Michael Gove delivered a speech at The Policy Exchange, London yesterday (5th September), in which he championed both teachers and teaching. For a short while afterwards I felt a nice, warm glow of something approaching relief. I think there are large parts of that speech which give teachers real reason to be delighted. For example,
‘…It is because the teaching profession is so crucial that our programme of education reform has been designed to empower teachers; to give them more freedom, more power and more prestige’
Freedom, power and prestige? Well, some level of freedom would be a fabulous start. It does seem there is a real push to give teachers more autonomy over what they do: to remove the peripheral nonsense that has dragged us down for years. A chance, then, for us to focus on what works best for us, as individuals. If the pupils are learning, that’s what counts.
In my case, the relief that I was experiencing was short-lived and soon to be replaced with melancholy. A slow, sinking sadness, right to the depths of my stomach. A feeling of fear and dread. Like the sensation you get when something has triggered a bad memory that you then try to suppress. Next, I felt anger, soon to be followed by complete helplessness. You see, I know, almost without a single shred of a doubt, that no matter what Mr Gove says, nothing at all will change at schools such as I work at.
Let me explain. On Monday morning , I returned to work after the long summer break, feeling reasonably bright, breezy and refreshed. The staff were soon all gathered in the hall, armed with Hobnobs, coffee, biros and pads. After a short ‘Child Protection’ refresher (which is both required and important) the boss handed out copies of, what she termed a ‘Quality Control Plan’. Quality Control? A term only ever heard used in reference to cars, chocolate bars, electrical goods, and suchlike. Quality Control, or, as it turns out, ‘We don’t trust you to do things your way. You must do things our way.’ Barely ten minutes into the session, I felt myself deflating. Any bonhomie I had been experiencing had vanished. The next hour or so was ‘challenging’, to say the very least. With a megalomaniacal zeal worthy of any good Bond villain, I think the quality control list is both ominous and threatening. Here is a paraphrased rundown of what was said:
All books must be marked strictly according to the marking policy, codes used correctly and not too many spelling or punctuation errors corrected. Any more than three corrections per piece of work is demoralising for the pupils.
2. Moderation of Levels:
Every three weeks SLT will check that we are all in agreement on the pupil’s National Curriculum Level (including sub-levels). An interesting one, this, as levels are almost impossible to moderate accurately. This is just one of the many reasons that they don’t actually exist any more.
3. Learning Walks/Learning Environment:
To include 15 minute mini-lesson observations. For this process, SLT will be armed with an ominous looking tick-list. Highlights include, ‘smart board in use’ ‘paired’ ‘group’ ‘teacher led’ and ‘evidence AFL’. Underneath this is a huge box simply labelled ‘Actions’. The mind boggles. What will happen to me if I am leading a class during a learning walk, or if my smart board is switched off? I’ll let you know.
4. Planning scrutiny to include assessment of learning styles:
Presumably this means we are now meant to be accommodating and planning for ‘Visual’ ‘Aural’ and ‘Kinaesthetic’ learning styles. As I seriously doubt the existence of any of these, I probably won’t be doing that.
5. Weekly planning to include personalised learning and differentiation scrutinised :
Does ‘by outcome’ still count? There are issues with dumbing-down the work for ‘less able’ students. They often surprise and rise to the challenge. Personalised learning? Any decent teacher knows where their individual student’s weaknesses and strengths lie. A slight, almost imperceptible shift in focus, can usually accommodate these. In my experience, rarely is there any need for completely different work.
This would be fair enough if it wasn’t going to be measured using NC levels. But it is.
7. Lesson Observations:
I can’t even begin. This is a whole blog on its own.
8. Performance Management:
Or how many of these hoops are you prepared to jump through? We may give you more money! It’s a bit like a Saturday evening TV game show. The same SLT who devised this list will judge who is worthy. Or, as Mr Gove put it yesterday: “So it’s vital for the future of the profession that we defend teachers from self-interested attacks … We also need to defend teaching from the wrong sort of inspection.”
9. Use of data and analysis:
This means using the National Curriculum Levels to plot and predict progress. As levels have now been scrapped, nothing plus nothing still equals nothing.
10. Canvassing the opinions of pupils, parents and carers:
Talking endlessly about prior, current and predicted NC Levels and sub-levels and looking at the blank, baffled expression staring back.
11. Baselining and assessment for learning:
What the pupil’s NC Level is when they start and what teacher’s can do to raise that level. Another interference to actual teaching. (see 9.)
12. Target Setting:
Setting targets for pupil’s performance based on the now defunct NC Levels.(sic)
13. Quality and breadth of curriculum delivery:
Note the emphasis on ‘delivery’ no apparent concern for ‘content’. Just be sure you deliver your drivel correctly. I am still advised to talk for no more than ten minutes per hour lesson and to ensure group and paired work features strongly. Our Education Secretary strongly advocated otherwise in his speech yesterday, quoting non other than President Lyndon B Johnson, he said
“you aren’t learning anything when you’re talking.”
Mr Gove also notes that: All too often, we’ve seen an over-emphasis on group work – in practice, children chatting to each other – in the belief that is a more productive way to acquire knowledge than attending to an expert”.
If Mr Gove is saying that group work is gone, many teachers will be delighted to hear it.
I understand that both teachers and pupils must be subject to some level of scrutiny, but not this, surely? Undoubtedly, this is an overkill of evidence at the expense of content and a box-ticking frenzy of ridiculous proportions.
Meanwhile, apparently oblivious to the catastrophe that is still facing many of us, Mr Gove also cheerily noted that he has been:
“Clearing away the distractions and slashing the unnecessary bureaucracy and prescription which sapped so much of teachers’ time and energy; in numbers alone, we’ve removed or simplified over 50 unnecessary duties and regulations by 75%… giving teachers as much freedom, autonomy and independence as possible, to get on with they do best – teach.”
You only have to glance at the ‘quality control’ list, above, to see that something is going seriously awry with these plans. While Mr Gove is showing signs of listening to the voices of reason and, in the case of a few – even quoting them – until he finds a way of ENFORCING such plans, what am I to do? The choice is stark: To toe the line and try to teach the way my Senior Leadership Team requires, or: teach how I want to teach, how I’m comfortable teaching and how I know I get results and thereby risk derision, degradation and the dreaded ‘capability procedures’. A position, I have to say, that I never, ever expected to find myself in: The Russian Roulette method.
With my career increasingly in jeopardy, Mr Gove, which do you suggest I should choose?
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