I was interested to note today that Home Secretary Alan Johnson has sacked the independent expert that he appointed, Professor David Nutt, because he gave him an opinion that he did not want to hear. Closer to home for teachers it was also noteworthy that Barry Sheerman MP recently referred to the Secretary of State for Education, Ed Balls, as a 'bully'. Indeed, the shift towards more authoritarian control in schools and the stifling of professional opinion does appear to come from a rotten culture based in Whitehall.
Indeed, schools are now only deemed successful if they are able to meet a multitude of targets which are centrally dictated, the latest particular focus from OfSTED being on safeguarding arrangements. Whitehall appears to micro-manage the LAs, which in turn micro-manage and bully the headtachers, who in turn micro-manage and bully the staff. The results on the front line are catastrophic.
Like anything imposed from a faceless and remote body, priorities that are set too often do not address local need and the targets and aims that are dictated from Whitehall are subject to the laws of unintended consequences. Teachers worth their salt understand this, knowing that the chase for numbers leads to dumbing down, that intelligent youngsters are often left to themselves as 'intervention' focuses the whole school to concentrate on C/D borderline pupils, thereby leaving the low ability to fend for themselves too. They know that the 'learning to learn' agenda is a profligate waste of time and that that the whole culture is bureaucracy and target driven, not child centred.
Regrettably, the majority of teachers where I work and either blind to much of the reality, or disinclined to challenge prevailing wisdoms due to fear. Indeed, in the big window dressing definitions of 'improvement' that exist in education, the headteachers too often exercise an almost totalitarian control. In my school this has included the sacking of 4 staff teaching harder academic subjects whose grades were not outstanding (but this was not part of a general trend for the individuals concerned). Teachers are also subject to a myriad of control measures. There is a tick list for break duties saying how many minutes late each teacher is, we are told exactly how every lesson must be uniform in the name of consistency, 'learning walks' are pretty much weekly to ensure that all policies are being followed and anybody questioning the massive explosion of paperwork, which impinges on preparation and assessment time, are immediately reported to the head.
Perhaps this is the saddest change of all- the development of quislings. A network of colleagues, eager to to progress in a new apparatchik, will quickly run to the boss to report dissent. The result is that those with independent professional standards who are by no means disloyal, are called into the office of the headteacher and threatened with the sack or told to fall in line with immediate effect.
The results are obvious. The independent, free-spirited, intelligent and thoughtful colleagues who wish to place children at the centre of the educational process regardless of ability are bullied and are starting to leave, even in a recession. Some have gone to private education, others have simply left teaching altogether. Many are making plan to get out of the state system. As Professor David Nutt bears testimony to, it has become career suicide for professionals to be independent or honest, or indeed to act with integrity.