Blaming Teachers While Students Self-Destruct

Roger Titcombe's picture
What follows is by Nancy Bailey who writes from the home of GERM*. I have copied it from her website with her permission.

You can find it and her website here

"Two recent articles, and published comments, unfairly incriminate teachers as those who fail students. One comes from The Independent today [6 April]

“‘Exam Factories’ Conditions at School Causing Children to Self-Harm, Says New Research” and is about the serious issue of students there harming themselves due to the high pressure of exams.

The other article, from yesterday, by Jay Matthews, “Why Can’t We Have More Teachers Like the Ones We Loved?” of the Washington Post

This might seem like a folksy good nature yarn about highlighting the great teachers in one’s life, but the message I see is, how can we make all the bad teachers like the few good ones we have known.

Let’s look at the article out of the U.K. first. The report is serious, could have likely been reported in the U.S., and is worthy of grave concern. Students are hurting themselves due to high-stakes exams. It notes that harmful testing came from previous Education Secretary Michael Gove, but some of the comments blame teachers. Here are a few of the U.K. statements that criticize teachers:

"If our teaching profession was excellent with regard to the phonics provision in the first place, there would be more than enough time to be creative and no need to pull children out for intervention year after year."

And another:

"Generally I can manage to sympathise with the ‘teacher’s lot’ when it comes to the recognized stresses and strains involved in their work. But this issue is nothing more than self-pitying drivel on the part of the teachers based on the details given here."

The following is a reader who obviously sees what’s happening:

"Reading other comments here, I am struck by the fact that people can read this article and use it as another stick to beat teachers. Grow up! This is a serious issue that needs more research and answers."

Teachers in the U.K., like teachers in the U.S., have been pressured to administer the high-stakes tests, harmful to students. Teachers often become unwilling accomplices due to the devastating reforms that are foisted upon them.

This will not turn out good. When teachers are forced to play the game, they will, in the end, wind up with the blame. The public in the U.K. seems to be taught to dislike teachers, like the public in the U.S. has been lead to blame teachers for all the faults in schools.

Next, in aww, gosh darn it, “Why We Can’t Have More Teachers Like the Ones We Loved” Matthews, as usual, tiptoes around the harmful effects of No Child Left Behind, but his quest for great teachers culminates in a sly endorsement of Teach for America in the comment section:

Teach For America reported a decline in applications, but they too still have far more applications than they have spaces. If anything, in my experience, young teachers today are more motivated and better trained than they were a generation ago.

The reality is that teachers have been unfairly placed between a rock and a hard place.

I have had friends argue with me, and I see their point, that in no other job would professionals not take a stand against the high-stakes testing situation — that it is essentially malpractice.

Yet, I also know teachers who can’t afford to quit working. They need a paycheck to feed their families, or they don’t want to cut short the career they worked so hard to achieve, so they try their best to shelter students the only way they know how.

While the list of courageous teachers who stand up against high-stakes testing, or who outright quit because they can’t stand it any longer grows, we also see more harmful reports making teachers out to be criminals.

Who didn’t cringe, watching teachers led out in handcuffs, charged with racketeering, in the Atlanta courtroom? They fudged on test results to save their jobs and their schools. Scenes like this go a long way to destroy the good image of a profession. And no. Of course, I do not endorse cheating. But we should be asking how we got to this point, and where it is ultimately taking us.

More importantly, teachers, next to parents, are people who are on the first line of defense for protecting students from harm. They must be permitted to do their jobs the compassionate way they know how–focused on the students themselves and not harmful corporate reforms.

Here is what might help the teaching profession. Creating teachers who are once again respected by the public is a goal worth fighting for.

The public used to elevate the teaching profession. We need to get back to that, not just for teachers, but most importantly, for the students in the U.K. and the U.S. who are endangered due to insidious high-stakes testing and other terrible reforms.

[This is me now]

Nancy Bailey's website is well worth following. This post reminds me of Maurice Holt's post on LSN in April 2014.

You can also find this reproduced as Section C 5.10 in my book 'Learning Matters'.

There are echoes of a number of recent LSN posts in these two 'lessons from America'.

Keep up the good work Nancy. It remains to be seen whether our forthcoming General Election will at last bring our English pupils and teachers some relief from the 'educational factory treadmill' that you describe so well.

*NOTE added by Janet Downs. GERM = Global Education Reform Movement, the virus killing the world's schools.
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/04/2015 - 10:35

Roger - you may know this already but the Tories are promising that Year 7 pupils who do poorly in SATs will have to retake the tests during their first year of secondary school. This will heap even more tests on to our children who are among the most examined in developed countries.

I shall be posting about this later.

Guest's picture
Wed, 08/04/2015 - 13:01

It can sometimes raise a level of quizzicalness (is that a word?) when different people arrive at different perceptions of what has been said. I say this because listening to the R4 Today news programme this morning I heard Ms Morgan:

1. Confirmed that if re-elected the Conservatives would introduce "simplified tests" in Y7 for pupils who do not achieve L4 in the of KS2 SATs in Y6.
2. Repeated the misleading to downright erroneous statement that pupils who do not attain L4 in KS2 SATs could not read, write and/or add up properly (around 2h 37m)

Thus while it may be accurate to say that a new test is in the offing it will:

3. Not be a cart blanch repeat of the full KS2 SATs but a "simplified" version
4. It will not be undertaken by all Y7 pupils only those who did not achieve L4

What's in a word? Ms Morgan did not use the term doing "poorly". She spoke in terms of pupils who do not reach the "required level". It was the interviewer (James Naughtie) who used the terms "failed" and "poorly". I wonder, is this inaccurate assignment of the spoken word how urban myths and legend are created?

The more interesting and wider aspects of KS2 SATs <L4 can be found in a 2 min clip from BBC TV on their main education website.

