Today we’re posting some paragraphs taken from two newspaper articles we came across this week, to add to the one we reported on yesterday. They give a flavour of what’s being said about education in a mainstream UK national newspaper whose website is read by millions around the world every day. The picture that’s presented is not a pretty one, but it’s one that’s realistic and accurate.
Michael Gove’s bullying ways are wrecking our good education system
As a former teacher, I grew tired of this government’s attacks on our profession, which damage morale and stop us doing our job
by Chloe Combi
One of the biggest challenges facing teachers is safeguarding children against bullying from their peers, because it damages the child’s morale, esteem and sense of self-worth. But as a YouGov poll for the National Union of Teachers revealed this week, teachers are facing a crisis of confidence and reporting the lowest morale ever recorded in the profession. The reasons for this are many but perhaps the most common are: a deep mistrust of the government’s education policies; Michael Gove’s attacks on the status and power of teachers; and the ever-changing parameters of Ofsted criteria.
There cannot be an article about the flagging morale of teachers without mentioning Michael Gove. The cuts, the drive towards making schools academies, the obvious shift in direction back towards two-tier education, the freezing of pay, the threats to sack heads who don’t toe the party line and dock the wages of teachers who take industrial action. Teachers have been pushed – some might say bullied – into monumental changes.
Leaving aside his supporters and cheerleaders on the extreme right of the political spectrum – the neoliberal privatisers and the payments by results nutters – it’s clear that our minister for education is a man who, in spite of being a person of intellect who seems to have an ability to smarm, is universally despised and reviled. In years to come, around the time when we look back from the implementation of tried and tested progressive changes in education, he will no doubt be seen as the highly ambitious and totally disastrous politician he clearly is, according to those who have paid close attention to his activities as a minister.
These next extracts from yet another Guardian article concern Mr Gove’s meddling in the business of school design and architecture. Bearing in mind that he’s a man who’s happy to see Free Schools setting up in any old clapped-out building, such as a warehouse or even a derelict shop, it shouldn’t have been surprising that he decreed that in future all bog-standard state schools must be designed and built for the minimum amount of capital investment, regardless of this bringing into being new schools that are barely even fit for purpose, let alone places for learning that inspire, uplift and energise.
Michael Gove faces rebellion over no-curves schools plan
Study claiming well-designed classrooms could improve pupil performance by 25% sparks calls for rethink of guidelines
by Robert Booth
The education secretary, Michael Gove, is facing a growing rebellion from teachers and architects over plans to simplify new school buildings after a study claimed well-designed classrooms could improve pupils’ progress in lessons by as much as 25%.
Lord Rogers, the architect of buildings ranging from the Pompidou Centre in Paris to Mossbourne academy in Hackney, east London, has urged the government to rethink its policy for the procurement of £2.5bn worth of new schools and “for the sake of the next generation” heed evidence that school environments affect pupil performance.
Deborah Saunt, an award-winning school designer, has also announced that her firm is boycotting the government’s plan to build 261 replacement primary and secondary schools, describing simplified design guidelines as the architectural equivalent of feeding children McDonald’s every day.
This autumn Gove ordered a ban on curves in a new generation of no-frills school buildings ,in response to what he calls a decade of wasteful extravagance in educational architecture.
Folding internal partitions to subdivide classrooms, roof terraces that can be used as play areas, glazed walls and translucent plastic roofs are banned. The first schools designed to the new rules are due to open in September 2014.
However, the initial findings of a study by academics at Salford University showed a strong correlation between the built environment where teaching takes place and test results in reading, writing and maths. Lighting, circulation, acoustics, individuality and colour were revealed to affect pupils’ progress in the year-long study of achievement by 751 children in seven primary schools in Blackpool. It found eight out of 10 environmental factors displayed significant correlations with the pupils’ performance and the report’s authors concluded: “This clear evidence of the significant impact of the built environment on pupils’ learning progression highlights the importance of this aspect for policymakers, designers and users.”
Gove has dismissed the significance of the findings. A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “There is no convincing evidence that spending enormous sums of money on school buildings leads to increased attainment. An excellent curriculum, great leadership and inspirational teaching are the keys to driving up standards.”
“This study confirms what our practice has long believed,” Rogers said. “Good design has the potential to have a truly positive effect on the way children learn. Mossbourne is a striking piece of evidence: high in the league tables and with staff and pupils commenting enthusiastically about the impact of the school’s careful design. We proved it is possible to produce a well-designed school collaboratively with the senior teaching staff which adheres to a tight budget. Gove is making it unneccessarily difficult to design good schools.”
The Royal Institute of British Architects has said it is seriously concerned the government’s proposed “flat-pack” approach “will place a straitjacket on future generations of teaching professionals and quickly render these schools redundant”.
It added: “The designs for secondary schools include narrow corridors and concealed stairs that are difficult to supervise. In many schools this is likely to result in the need for additional staff supervision to maintain good behaviour and avoid bullying.”
Cost-cutting, bullying, the creation of chaotic and fragmented systems, the marketisation of education, shoddy architecture, . . . yes, Mr Gove, we’ll look back in anger, and a great deal of disgust – if we don’t already do that.