Education

The Gove of Schooling Past

One of the main reasons for my chosen transition out of the classroom into other areas of education has been the retrograde changes in education policy such as the move away from developing independent learning towards a focus on assessment performance. I feel developing independence is central to an education system that prepares young people for the future. 14-19 Diplomas and their emphasis on thinking and learning skills were not perfect, but certainly heralded a step in the right direction. It seems, however that the government has run thirty steps in the other to compensate and in this blog I will outline why this is a dangerous mistake.

Firstly, I must make clear, It is not that I am opposed to change, in face much change can be good, but basing change on historical and anecdotal experiences is not the way to make progressive change, nor is changing things without talking to the professionals whose job it is to work with the change. In 2011, In their book entitled From exam factories to communities of discovery, Frank Coffield and Bill Williamson constructed an excellent argument as to why the educational system we have and the goals that tweaks in policy attempt to reach are deeply flawed. They argue that the system is not in need of repair, but by replacement. One of their primary arguments is that it is too simplistic to believe that having a ‘world class’ education will automatically improve the education system. I want to extend this argument and examine it in terms of some of the recent changes in Govian policy making. 

There was much noise in the media surrounding England’s recent fall in the PISA tables whilst countries such as China excel in these measures of education. As a result, it seems that many changes have been proposed to teaching and assessment to address this in hope of securing a higher position in the rankings, but for what?  So that it can be said can say that England has a better educational system than other countries? Whilst this may re-assure those in power, what use is this to those students going through the education system? After all, it is not their success in testing that is important, but how education prepares them for their next steps in life.

It is no secret that the world is very different to that of a post war Britain. Jobs are no longer for life and occupations are very different to those of even a generation ago. It surely, must be a primary concern of schools to build initiative, resilience and a love for life long learning then to help them continually retrain and up skill for all those future jobs. Seemingly, in the eyes of policy makers, no. They would much rather we developed the ability of our young people to excel in tests and as pools of facts and knowledge. When I came into education a few years ago, I was excited to see how much had changed in the classroom, the emphasis given over to thinking and learning skills and the encouragement of interdisciplinary working. It comes then, as a disappointment that these are exactly the things that changes in policy are weeding out of education due to their limited utility in preparing students for testing.

I have already seen at the coalface what this does for the starting point of many children in Secondary education. They spend so much time in Year 6 preparing for their SATs in English and Maths that often other subjects are marginalised or given cursory time in the curriculum. Yes, some have scored that hallowed level 5, but that’s about where it stops and often the curiosity and excitement of learning has been drilled out of them for a fill in the blanks approach to learning.

My true worry is what these retrograde steps will mean for the futures of those entering into a landscape of learning based predicated on success in assessment. Will they have the independent learning skills needed for university, The life skills for employment, or the resilience to face repeated employment change through their lives? 

References 

Coffield, F. and Williamson, B. (2011). From Exam Factories to communities of discovery, London: Institute of Education

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Education, Uncategorized

My open letter to a parent – Why I have no choice but to strike today

Dear Parent,

I am truly sorry that I am unable to teach your child today but it would be unfair and hypocritical of me to do so. You see I base my teaching on some basic principles and it is important that I remain true to them. I truly love being in the classroom and helping young people to achieve their potential and I hope that I do this in a constructive way by praising what they do well and helping the to develop the areas they struggle in through modelling good behaviour and helping them develop the skills they need academically and for life.

I try to teach the young people in my classroom that they get out of life what they put in, that they need to work hard but equally that they need to balance that with their own passions and the things they love and that it is always important to stand up for what they believe in. Today I have had to take my own advice by joining the strike and standing up against Michael Gove and the changes that are eroding the quality of education your child receives and my ability to stick to my own principles.

You see, I try to teach them that you get out of life what you put in, yet over the past few years, teachers have seen a progressive erosion of their salary in real terms. I am being asked to pay more into a pension each month that will now be worth less and my colleagues that are joining the profession are now being asked to pay up to £9000 for the privilege of training as a teacher. Every fully qualified secondary teacher has spent at least 4 years at university and has a good degree, and a postgraduate qualification. That investment of time and energy into education surely deserves to be rewarded effectively otherwise how does this country have any hope of attracting good quality teachers? Careers aren’t chosen solely on monetary reward but with £36,000 of student loan debt just to cover fees (let alone living expenses), the next generation of entrants to the profession will have no choice but to consider if their chosen career pays enough to justify this debt

I also try to teach the young people I work with that it important to develop a range of interests and hobbies, that sport and exercise is good and that they need to work hard but also to have time for themselves. With some of the proposed reforms, it will be hard for teachers to practice what they preach. Teaching, despite what the media tells you is not a job that starts at 9am and finishes at 3pm. I am usually at my desk for 7:30am and Lucky to get out much before 5pm. I take work home most weekends, and not a day goes by where I’m not considering some aspect of my job but I don’t do this because I have to, I do it because I want to. In return though, there are also things I want to do, I want to run, I want to have tome with my family, I want to go to visit galleries. I can only do this by creating my own work-life balance. If school holidays are reduced, contact hours in the classroom are increased then that means there will be less time in the day to create this balance, something that is unhealthy. Once your child has left my classroom I still have to mark their work, plan for the lessons I will teach them next time, write reports, plan trips, organise resources, make phone calls, send emails and attend training sessions and meetings, and no, I can’t do it all in the 10% of timetabled planning preparation and assessment time on my timetable – no teacher can! Something then has to give, either less time has to be spend on these essential tasks or the work life balance is altered. One results in less effective teaching through lack of planning or quality feedback on progress, the other in increased stress and therefore also less effective teaching

So I am standing up for what I believe in by  striking to day in the knowledge that to do anything else would be hypocritical of me. I truly love being a teacher, I love those moments where a young person finally understands a concept, or begins to develop into a well rounded adult, or just simply smiles when they realise they have created something amazing themselves. The changes that are being made to education are, however, making the stresses of uncertainty outweigh the benefits and have ultimately contributed to my decision to leave the classroom. Just because I am leaving the profession at the end of the year doesn’t mean I have stopped caring, in fact I care more because ultimately it is the way that Gove and the current government have destroyed the profession I have enjoyed being a part of for several years that has forced me to make the difficult decision of leaving classroom teaching.