Teachers don't fear "Crackdowns" - We fear ignorance

Stephen Smith's picture
Having a few extra hours to spare over the holiday period, I made the mistake of browsing a few articles about education on the internet (this is how teachers get their pleasure).

Well it didn’t exactly fill me full of the joys of the season of goodwill.

One piece that caught my eye was this – on the BBC news website, but well covered in lots of other places: Ofsted head calls for local school troubleshooters where we learn that incoming Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said spotting failing schools should not be down to him alone, and that local troubleshooters should be appointed to identify failing schools and sack incompetent heads.

So straight off the mark we know where Ofsted’s coming from – they’re going to “Crack down” and “Get tough” on all those terrible schools out there.

Which means that all those incompetent teachers out there will read this and quiver afraid that they’ll be caught out in their wicked ways. Doesn’t it ?

The rest of the article gives us some information regarding a problem which educators all knew would happen if large numbers of schools opted out of local authority control – there needs to be someone to do the job that LAs used to do.

If instead of having schools organised under local government, they are all in theory independent (but in practice answerable to central government), then you’re going to need a new office of the government to keep tabs on them. So Ofsted are wanting clusters of local schools, and local ‘commissioners’ to fulfil this role.

Whether you have Local Authorities or not, there are things that they do that are important – which will still need to be done by someone. These are the vital tasks that the Government refers to as ‘needless bureaucracy and red-tape’.

What I really don’t understand is this : If the government want to abolish LA’s, if they want to effectively privatise public education provision – which is what this ultimately means. Why don’t they say so ? Why don’t they have the honesty to do this through official policy, rather than by stealth.

There are many arguments in favour of such an approach.

I don’t actually agree with any of them, but they can be persuasive. Surely the Tories have the confidence to let their voters know what they stand for and let them show their undoubted appreciation.

Instead we get obfuscation, confusion, hidden agenda, and most of all – demonisation of teachers ...

On Christmas day I was treated to this beauty on the Daily Mail website: Cameron's crackdown on bad teachers branded a failure as figures reveal just four a week are being sacked

Not for one second does it occur to the Mail that 4 teachers a week being “sacked” is an outrageously large number of teachers. Not once do they stop to think that perhaps there aren’t actually thousands upon thousands of terrible teachers just waiting to be caught by the latest crackdown. No possibility enters their minds, that actually most teachers do a pretty good job, and might well do a far better one were they not continually belittled by the press, the Government, and Ofsted.

There have been plenty of recent examples of this, and I haven’t forgotten Oliver Letwin’s determination, reported in the Guardian in July to instil discipline and fear in public sector workers.

What frightens teachers is the most – what they really fear – is not the cracking whip of officialdom, but the realisation that the Government and its educational agencies, appear to have little knowledge of educational theory.

If one learns anything from being a teacher, it’s that threats and sanctions rarely produce lasting results. It’s far more effective to work on people’s strengths, to use praise to promote good practice and to offer trust instead of fear.

If the Government don’t understand that, then it’s only a matter of time before the animals turn around and bite them.
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Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 31/12/2011 - 10:01

The demonising of the teaching profession is sadly a feature of the government's tactics to centralise control of schools so that it can then more easily and quickly privatise them. What is frightening is that Gove has surrounded himself with a coterie of advisers and think tanks made up of people who have no real experience of teaching and ignored the advice of teachers and their unions.

What was particularly appalling was the way Gove and Cameron attempted to turn parents against teachers during the two one-day strikes. To add insult to injury, Gove then pleaded for parents, who were hanging around with nothing better to do because they were forced to babysit their children, to then go into schools and help out with teaching.

If the government is to be believed, then teaching is so easy that you can be unqualified to face a classroom in a Free School. This is in stark contrast to the Tiger economy schools and in Finland, where teachers are highly qualified not just in the subjects they teach but all forms of pedagogy. The government have aligned themselves with the destructive practices of American schools where the drive for free-market choice encourages unhealthy competition which has lead to remorseless standardized testing which in turn has piled pressure on schools to cheat in order to meet prescribed one rule fits all targets.

Teachers are leaving the profession in droves in America demonised, demoralised and stressed. By importing American rules into Britain, Gove risks many failures that are based on an American failure but adding a depletion of teachers is another one of them. Where is the attraction to go into teaching now? Like much of the caring profession, it has attracted many individuals who wanted to make a difference to people's lives first and foremost. The constant attacks on the profession will make many young people shy away from a job that is by no means easy and not exactly the best paid. I suppose the outcome will be more dilettantes teaching in schools, exactly mirroring the dilettantes who now influence and impose education policy.

It's very heartening to read a blog and comment that both mention the professional knowledge of teachers. Everyone (Gove especially) has rich experience of being a pupil. Gove, indeed, seems never to have got over his own remarkable cleverness and scholarly success. Problems arise when people imagine such experience gives them unique insight into the immensely complex activity of teaching.

The important thing about a teaching profession is an ability to keep on using immediate experiences and to learn how to transcend them, from other teachers and from other experts. This can be in formal study for higher degrees. It can be in short training sessions or courses, It is often in informal reading and discussion. Teachers still provide a pool of talent from which University Departments recruit researchers and tutors. Their collective knowledge is immense and should be nurtured.

The resistance of Whitehall to any of this knowledge is a national scandal. Even when the likes of Professor Michael Barber are brought in as advisers, it's the advisers who have to give way to "political reality": the shabby compromises of government never concede to the vital demands of pedagogy.

My own, long treasured, hope was that teaching would find a professional voice of its own. At one point I thought that the General Teaching Council might provide that. I hear now that Gove is set on abolishing it.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 31/12/2011 - 14:30

It's time to turn away from the Scrooges, Gradgrinds, Bounderbys and other Dickensian grotesques at the DfE and Ofsted, and tune into the alternative Christmas message from Mr Goddard and Mr Drew from Educating Essex.

This is what education is: "not giving up on people" and the possibility of making someone's life better. The message is only just over three minutes long and carries more wisdom and humanity than scores of DfE press releases, Ofsted mutterings and Daily Mail rants. Follow the link and enjoy (apologies in advance for the adverts):


Adrian Elliott's picture
Mon, 02/01/2012 - 10:25

Excellent post, Stephen

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