, make mistakes and a whole list of other things that challenge our teaching. Life is complicated and even more so when you are 11. I don’t believe one way works and though I wish it was simple it is not. Life is complicated and education should not be about exams alone. Education matters and it is about preparation for life (which includes the prequel).

BUT, (Sorry traditionalists!) recently I have been intrigued by things I once dismissed. Ed Hirsch being one example. Suddenly I am questioning myself. Maybe this is what makes a good progressive? Question everything, change it, tweak it, slap its cheeks and ruffle its hair. I feel that our party should be embracing both sides. The danger is there could be an expectation of left wing heavy policy. I don’t adhere to a left, a right or a centre. Policy should sway and focus based on what is needed – what is right. There has never been a better time to look at practice, research and evidence in schools (Not the favoured few please) to push for a strong and solid education policy.

But give it a better name…

MINI-BLOGS WEEK: A Report From Women’s Conference | @lisaharford1

MiniBlogsWeekLisa is a Primary Teacher and former Deputy Head Teacher in Cambridgeshire. She has particular education interests in mentoring and coaching, EYFS and gender.

To reflect on something well, an individual needs distance and perspective. Space to consider what has been seen and heard and time to evaluate ideas and concepts are important. Ability to synthesize information and to follow through to logical conclusions are also necessary. Being able to imagine what those ideas might look like in the real world and to adapt them to the context in which one operates is key.

Yesterday, as I sat with hundreds of other women, in a packed hall, with a pervasive buzz of excitement everywhere, I didn’t have a hope in hell of achieving any of those things. It was thrilling! It was dramatic! Anything was possible! There was a sense of expectation and we weren’t disappointed:

 ”The key to equality for women is feminists in positions of power – not just female politicians in high office.”

Kezia Dugdale MSP

This was the ‘stand out’ comment for me from the Labour Women’s Conference and I joined all the women in that hall who stood to applaud those powerful and important words.

Away from the heady atmosphere of the conference though, the reflection process has begun. Whilst recognising the tremendous improvements won in the past and the immense contributions made by so very many women to improve equality in every sphere of society, I still feel cheated. My unease firstly stems from the knowledge that Harriet Harman MP only successfully reinstated Women’s Conference about five years ago. Her achievement in doing so cannot be understated, but I’m amazed that a conference for women was lost in the first place. I had a great day and learned a lot, but I am uneasy about where women in the party go next. Women’s Conference did not put forward, debate or vote on one single issue that might feed directly into Labour policy.This is clearly nonsense when so many women stood to voice their concerns over issues which affected them. If Kezia Dugdale’s words are to mean anything at all, the future of Women’s Conference must include the possibility of reform which gives voice and power to women and which strengthens the part women play in deciding policy for the future.

MINI-BLOGS WEEK: How Can Further Education Colleges Cope? | @gwenelope

MiniBlogsWeekGwen is an English teacher in an FE college.

I have only completed one academic year in FE, (it’s great, why didn’t I move to FE years ago?)  therefore I am yet to fully understand the new world that I now work in.  However, I have learned this – colleges like mine are battling to keep their financial heads above water due to the continual funding cuts, whilst striving to do the best for their learners.

Of huge concern to colleges are the new rules regarding students who MUST take GCSE Math and English. Over the past three years, my institution has seen enrolment for these courses increase from (and these are approximate figures from memory only) around 250 students in 2012, to nearly 900 in 2015. It doesn’t take an accomplished statistician to notice how large the increase is, and with less funding to colleges than 3 years ago, the issues that this will cause.  I could go on at (dissertation) length about the issues for our learners, but there is not the space.

During a termly staff meeting with our Principal, our hard working, over-stretched exams officer asked, “How are we going to accommodate all the students sitting GCSE Maths and English in the Summer term? Will we shut the college?” (On our site, we do not have a large enough space to accommodate all who will be entered.)

The principal, to her credit, replied honestly, saying she did not know, but did not want to shut the college to all the other students. The problem remains, how will these exams be done?

MINI-BLOGS WEEK: The “Shift Happens” video | @AislingM87

MiniBlogsWeekAisling MacSweeney is a physics teacher, NUT rep and member of the Labour party.

If you haven’t been subjected to this video in an assembly or staff meeting, count yourself lucky. My objection isn’t the film itself, which contains some interesting statistics, but that it’s rolled out whenever a career-driven member of the leadership team wants to:

  • Come across as inspiring
  • Implement a new teaching initiative
  • Remind us common teacher plebs that if we oppose an initiative then we clearly don’t realise that we live in the 21st century.

This member of SLT insists the video is not there to preach to us, but to ‘make us think’ and ‘start a conversation’. But really, we all know why we’ve been shown it: to tell us to stop talking at the front of the classroom and start facilitating students’ learning through an elaborate pathway of multimedia and groupwork in order for them to ‘discover’, for example, the laws of physics for themselves.

You see, it would be fine if the video was used to help students understand how competitive the big wide world is, and to make them realise that they better work their socks off at school to have a fighting chance of succeeding in a global job market. But somehow this message is always missed.

MINI-BLOGS WEEK: Ulysses | @mcallister1


Amanda Wilson is a secondary English teacher at a large 11 to 18 school in Essex, and a member of the Labour Party. Originally from Scotland, she has lived in England for 25 years.

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite book is Ulysses by James Joyce. By chance I read the poem Ulysses by Tennyson this week, in which Ulysses has returned home to domesticity and responsibility but decides to leave and resume his adventures. I was struck by the way the admirable qualities of Ulysses resonated with Corbyn

but something ere the end,

Some work of noble note, may yet be done,

coming to the role of Labour leader late in life with ideals and a chance to achieve that which he has not in his life so far.

T’is not too late to seek a newer world.

Of course, there are different interpretations of the poem. In heading off to sea Ulysses acknowledges he may die beneath the waves or perhaps reach the ‘ blessed Isles’ – much the same thing perhaps. He can be seen as a selfish figure, abdicating responsibility for sensible governance, or a noble one, rallying his crew for noble deeds.

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

Which Ulysses is Corbyn?

MINI-BLOGS WEEK: The Private Schools Debate | @DoWise

MiniBlogsWeekDouglas Wise is an English teacher and Head of Department at a comprehensive upper school in Bedfordshire. He can be found on Twitter @DoWise

In November 2014, Tristram Hunt wrote about the ‘damaging division’ between state and private education.  You can access the article here, in which he made the pledge that a Labour government would end business rates relief for private schools not working in the common interest.  Now that Hunt has been replaced by Lucy Powell as Shadow Education Secretary, my hope is that she will continue to campaign, albeit more forcefully, for the private sector to fulfil what I believe is a social responsibility to provide greater opportunities for more of our poorest and most vulnerable students.

There’s been much debate recently about the relative performance of state and private schools.  It’s clearly a debate worth having, and one that I feel needs to be given greater prominence.  Why is it, for example, as the Sutton Trust reveals, that an independent day school student is 22 times more likely to attend a Russell Group university than a state school student from a disadvantaged background?  And, of course, this debate should go beyond the field of academia.  For example, why is it the case that some professional sports teams are so heavily and disproportionately represented by students who attended fee paying schools?   Only by asking challenging questions, and engaging in meaningful and informed debate, can we all begin to take the action necessary to make the current system we work within fairer.  It seems to me that, in this current political climate, now’s the perfect time to ask.