For me the clips from TH are rather more worrisome that Ms Morgan's comments. The former does no instil confidence and makes a gross exaggeration of the 3% of unqualified teachers in classrooms. I seem to recall that the majority of these are working in the secondary sector and not primary schools. His persistence in the use of hyperbolic language belies his journalistic training and background.

My dearest wish is to see party politicking and party ideologies permanently removed from education.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/04/2015 - 15:10

Guest - you're right the Y7 tests would not be taken by all Y7 pupils and you've confirmed they would be taken by those pupils who didn't reach Level 4 (I wasn't sure that's what 'poorly' meant - that's why I used the rather vague term until I found a more accurate statement - you've provided it, thanks).

According to FullFact, Morgan added the adverb 'properly' when she said 'Under the last Labour government 1 in 3 of our young people were leaving school unable to read or write or add up properly”. But as the UK Statistics Watchdog has told Morgan twice, a pupil reaching Level 3 can “read a range of texts fluently and accurately” and write in a way which is “often organised, imaginative and clear”. Morgan is perpetuating the myth that those who can read a range of texts fluently and accurately isn't reading 'properly'.

Re 'unqualified teachers'. FullFact found there were 3.8% of full-time equivalent teachers deemed unqualified in English state schools in 2013. However, these would include teachers qualified abroad (technically 'unqualified' here) and teachers in training.

Guest's picture
Wed, 08/04/2015 - 16:11

Yes, I was aware that Ms Morgan and Gove had been rebuked by the UK Stats Watchdog and would be one of the first in the queue to advise her that parachuting the word "properly" in doesn't cut the mustard. It is a woefully misleading, if not inaccurate, statement.

With regard to unqualified teachers I adopt a more cautious approach:

1. Without analysis of the number of unqualified teachers within the 2 state sectors it is dangerous to the point of foolhardy inaccuracy to use the 3 or 3.8% as the reason for the number of primary pupils not attaining L4. (Enter TH stage left).

2. As rightly highlight an undisclosed number of the unqualified teachers are overseas trained teachers but who lack recognition over here, and without a drill down analysis it would be equally foolhardy to assign blame to them. That is to say, among the overseas contingent there are NZ, Aussie and Canadian qualified teachers who hold at least the equivalence of our QTS and in the case of Canadians they undergo a more rigorous 2 year training program than here, and our English 1 year QTS doesn't qualify our teacher to hold a teaching licence in Canada.

Whichever way one cuts it the unqualified teacher element is not the reason for the <L4 SATs results.

The more I read about TH's pronouncements the more fearful I become for the profession and the more I think he is professionally barking. That is to say, he constantly barks up the wrong tree to the tune of pure career politician soundbite rhetoric.

The saddest thing of all is that all the main parties are totally infected by the GERM virus and until they are inoculated against it there will be no constructive advancement of a long term balanced education policy.

Guest's picture
Thu, 09/04/2015 - 15:19

I've done a little digging on the topic of unqualified teachers and the figures for 2013 appear to be the ones being banded around by Morgan and Hunt (e.g. 17,100 representing 3.8%):

"In 2013, 96.2 per cent of FTE teachers have Qualified Teacher Status down from 96.7 per cent in 2012.
After a steady decline over the last few years the number of teachers without Qualified Teacher Status has increased between 2012 and 2013. It has increased by 2.3 thousand FTE teachers from 14.8 thousand FTE teachers without QTS in 2012 to the current level of 17.1 thousand FTE teachers without QTS in 2013. Teachers without QTS now represent 3.8 per cent of all teachers in state-funded schools (compared with 3.3 per cent in 2012).
Secondary schools employ the majority of the 17.1 thousand FTE teachers without QTS; 9.9 thousand (57.9 per cent). Primary schools employ 4.5 thousand teachers without QTS (26.3 per cent) and the remainder work in special schools or are employed directly by local authorities.
The number of teachers without QTS in free schools has risen to over 200 and represents 13.3 per cent of their 1.5 thousand FTE teachers."

This would indicate that excluding those teachers qualified overseas but not registered as QTS here, the number of non-QTS teachers in primary schools is 0.99%, and reinforces the reality that they cannot account for the number of children who do not reach L4 in KS2 SATs.

On the same basis, 2.2% of secondary teachers who are non-QTS cannot be responsible for the level of underperformance at KS4 and/or 5.

Stats, stats and damn lies and then come politicians who make stats look honest and wholesome.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 09/04/2015 - 15:34

Guest - thanks for the link. I knew I'd read it somewhere but couldn't find it. Interesting that 13.3% of the one-and-a-half-thousand teachers in free schools are non-QTS.

You're right about politicians' rhetoric. Whether it's Gove ignoring a warning from the OECD not to compare PISA results with the flawed results from 2000, Morgan talking about primary pupils being unable to read or write 'properly' or Hunt making too much about non-QTS teachers, they all appear to have one thing in common - teachers are solely responsible for their pupils' results. This ignores the input of children and their parents.

Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 10/04/2015 - 17:29

13.3% sounds enormous, but given the total is 200 and there are 251 free schools that's actually less than one non-QTS teacher per free school. 0.8 of a teacher per school in fact.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 12/04/2015 - 10:22

Barry - you're right - it's the small sample problem again (something I usually bang on about but forgot in this instance). However, given that some of these schools have very few pupils because they're building up the intake on a year-by-year basis, it could be that 0.8 of a teacher could comprise a large proportion of the staff in one school. SENCOs have to be QTS, so a primary free school with just two year groups of, say, 25, children might have one teaching head, one SENCO and one (or 0.8) non-QTS teacher. That would mean children spent a considerable amount of time with the non-QTS.

Only time will tell if the pattern of a higher proportion of non-QTS teachers in free schools persists.

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