2017, still in early infancy has been a funny old year so far. It’s as if the world is stuck in some dystopian parody, and the education sector is no better. A quick snapshot across sectors shows that primary assessment is meaningless and unworkable, baseline is again being shouted about, worryingly very loudly by those without an iota of child development knowledge, and secondary schools are facing accountability across 8 subjects based on a few hours of discredited testing when the pupils were 10 & 11 years old, and cuts to further education limit opportunities for those who didn’t get them first time round.
Meanwhile, many teachers are struggling through education cuts to mop up the social care and mental health casualties produced by poverty and years of austerity to public services, whilst simultaneously being told they are ‘crap’ by a sector of education that has conveniently forgotten that their school systems automatically exclude those without parents with the capacity to pay for weeks’ worth of lunches up front, buy and wash uniforms, and provide a quiet place to study for the hours of homework now required to meet the new minimum ‘B-grade in old money standards’.
Education has become a market place with multi-academy trusts eyeing up take-over bids for schools and quietly flinging aside the ones they found too tricky for their systems to work with. A close maths teacher friend of mine recently told me how her department simply can’t afford the books and materials required for the new GCSE and A level syllabuses. Without the resources to do the job properly and being a comprehensive in an LA where the top performing children are in Grammars, the school will be ripe for a MAT takeover, siphoning yet more funding away from front-line and into the pockets of lawyers and executives.
Back in Local Authority-maintained-land things are not rosy either. Where we are, whole sections of school support have been cut. Children with SEND have seen their provision slashed, and many start school, at the most crucial time in their education, on reduced timetables because even the top band top-up funding for schools simply does not stretch far enough to provide for their needs and keep them safe. The best and most useful services have gone, funding for basic training in areas such as phonics is non-existent, whilst protecting investment in flawed and outdated strategies such as Reading Recovery. (Yes, I am bringing that one up again.)
Years of polemic politics has woven its way into the staffroom, with teachers now publicly attacking each other for their pedagogy. Sweeping generalisations about progressive and traditional strategies are floated around as if they are fact, and perfectly successful and decent people are being made to feel apologetic for standing up for themselves and others. As teachers, we should and do know better, but high stakes accountability and the heady mix of media and Whitehall adulation or scorn, make it hard to discern fact from fiction.
Sadly the DfE seems hell-bent on a de-professionalisation of education. Unqualified teachers are all the rage and pictures of ministers fawning over displays of clearly adult-directed, or rote learnt handwriting by three-year olds, only serve to add weight to the idea that teaching can be reduced to making children sit down and follow the script. Who can blame them really? Education is expensive and we could save £billions if only we could employ low paid supervisors to administer the scripts, ipads and detentions.
Sometimes it’s hard to be positive. What would make me less angry? Trusting in, and investing in the professionalism of teachers. Acknowledging that children need nurture as well as instruction and that whilst there are some great systems and pedagogies out there, we do not all know what works for all children. We need to listen to the generalists and the specialists and be empowered and supported to make the right decisions for our pupils.