I have been teaching for 24 years now and at the age of 48, this much I know about the politicisation of education in England…
I make no apology for being overtly political when it comes to education. The politicians started it. Education is so obviously a political football and it is time Headteachers started parking the bus and defending in numbers.
I knew that the last election would affect me professionally more than any other. It was clear that Tory education policy would see the effective dismantling of state education as we know it. If they win the next election we will look back on these years and think they were a cinch in comparison to what they will do next to our education system.
Even by the time I got to university I couldn’t understand why intelligent people were right-wing; I always thought everyone should have an equal chance to succeed, and still do. It took a young lecturer in the English department at York to point out that the right have a different fundamental starting point, survival of the fittest. It’s important to remember that every single Tory policy decision has that mantra at its core.
Anyone who has played 5-a-side against me knows that I’m hellishly competitive! I lead a school where we have competitive sports in spades. However, I refuse to compete with other schools. If you take pleasure in other schools not doing as well as yours on examination results day, you are taking pleasure in young people not doing as well as your young people, something which is philosophically and morally indefensible. Collaborate rather than compete – it’s the only way.
I won’t renew my Labour Party membership until I hear their education policy outlined in detail. They haven’t even been able to highlight the differences between Blair’s Academies project and the Coalition’s Academies deception. Twigg’s ineptness in the face of Gove’s onslaught has been breath-taking.
All ruling parties centralise. Baker’s Gerbil in 1988 introduced 365 new centralised powers. Whilst Gove says subsidiarity is best he practises the opposite philosophy. I know some Academy Headteachers who have suddenly realised that when you convert to Academy status you end up with Michael Gove as your Head of Children’s Services.
OFQUAL and OFSTED’s independence from the politicians is palpable nonsense. Gove admits he has told Glenys Stacey that standards must be maintained; whilst I agree entirely with those sentiments, that sounds like instruction from the Secretary of State to me. When Gove claimed OFSTED was independent from Government at the ASCL conference this year, a hall full of Headteachers laughed at him loud and long.
Define your own success. When OFSTED turn up bombard them with evidence which shows why you are successful. Everyone likes success so be very clear about why your school, in its current context, is a success, and repeat the success message relentlessly.
An educationalist I admire greatly is called, ironically, David Cameron! If you don’t follow him on Twitter, I recommend him unreservedly – @realdcameron. He said to me recently, when I expressed concern about this summer’s results, “Revel in your sense of responsibility and pity the narrowness of some of those who judge you and your school.” Such wisdom is a rare commodity.
This politically charged time is the time to stick to our values and get on with getting on, doing all we can for our young people. I know I go on about this a lot, but when so many certainties about education are being undermined, our core purpose and values-system will be all that remain.
Headteachers need to trust their colleagues more than ever. Seneca said, “The first step towards making people trustworthy is to trust them.” In the climate of fear which this government has so brilliantly cultivated it is too easy to threaten staff in response to being threatened oneself. Headteachers have to do the opposite. At our school we deliver over 2,000 lessons each week; I cannot teach them all, so what I have to do is develop my colleagues in a safe school environment which allows them to thrive professionally and personally. It’s the only way I will keep my job.