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A Week in Politics

Michael Gove set the cat amongst the pigeons last Monday at the Conservative Party Conference when he announced that the way school league tables are calculated was going to change - and change immediately and be back-dated.

At the moment, league tables use a figure which says how many of its pupils got A*-C GCSE in Maths and English.The grades which are used are those that a student will go on to use in life, i.e. if a student has done resits, even a number of times, the best grade will be used.  The change is that schools’ performance in the league tables will now be based on first entry results only.

With more parental (and student) choice, league tables are increasingly important to schools, and it’s not surprising that a culture has grown where there are schools which put students into exams early - sometimes a year or so early - when they think they could get a C…they have then used resits to work with those students to improve their grades.  This sudden policy change means that schools will now only want to enter students when they are ready to get their best possible grade.

From a wider policy position, I actually support minimising a culture where students are continuously being externally examined and taught to test.  The recent decision to keep young people in school until they have achieved their Level 2 (equivalent of A*-C in Maths and English) also means that there will be more pressure to get students ‘through (though that this latter policy decision is driven by ‘employers’ rather than educators isn’t something that sits entirely comfortably for me).

What I find hard to comprehend is the complete lack of consultation with schools and teachers, putting yet more pressure on systems which are already struggling and not giving schools time to make changes to the way they teach and plan in advance.  There are schools that will free-fall through the league tables as a result of this policy change.  Many will go into special measures. This will impact on their funding, and ultimately on their ability to change their approach and their position.  Someone suggested to me that this was part of the current Government’s push to turn more schools into Academies, but in fact, of all schools it is Academies who use this resit culture the most and will suffer most in league tables, so I’m not sure…

There’s a horrible nagging feeling I have that Gove is trying to crush the teachers’ unions in the same way the last Conservative government crushed the miners’ and manufacturing unions…was it just co-incidence that this policy change was announced the day before the teachers’ strike, or was he flexing his proverbial muscles?

The bottom line is that current students won’t benefit as schools are in disarray; suddenly having to dance to a different tune once the year’s planning has already been put in place.  Last Friday was the deadline for withdrawing students who had been put in for exams in November, schools weren’t given the time to make informed decisions about the best approach and many will simply withdraw all their students…so the exam boards win (by keeping the fees but having no work to do), but the chaos will impact on teaching and the way that planning is and has to be re-structured over the year.

My gut instinct is that whilst this policy will be brought in, there will be too much uproar and it will be dated into the future rather than back-dated, anything else seems insane.

I mentioned the teachers’ strike last week. All the teachers I know work extremely hard; very long days, a lot of input into kids - inspiring them and interesting them despite all the other distractions in a young person’s life - and a huge amount of bureaucracy.  The number of education policy changes over the past 15 years is horrendous.  I know of few other professional cultures where burn out and being signed off with stress seem to be treated as a norm.

Teachers have seen a 15% cut to pay, including an enforced increased contribution to their pension schemes.  Despite paying more in, they are told to expect around 50% less than today’s pension when it comes to retirement.Teachers can’t just move to a different company with better benefits.

Teachers’ Unions have stated they have no confidence in Michael Gove and his policies, partially as any type of conversation, consultation or negotiation has been shut down.

They have been ignored and, to my mind, their last resort is calling strike action.   I heard a few complaints from parents last week who’d had to find childcare…I think part of the point is that without schools, without teachers, there would be no “childcare”, or subject specialists teaching our children, and not just about Maths, English, Drama, Art, Science, Languages…but how to socialise, grow and become responsible adults.  We need to support our teachers, they do an incredibly difficult job and they really do know their job better than politicians do.  Perspective is important.

Rant over!

Cheers, Will

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