There are some points from Nicky Morgan’s education speech at the Conservative Party conference this week which warrant further comment. Her values and philosophy of education came through loud and clear – and not in a positive way.
Her party is proud of steamrollering ‘change’ without due regard for the teaching profession, for the teaching unions and, more importantly, for the needs of our young people. They’re happy to interpret data to fit their political agenda rather than opening their eyes and ears to truly understand what’s happening to education in this country.
The Tories apparently like ‘facts’, yet they’re perfectly willing to distort statistics and totally ignore the forgotten, unquantifiable aspects of education that are so integral to enabling our young people to live and learn well – now and in the future.
On the same day that Nicky Morgan delivered her speech the NUT provided evidence of a seriously overworked, stressed out and demoralised workforce: statistics and percentages aplenty that shouldn’t be ignored.
In the week prior to Nicky Morgan delivering her speech Ofsted announced that poor behaviour is still a significant detractor from quality learning in our schools.
In the month before Nicky Morgan’s speech the A-Level and GCSE results showed significant falls in ‘attainment’ in some areas of work – partly because the government kept on moving the goalposts with no regard for the wellbeing of our young people.
Yet Nicky Morgan opened her speech about education with the following statement,
“And just look what we have achieved.
Standards – back.
Discipline – restored.
Expectations – high.”
‘Standards’ is a nonsense word in the context of education where there are a multitude of factors influencing ‘attainment’ – and do we really want standardisation of children and young people? Of course we want higher achievement and attainment – but not at any cost, regardless of the wellbeing of children and teachers. What of individuality?
Are standards really “back”? Not according to the statistical evidence of AS level results this year. And what has been lost for our children, young people and teachers in the pursuit of standards?
Discipline restored: Really? So why does it state on the Ofsted website that behaviour is not improving in our schools?
Here are the facts (if you think statistics are facts) from the Ofsted report on “Below the Radar: Low- level disruption in the country’s classrooms”.
Schools inspected in each academic year and the percentage of schools where behaviour was good or better:
|All schools||88%||83%||-5 ppts|
Reluctant as we are to use Ofsted data to prove a point, can Nicky Morgan seriously stand in front of a conference audience and say such a thing when the evidence contradicts her words?
Expectations: Do our teachers need politicians to remind them to have high expectations for their children? We’re well capable of having realistic and appropriate expectations for all our students, including “the forgotten 50%”. These expectations include a range of achievements beyond academic success.
Ms Morgan then praised the “heroes” of education – “the teachers, teaching assistants and support staff, who rise early every day, go to work, and turn plans into action . . . the teachers that works late into the night, and then do it all again the following day.”
However she doesn’t seem to have any clear proposals to reduce stress and workload. She simply “marvels at their dedication”. Perhaps she could consider why teachers prepare for inspections that “may or may not come” rather than spend time addressing the learning needs of the children. Perhaps she could place more emphasis on professionally managed formative assessment, honoring and valuing the fact that teachers are professionals, and reduce the amount of high-stakes tests and examinations.
She came up with two ambiguous priorities.
“Firstly… to do everything I can to reduce the overall burden on teachers…
And second… to ensure that teachers spend more time in the classroom teaching.”
She went on to say,
“I don’t pretend this is easy. It’s not. The reasons that teachers in England work longer hours than their counterparts elsewhere in the world are many and varied.
I wish I could announce some great initiative today that would solve this problem at a stroke. I can’t do that. But I will work with the profession over the coming months to find solutions.”
Is Ms Morgan indicating that she’s going to do more than look after the established ‘reform’ agenda until the election, having taken over because Mr Gove was “toxic”?
The real reason that Ms Morgan can’t offer any speedy solutions is on account of political rather than educational difficulties.
If any politician was really interested in fixing education, they would listen to educationalists. They would acknowledge that some of their “high expectations” for all aren’t inclusive and aren’t appropriate for all. They’d realise that there’s a clear link between behaviour and the children’s interest levels in subjects and content that are imposed on the teacher as well as the pupil. They’d enable teachers to use pedagogy that is right for their children. They’d look carefully at the reasons why teachers are overworked and realise that pushing them into the classroom for more contact time with children might make them even more stressed if there’s insufficient planning and preparation time given.
They’d look properly, not selectively, at countries where education is truly flourishing and improving. They’d think very carefully about the whole issue of vocational and academic studies. They might even consider scrapping 16+ exams because they are outdated and unnecessary. They’d also look at the aspects of social policy that directly impact on the achievement of our young people. They’d be less dogmatic and abandon attempts to micromanage the teaching of literacy. They’d stop insulting those elements of the profession who happen to disagree with them.
Ms Morgan repeated the announcement that £5million will be available to
“support innovative ideas to help schools and young people develop character, resilience and grit…” . She also said that “we’re giving schools extra support to tackle the blight of bullying that makes young people’s school lives miserable……..tackling one of the most pernicious kinds of victimisation – homophobic bullying – that is still too widespread in Britain’s schools.
It’s not acceptable. It’s intolerable. And we will stamp it out.”
We look forward to seeing what happens to this £5million, bearing in mind that “stamping it out” is the language of the authoritarian and the bully. We suggest investment in training for teachers and teaching assistants in how to raise self-esteem, self-confidence and self-control in children who clearly lack personal, social, emotional and spiritual intelligence. We would also like to see more funding for student mentors and for high quality relationships and sex education.
“And of course, we have had to act too to ensure all schools teach every child fundamental British values.”
British? Let’s consider human virtue in the round, and what philosophers have said about it since the times of the ancient Greeks and the ancient Chinese. Let’s consider the teaching of PSHE and the idea of universal human rights and values. Let’s consider the announcement today that a Tory government would withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (backed up by the UN Convention on Human Rights) and consider how there seems little regard for the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child within the curriculum.
In fact, all politicians (and educationalists) irrespective of their political persuasion would do very well to reinvent an education system based upon this important and universal document.
Let’s conclude with this final statement from Ms Morgan:
“Our plan for education is working.
And at its heart is a simple principle: that young people should leave school prepared for life in modern Britain, with all the challenges and opportunities that life will bring.”
And herein lies the problem. Education isn’t just about “preparing for life”, or “preparing for adulthood” or “being secondary ready”. Our children and young people face challenges and opportunities now – as children, as young people, as individuals with a range of passions, abilities, frailties, interests and capabilities.
Whilst this piece is about Ms Morgan’s speech, our criticism is leveled towards all politicians, not just the Conservative Party. Please start listening to young people and to the profession if you really want to address the insupportable burden on teachers and create an education system that is fit for purpose for our children and young people.