Sunday, 20 September 2009

The depersonalisation of education

As a teacher, I firmly believe that the best way to get the most from children is to really get to know them as individuals. As a parent, such an intimate professional knowledge of what makes my child tick is the least that I expect. Indeed, I suspect that even this government has the same understanding given the manner in which they press the idea that 'every child matters'. However, endless meddling and bureaucratisation of education have led to a very different state of affairs.

Success is now measured purely in terms of A-C pass rates at secondary level. To a degree I understand this. After all, if children leave school with more qualifications then they have a greater chance to pursue a successful future. However, the measure of success is not pure and the outcomes are rendered unreliable due to consistent dumbing down of standards, a pretence of equivalence between subjects of massively different nature and the micro management of process. All of this is effectively enforced by a politicised OfSTED whose assessment criteria now include not just an assessment of outcome but of process. This has led effectively to a state approved methodology in the classroom.

The methodology is not without its merits. After all, objective focussed teaching and learning are surely desirable when properly applied. However, too many teachers, encouraged by an inflexible orthodoxy, teach to objectives regardless of the children in front of them. Due to the centralised expectations placed upon them, teachers are increasingly strait-jacketed by their own lesson plans - having little regard for the particular needs of the individuals in front of them. In dwindling supply are the truly individual teachers who can inspire and impart knowledge (where the curriculum has not removed it) on the basis of their own professional skills. To be such a teacher now is to take a risk and to be labelled as some sort of pedagogical fifth columnist. Nanny knows best how to teach children and woe betide anybody who departs from the approved Whitehall methods.

Of course all of this, in turn, creates a massive bureaucracy. Bureaucrats to advise the teachers, others to montior they are teaching as they are instructed, others to monitor the monitors.....

Education in the state sector has become an extension of central government with the civil servants the stasi of the system. Your child is but a number on the league tables. The classroom has become a large Orwellian farm where timid shepherds lead timid animals. The problem is that the farm is led by a remote and uncaring corporation that is leading its lambs to the slaughter, rather than fattening them up to deal with the world outside the farm.

Monday, 14 September 2009


Further to my posting last week there have been 4 resignations from the teaching staff after results which did not fall in line with targets. Although in 3 cases there had been no indication of poor performance, and consequently no attempts to support it, the teachers felt it was better to leave than to face the harassment of the managers.

I repeat that I have no issues whatsoever with the removal of teachers who are demonstrably bad and who are damaging the life chances of young people. Nor would I have any compunction, as a manager myself, in dismissing chronically under-performing staff. After all, I may be a teacher but, more importantly, I am also father to 2 wonderful children. However, in the drive to increase GCSE results regardless of subject we are actually penalising certain subjects to the benefit of areas of study such as media, health and social care and sport. After all, there is a clear difference between a GCSE in French or Physics (hard and examination based) compared with the 4 GCSE equivalence BTEC Sport (easier and coursework based). Consequently, the latter meet targets much more easily while the former struggle to meet the unreliable benchmark that is set for them.

Of course, these problems disproportionately affect poorer areas, where young people are increasingly denied not only an academic curriculum but also the more intellectual teachers equipped to lead their aspirations. Whilst I do not decry the opportunity to study construction and hairdressing at school, I do lament the loss not only of the areas of discipline that allow poorer children to join the managerial classes, as well as the intellectual role models forced out by an insane targets system.

Friday, 4 September 2009

How teachers are unfairly judged.

Welcome to my first posting of the new academic year, and what a start!

Firstly, let me say that I am all for the accountability of teachers and the removal of those who are persistently bad. However, the manner in which teachers' targets are determined, allied to political meddling and a chase for GCSE numbers, is creating significant stresses and huge unfairness.

Basically, most school appear to use a measure from the Fisher Family Trust organisation to provide targets for their GCSE groups. For each child, a residual score is given calculated on the basis of actual result against predictions. In simple terms, if a youngster is predicted a C and achieves a D, the teacher is awarded -1, a score of 0 for a grade C, 1 for a B, 2 for a grade A etc. All scores are then calculated to give a residual result. Should that residual result be negative, the teacher is placed under pressure that is sometimes intolerable, for the most unfair of reasons.

Firstly, because schools should rightly be seen to have high expectations many of them use something called the FFT D indicator, which determines targets based upon the top performing 25% of schools which are deemed to be statistically similar. Likewise, for most schools, the targets are in turn set against pupil performance at the end of key stage 2 (junior school).
This raises 2 particular issues. Firstly, there is ample evidence to suggest that the results at key stage 2 are unreliable. The DCFS was rightly accused of being a significant contributor to previous SATs catastrophes due to political meddling and, with the stakes being so high, there is much empirical evidence that at the very least the KS2 outcomes appear at the expense of a broader education with significant 'test drilling' skewing actual educational achievement.

Therefore, we build castles on sand and set teachers up to fail. This is particularly the case in deprived areas (such as where I teach), as pupils who do not turn up for examinations, or are unprepared, can bring with them residual results of -6. However, there is little sympathy for the teacher with a negative residual, however it arises, as headteachers follow the slavish mantra that it is bad teaching that is to blame, not the children. Equally, it was noteworthy that the negative residuals came in the academic subjects, with BTECs doing particularly well. Funny that?

So what does this mean on the front line? It means that 3 teachers with thus far unblemished records have today been given the option of resigning with a good reference or facing competency proceedings. Welcome to the brave new world of staggering illusion and unfairness.

PS- I trade in no sour grapes here. I was fortunate enough to have a positive residual so I am left alone, at least for a while......