All educationalists must work, campaign and act together to build a truly open and effective education system.

Toby Mallinson's picture
 3
My careers since studying Mechanical Engineering at Cardiff have been a Project Engineer in 3 jobs over 10 years up to 1997. Then a secondary maths PGCE and 4 years at two challenged schools teaching Maths. Then (with a young family) 8 years as a part time supply teacher in over 100 settings including primary and special education. For the last 4 years I have worked four days per week as NUT Joint Divisional Secretary for Sheffield doing organising, negotiating and casework.

I am a life long human rights activist - I have chaired several Amnesty International groups, held other posts, been delegate to their conference many times and been involved in local and international campaigning.

I first became active in the NUT when, as a supply teacher and parent, my two local community schools were closed and reopened as one under BSF. I chaired the campaign to prevent this including a march of 500 local residents and the defeat of 2 Labour councillors (this was Labour policy) in favour of 2 Lib Dems who supported our campaign in staunchly Labour Hillsborough (David Blunkett's constituency). This helped result in a hung council and the overturning of the decision to close the schools by 2 votes including the invaluable support off the Green Party Councillors - I joined the Green Party at this point. A month later, Labour sided with the 1 Tory councillor and an independent (and a Lib-Dem was absent) to reverse the decision. The DfE was threatening the entire £240M rebuild programme in Sheffield if the closures did not occur. As I have always found, local council officers may as well work for the DfE as they never put Sheffield’s interests in front of DfE advice or try to negotiate for Sheffield. Our elected Councillors rarely stand up to the officers advice either.

I think it understandable (with the subsequent ConDem Government) that I have a huge sense of betrayal in all the mainstream parties and the politicised civil service. The campaign did prevent the new school being auctioned off for academisation. However, alas, it has subsequently been forced into academisation - as so often happens after such an upheaval, the new school struggled to get on its feet quickly enough and Ofsted landed.

Both of my children have been to an excellent local primary school and are now at the new secondary where, so far, they are happy (as far as teenagers will admit) and being well looked after and educated by dedicated teachers. These teachers do their excellent work very much in spite of rather than because of recent changes in education. It is a cause of great worry to me as a parent that staff turnover is rising as it is in many schools.

My politicisation through these experiences and my growing understanding of the march of the neo-liberals in all mainstream parties made me want to be active in the NUT which has always had such a principled position in education. My work with Amnesty has diminished as my work for the NUT has increased. I understand that it is hard for the NUT to be the only body in education willing to make an active stand against current Government policy. Though we have made a number of gains – small improvements in the attack on pensions, the STRB refusal to rip up non-pay Terms and Conditions, the demise of Gove, the Workload Challenge, Better Ofsted and Government advice – we have not created any significant shift in political policy or created tangible change across the board on the ground. As a result, the unreported crisis continues to escalate with the predictable failure of vocational teacher training and record numbers of teachers walking away from the profession. Huge sums of money are being stolen from the classroom to spend on privatisation.

More than ever we need professional unity amongst the teaching unions. However, even more important is that the whole teaching establishment, in particular the head teachers' unions, need to develop more spine in publicly opposing the lunatic policies that have been and are being followed. This should include promoting alternatives based on evidence and the de-politicisation of education as well as joining boycotts and even taking strike action. There has never been so much at stake.
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Leah K Stewart's picture
Sat, 11/04/2015 - 12:12

Hi Toby, as a recent uni grad, I really hear you: "Teachers do their excellent work very much in spite of rather than because of recent changes in education." "...the unreported crisis continues to escalate." My student days were spent in hope that the restrictions my teachers were under (because it was obvious their hands were tied) were really there to help secure my future... as everyone seemed to be saying. I hoped that I was just too stupid to understand why all my A's, at the expense of my sense of self, and the U's-B's of all my peers, at the expense of their self esteem, was really worth it... somehow. I know one thing: give the teachers freedom and they would not do this to their students. I'm blogging from my website here if you'd like to browse a students view of this system: www.leahkstewart.com


John Mountford's picture
Sat, 11/04/2015 - 21:46

Toby, your frustration over what is happening to state education is all too common. Unfortunately, resistance to the policies that have created the situation you describe is uncoordinated. There is, undoubtedly, a role for teacher unions in this context but, without a unified approach and in the absence of a campaign to rally behind, individual teachers are left with little in the way of choice. As a retired HAHT member, I am disappointed that there is no coherent leadership emerging from that source.

As we consistently acknowledge on this form, the failure of the mass media to offer balanced commentary is adding to the level of ignorance in the wider society about the true effects of repeated political interference in education reform. Teachers need to come together but, without the sympathetic support of parents in particular, it is difficult to predict when the groundswell of opinion will force the kind of structural change needed. I am speaking of fundamental structural change. We need to remove the governance of education from party politics. I am calling for a National Education Commission, charged with securing the long-term development of education.

www.ordinaryvoices.org.uk

The interesting thing about the campaign, now running two years, is not the lack of support in general, but rather the absence of any debate or counter proposal. Surely, we have all the evidence we could possibly need that the present system is failing our young people and the mainly dedicated teachers and support staff who work tirelessly on their behalf. Five years in office, assuming they last that long, is not sufficient time for the SoS for Education and the government of the day to place the future development of education on a secure foundation. The constant revisions to the examinations system provides the most potent example of what I am saying is wrong but, sadly, it is just one aspect of education that has been thrown into turmoil by successive change, scandalously squandering human and material resources as if both were in endless supply.

Leah, I do believe that students need to find their voice to add to this campaign, though I know you personally have already done so. Nothing will change unless our elected leaders feel our determination to truly democratise the system. The present 'first-past-the-post' electoral system produces some glaring inequalities that impact particularly dramatically on education reform. It also acts as a deterrent to some voters who know a vote for the party of their choice will have no impact on the outcome locally. Not everyone wants to cast a vote just to keep the least palatable option out.

Leah K Stewart's picture
Sun, 12/04/2015 - 06:00

"Nothing will change unless our elected leaders feel our determination to truly democratise the system." True John. Behind the scenes I'm working to connect with individuals and groups of people who believe this too. I was also asked my input on a conference scheduled for after the election which will hopefully include conversations on a National Education Commission as well as the student/teacher voice. Feel free to message me direct if you want to know more on this. Also digging as deeply as I can into business/marketing/media... lot's to learn but, hey, got nothing to lose! Can't stand the thought of this dis-empowering system of schooling continuing unchecked... might as well try something! :D


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