When I start a project, I usually spend some time scribbling ideas. I let my imagination run free, dreaming up all the things I could do. After a while, and some honest conversations, the ideas start to crystallise into something that’s possible, and most of my wild imaginings are consigned to the bin.
This government’s first 100 days feel a bit like this. Except that, unfortunately, instead of allowing time for ideas to settle into realistic plans, Ministers have gone with every wild scribble imaginable.
“Let’s have more Academies. We’ll make a new category of schools that aren’t doing so well, that need to be changed. We could call them ‘coasting’.”
“We need more data. How about testing 4-year-olds, so we can measure children’s progress all the way from reception? It would need to be teacher-proof, and it would have to give us a number we can enter in a computer.”
“Young people aren’t getting jobs. And employers are complaining that young people don’t have enough skills for work. Let’s promise lots more apprenticeships and make people tell us how many they’ve created.”
“And then we wouldn’t need all those FE and 6th form colleges – we’ll call it restructuring.”
“But we’ll have to make sure everyone’s got academic GCSEs too. Let’s make the EBacc subjects compulsory for all pupils.”
And what does this frenzy mean for pupils and those who work with them?
- A squeeze on curriculum time for creative, practical and vocational learning, disadvantaging those whose skills and aptitudes lie in these areas; narrowing experiences for those who won’t have these opportunities outside school; and creating huge uncertainty for teachers of these subjects.
- An even greater focus on data, so that your school isn’t judged to be coasting, and your class shows relentless progress month-by-month – adding additional testing to school timetables, and more pointless workload; putting extra pressure on pupils to perform rather than learn; and squeezing the time for building relationships with pupils and finding out what really makes them tick.
- A further push to focus on education for jobs, at the expense of learning for life, leaving too many young people with skills for one particular job, no expertise in continuing their own learning, and nowhere to go even if they wanted to further their education later.
Until this government stops trying to turn every wild idea into policy, these problems will continue. They will exacerbate the problems which schools are already feeling, although government deny, in recruiting and retaining teachers. They will do nothing to alleviate the problems which are coming because of the many changes to tests and exams, from key stage 2 to A level. And schools will deal with all of these things in an era of less money, increasing poverty for children and families, and cuts to all the support services which pupils need in order to thrive at school.
When I start a project, I like to think that the outcome will be an improvement on what’s gone before. I know that, in order to make anything better, I need to understand the problems – from those who are experiencing them – and I need to bring in experts with knowledge, ideas and expertise in fixing those problems. ATL members bring both experience and expertise.
If Ministers would stop scribbling and start listening to us, perhaps the next four years can bring positive change to education, and the students we teach.