Education: “a hurricane of ill thought initiatives”

Education under threat: “a hurricane of ill thought through initiatives”

Phil Clarke, Teacher, Brighton Socialist Party

In a 2010 election manifesto, the young people, teachers and parents of Britain were promised this:

A Conservative government will give many more children access to the kind of education that is currently only available to the well-off: safe classrooms, talented and specialist teachers, access to the best curriculum and exams, and smaller schools with smaller class sizes with teachers who know the children’s names.

Looking back at the last four years of education policy, I believe we can write this pledge more accurately. I would suggest the following:

A Conservative government will give many more children the kind of education that is best for the market. Free schools and academies will further our long term desire for profit making schools.

The well-off, safe in private education, will be sheltered from this hurricane of ill thought through initiatives – as they always have been.

Requirements to be qualified will be stripped away. Because we do not need talented and specialist teachers – after all, anyone can walk into a school and teach can’t they?

The curriculum and exams will not only be endlessly changed, but narrowed to be about ‘British values’. We will shrink access to the arts, music and vocational education. Because let’s be honest, if you’re not academically minded at 16, you’re not going to help us in the league tables, are you?

Smaller schools will be eaten up by large academy chains out to stake their claim on future opportunities to make profit. So what if they are unaccountable to any local community, and even remain uninspected by Ofsted? We can’t have a situation where mere financial mismanagement and poor leadership undermine our policy!

Class sizes will continue to be high. And just to be sure children are treated as data rather than human beings, we are going to crank up teacher workload to ever increasing levels.

Detailed planning, a new initiative or priority every week, increased testing, endless appraisal targets and tearing up workload protection – we will make sure teachers are unable to recall even their own names.

Oh, and by the way, we will also raise tuition fees to create a lifetime of debt for students. And we will make it easier to sack teachers – even though two out of five quit within five years.

Teachers will have to compete for pay rises. We will stop them being able to move schools without fearing a pay cut.

And we will make Michael Gove so hated by the profession that hundreds of thousands of teachers will undertake strike action with more anger and passion than ever before – then we will sack him.

I should for balance mention something of the Labour manifesto for the coming election. I am expecting it to look something like this:

Labour agrees with all the policies carried out by the Tory-led government. We would only add that we think teachers do not really care about their students.

So we will make them take an oath promising to do their job.

Oh, and we will give them a compass – a symbol for the moral compass they must be for young people. After all, we have no use for ours anymore.

A day in the life of a teacher

Nicky, Primary school teacher

6.00am: coffee and browsing for education news.

8.00: arrive at school. Planning will have been done on Sunday or the weeknight before. The expectation is that planning is done daily to reflect learning from the day before. This makes it very difficult to have evenings out. Check emails. Get resources ready.

8.40: children arrive in school. I listen to readers if possible. But at the moment I’m supposed to have structured conversations with 13 sets of parents by next week. Each takes 15 minutes.

9.00: one to one maths tutoring.

Gaps widen

9.30: maths target group. The teaching part of my job is the easiest and by far the most enjoyable. However, the expectations for accelerated and wider learning are unrealistic. It usually takes two to three lessons to embed each new concept – I’m supposed to do it in one. The gap between children’s achievement and what they are expected to achieve widens.

10.30: break. Not on duty so able to grab a coffee. Pop in to see nurture group which I also have responsibility for planning. Check emails.

10.45: literacy. I used to have a small group of children newly arrived from other countries or with specific special needs. Now the move is towards “quality first teaching”. This means these children are taught within a class of 30. My job is to make sure they can access the curriculum. There are currently 20 children needing my help across three classes, and I can’t be in all classes at the same time. At least once every day I feel frustrated I can’t do more.

11.45: phonics group. I love my group; they really enjoy the structure of the lessons and make progress. Unfortunately this is not seen in other areas of the curriculum. We are beginning to phase it out.

12.20pm: lunchtime. Usually spend most of it discussing the needs of individual students with colleagues, and marking work. I make sure I eat though – some do not even do that!

1.15: once a week I teach another year group to cover for planning, preparation and assessment time. We have extra teachers in my school to ensure this is covered by qualified staff. We are no longer supposed to cover, but the arrangement works for us. Covering a class is difficult, but it’s much harder to manage behaviour if you do not know the children. I’ve prepared reading activities, a whiteboard flip and planned a creative writing session. This is followed by singing assembly which is, fortunately, led by someone else.

3.15: speak to parents; home time for children.

3.30: staff training on the new science curriculum. Our training is usually good; we were a teaching school but gave it up this year. Too tired to enjoy today’s though.


4.30-6.00: I usually stay in school until the caretaker throws me out. If I do that I don’t have to carry books home to mark.

7.00-9.00: I spend on average two hours a night working at home, and all day Sunday. I know some teachers who spend much longer, mostly on data driven tasks. I’ve been teaching for twenty years so I know the shortcuts, and won’t do tasks I think are irrelevant.

Total daily work: ten to 12 hours Monday to Friday; five hours Sunday.

Total weekly work: about 60 hours.

A programme for decent education

Socialist Party demands include:

■ Free, publicly run, good quality education, available to all at any age

■ No to creeping privatisation: bring academies and ‘free schools’ back into public ownership

■ Abolish university tuition fees now and introduce a living grant

■ Full funding of vocational and artistic courses alongside traditional academic subjects

■ Abolish Ofsted: for democratic accountability of schools to teachers, parents and communities – not political tools to undermine state education

Martin Powell-Davies, science teacher and Socialist Party member, sits on the national executive committee of the National Union of Teachers. In June 2014 he won over 10,000 votes as general secretary candidate of the union’s grassroots Local Associations National Action Campaign. Martin stood for:

■ A calendar of action, not isolated strike days

■ A life outside school, real limits on workload

■ End performance pay, win back our pensions

■ Organise a strong union in every workplace

■ Build unity in schools to take united action

■ Sharpen our message, reach out to parents

■ Reclaim education from damaging ‘reforms’