Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Education Matters: “COLD TERROR”

In R.Richardson on June 25, 2015 at 12:33 pm

As the extent of the Conservative victory became evident, “cold terror” gripped Guardian correspondent Laura McInerny.  Looking at the education pledges in the Conservative manifesto she realised that they might be implemented in full, no longer tempered by input from the Liberal Democrats.

BULLET POINTS:

It’s quite easy – and instructive – to find the Tory Party manifesto on line. The portion dealing with education is fairly brief. What there is (not surprisingly) contrasts markedly with the manifesto brought out by the NUT, which I reviewed in the last issue. There are four main Tory policy points:

  1. Ensure a good primary school place for every child with zero tolerance for failure.
  2. Turn every failing and “coasting” school into an academy, and deliver free schools for parents and communities that want them.
  3. Develop maths, engineering, science and computing skills.
  4. Create three million new apprenticeships and ensure that there is no cap on university places, thus promoting aspiration for all.

The manifesto also sets out what makes a good school:

  • Great teachers
  • Brilliant leadership
  • Rigour in the curriculum
  • Discipline in the classroom
  • Proper exams.

no_acadmeny_Here

LISTEN TO TEACHERS:

In contrast, the NUT manifesto begins with “politicians should listen to parents and teachers”. There should be more time for teaching and less testing, “says the NUT. And the power of the local authority, severely compromised by the setting up of academies and free schools, should be restored.

“NUMB SHOCK”:

Laura Mcinerny is of the opinion that the first hundred days of the new Parliament, when Labour is in “numb shock” will be when the Tories will push through radical policies. Michael Gove got his Academies Bill passed less than a week after Labour’s last electoral defeat in 2010.  Although Gove’s replacement, Nicky Morgan, claims to be listening to teachers, she has shown no signs so far of addressing their concerns.

The Conservative manifesto has big gaps. There’s no attempt to tackle the issue of teacher shortage. 40 per cent of qualifying teachers leave within the first year, largely because of excessive workloads. Another factor affecting the problem is the higher than average number of five-year olds about to embark on their school life. With rising school numbers, it’s obvious that with the promised “freeze”, education funding will be inadequate. Indeed, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the “freeze” could amount to a cut in real terms of 12 per cent.

Another factor ignored by the Tories is that the additional costs that schools will face include not only the rise in pupil numbers but also increases in employee National Insurance contributions and pension costs.

At the NUT’s national conference a ballot was held on industrial action in the face of the cuts. It was passed overwhelmingly. A vote was also passed to hold talks with other unions on joint action.  Ian Murch of the NUT warned that a “night of the long knives” was approaching in every school and college as teaching and support staff are cut, as well as a reduction in subjects offered.

MORE FREE SCHOOLS:

The Conservatives have also pledged to open 500 more free schools in the life time of this Parliament. Early legislation is expected to set up a network of eight regional commissioners with powers to intervene in under-performing schools and turn them into academies. “Under-performing” includes schools that are deemed to be “coasting”, i.e. achieving good results but which should be doing better.  The drive is to compel 3,250 schools to become academies in the next five years. No consideration has been given to a Commons education select committee which said that it could detect no link between academisation and a rise in standards.

TESTING, FOR 4-YEAR OLDS:

Another controversial reform is baseline testing for 4-year-olds, which the NUT threatens to boycott. There will be a pilot scheme this September, and then the plan is to run it out nationwide next year.  An article in the Morning Star by Kevin Courtney, deputy General Secretary of the NUT, outlined why these tests are so wrong.

“What vision of education”, he asks, “underpins the idea that you can test a number of basic skills at 4 and use that as a base line to judge the value added by the education process at 7 and then at 11?”  Education is a collaborative process he points out, between teachers and children, where the children explore and attempt to understand the world

Another controversial reform is baseline testing for 4-year-olds, which the NUT threatens to boycott. There will be a pilot scheme this September, and then the plan is to run it out nationwide next year.  An article in the Morning Star by Kevin Courtney, deputy General Secretary of the NUT, outlined why these tests are so wrong.

“What vision of education”, he asks, “underpins the idea that you can test a number of basic skills at 4 and use that as a base line to judge the value added by the education process at 7 and then at 11?”  Education is a collaborative process he points out, between teachers and children, where the children explore and attempt to understand the world around them. There is a real danger that these tests may be used to predict individual children’s “expected progress” – in effect, covert selection whereby a child’s progress is prescribed.

Another adverse outcome will be the pressure on schools and teachers to perform – as has been demonstrated in SATS and other standardised tests. There is inevitably a narrowing of the curriculum and an excessive focus on what is measurable rather that what is important.

CAUSE FOR CONCERN:

On a number of counts, then, the Tory education manifesto gives grave cause for concern. It is difficult to be positive. But I have faith in the good will and dedication of teachers who, in spite of the strictures, do their best to inculcate a spirit of enquiry and excitement in the children they teach.

RUTH RICHARDSON

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: