One of my biggest frustrations is that no-one in charge of education can satisfactorily articulate what they the think the core purpose of schooling is. Micheal Gove, for example, desired a highly qualified workforce delivering a liberal education whilst simultaneously legislating for an unqualified one that minds children for free. More recently Nicky Morgan said that schools exist to boost the economy whilst simultaneously enabling dysfunctional children to 'get on in life' – the services best qualified to do this have been cut to, apparently, boost the economy.
This duality of purpose causes a lot of problems for teachers as it encourages those with particular vested interests to enter schools and encourage the prioritisation of their particular aspiration at the expense of others. For example a key worker may seek to prioritise a children's socialisation at the expense of academic outcomes while an Ofsted inspector may do the opposite – try pleasing both! With this in mind I feel a sense of profound disappointment at the latest offering about the purpose of education from Schools minister Nick Gibb. Here is a choice excerpt from Nick's recent speech at the education reform summit (1):
“Education is the engine of our economy, it is the foundation of our culture, and it’s an essential preparation for adult life. Delivering on our commitment to social justice requires us to place these 3 objectives at the heart of our education system.”
“We all have a responsibility to educate the next generation of informed citizens, introducing them to the best that has been thought and said, and instilling in them a love of knowledge and culture for their own sake. But education is also about the practical business of ensuring that young people receive the preparation they need to secure a good job and a fulfilling career, and have the resilience and moral character to overcome challenges and succeed.”
If education and the teaching profession in particular are being pulled by vested interests, damagingly, in conflicting directions then we desperately need one core reason for being. Gibb has come up with something so convoluted it ceases to mean anything distinct at all; his three objectives are so broad that there is no social malady for which a child's schooling can't be blamed and no reason why any vested interest cannot legitimately seek to interfere with a schools work.
(1) Gibb, N. (2015) The purpose of education. Available from https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-purpose-of-education. Last accessed: 22 July 2015.
1. The purpose of education
One of the problems with British education is that no-one in the educational establishment can agree on what it is actually supposed to do. Michael Gove, for example, paradoxically desired a highly qualified workforce delivering a liberal education whilst legislating for an unqualified one childminding kids for free. Morgan is no different:
'My number one priority as Secretary of State for Education is ensuring that we give every young person the best preparation for life in modern Britain…
…give them the skills they need to succeed in a 21st century workplace.
…it benefits the whole country, making us more prosperous and competitive in the global economy.
…and, above all, help them get on in life.'
Although this rhetoric represents a significant, and worrying, shift towards the disastrous policies of Ed Balls the duality of purpose remains; Morgan expects schools to boost the economy and simultaneously solve the kids problems before they turn into dysfunctional adults. As a teacher I've never really felt qualified to do either and the people who are have been cut back in the wave of austerity that one assumes is also making us more prosperous and competitive in the global economy. To his credit Gove had considerable time for teachers teaching a subject they like and know a lot about and it is shame that Morgan has moved away from this; I do wonder if we'll ever have an education secretary who values a liberal education for it's own sake.
2. Education and politics
'The truth is, before this Government came to office Ministers trumpeted ever higher grades and pass rates, while standards were allowed to fall. England’s performance in international studies stagnated while other countries surged ahead, and employers and universities cried out that young people weren’t leaving school with the knowledge or skills they needed. This wasn’t the fault of hard working teachers, but of a system which prized all the wrong outcomes.That approach is in the past. Under the leadership of my predecessor, Michael Gove, we’ve turned the exam system on its head, so that it works for children, not politicians.'
Morgan articulates the problematic examination system that the Coalition government inherited from New Labour very well and she does well to highlight government reform in this area which was a step in the right direction. It is, however, a bit rich of Morgan to claim that the necessary consequences of these reforms don't work for politicians. Falling pass rates do work for politicians particularly those that have pushed through less palatable reforms by saying that the education system, and particularly those working in it, are not good enough.
3. Respect for the teaching profession
Gove upset a lot of people, including many natural allies, by negatively stereotyping teachers to justify unpalatable reforms of teachers pay and conditions. The juxtaposition of language and tone between 'enemies of promise' Gove and Morgan is rather obvious:
'I know that these changes haven’t always been easy and it’s a testament to the sheer dedication of teaching professionals across the country that schools have adapted to them so quickly.
No one should be under any illusion about the great respect that I have for the profession and the work they do to fulfil our shared vision of creating an education system which enables all young people, regardless of their background, to realise every ounce of their potential.'
One might be thankful for Morgan's kind words if the actions that accompanied Gove's were revoked – this hasn't happened. Performance related pay won't improve educational outcomes and it is immensely unpopular on the frontline; it is reform stemming from the disrespectful belief that people are self interested and lazy without some extrinsic form of motivation to chivvy them along.
It is disappointing when ministers say reforms aren't about politicians right after making political hay from said reforms and it is disappointing when ministers claim to respect a profession but stay silent about reform that grew from a disrespectful premise. It wouldn't be the best start to Morgan's tenure at the DfE if people are sceptical about what she says – of course the upside of that is that one can, more or less, ignore Morgan's Ballsian musings about the purpose of education and trying to train kids for 21st century jobs or whatever that is supposed to mean.
Following his departure from the Department of Education a lot of bloggers were compelled to voice their opinions about his four year reign as Secretary of State for Education. In the name of originality I've decided to do exactly the same thing!
If nothing else no one can ever accuse Gove of not standing up for his beliefs regardless of their popularity with the electorate and within the teaching profession. Gove was contemptuous of the fashionable pedagogy that spawned things like learning styles and learning pyramids. He seemingly ignored the bureaucratic monoliths created by his ministerial predecessors: Every Child Matters and Assessing Pupil Progress. His focus on subject knowledge and academic rigour meant that, for the first time in years, 'traditional' teachers had a champion at the summit of the educational establishment – although the battle against child centred progressivism was only beginning Gove endorsed intelligent critiques of Ofsted and the rise of teacher led blogging and networking through conferences such as researchED. In terms of policy Gove's biggest impact was to change school accountability measures to tackle the scandalous rise of the equivalent qualification – this will probably do more to improve the educational lot of disadvantaged children, which was important to Gove, than anything else.
Despite the aforementioned changes Gove's departure from the Department for Education was generally well recieved by the downtrodden rank and file of the teaching profession. Gove seemingly had a monetarist view of management believing that most people are essentially lazy and self-interested and need to be pushed along by extrinsic forms of motivation; his very worst policies – psuedo competition between schools, using broad averages as benchmarks and performance related pay for teachers are the product of this thinking. The irony here is that Gove's ideas about people meant that he found idealogical kinship with the school managers responsible for the problems he identified in the first place.
All of this meant Gove was a paradoxical minister. For every collaborative effort (aka researchED) Gove admired there was an edu-brand like Harris to be praised. Every time Gove reminded us about standards he'd name check an educational 'hero' who'd benefited from lowering them. For every 'traditional' teacher blogger Gove praised in public power would be handed to a non-teaching monetarist behind closed doors. Gove introduced a pay system that relies on individual self interest then bemoaned the selfish nature of teachers taking industrial action. Gove admired Army style discipline yet turned a blind eye to the behaviour crisis. Gove never really articulated what he thought schools were for; sometimes it was all about experts providing a liberal education while at other times it was about free child care provided by, well, anyone the school managers feel like.
I mentioned earlier that Gove stood up for his beliefs – this would have been a good thing if those beliefs, when taken together, actually made sense.
Other articles about Gove that I really liked:
Other articles about Gove that I really didn't like:
'”Of Mice and Men, which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included. It was studied by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past,” said OCR, one of Britain's biggest exam boards. “Michael Gove said that was a really disappointing statistic.”OCR added: “In the new syllabus 70-80% of the books are from the English canon.”'
As with all things Gove it didn't take long for the more vocifourous members of the 'blob' to froth prematurely this time accusing him of imperialism or philistinism in the name of academic ambition, all for daring to suggest kids read something that isn't Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. However the open hostility towards Gove's favourite authors (all teenagers find Dickens boring apparently) suggests that this argument is more about the blob's collective prejudices and antipathy towards British culture than challenging kids intellectually.
As ever the riposte to this Twitter mob was led by some of the more sensible education bloggers and writers. Michael Merrick was in particularly good form:
'The real root of the issue – that kids should be given the opportunity in school to read a broader range of texts, and most don’t get the opportunity to do so – has been crushed by the weight of a thousand slurs about the moral and intellectual deficiencies of He Who Rocked The Boat. If this really were about the kids, and not Gove, they might find some sympathy with his remarks. After all, if most children leave our schools never having read a classic novel from the 19th century, why is that to be celebrated? If few children have had the opportunity to engage with the literary fruits of the culture in which they are being formed, then why not question how that should be? I once wrote that it is a tragedy that too often we deny our children access to high culture because of the hang-ups of their teachers. One or two folk pulled me up on that. I feel increased resolve to insist on it today.'
Yet amongst the insults, froth and rebuttals two problems associated with what has been suggested in the Times article have been missed. Firstly there are pragmatic issues – a lot of English Literature students study Of Mice and Men and the resources associated with it will, presumably, have to be mothballed and replaced costing time and money. Secondly if Gove really has influenced an exam board (and he denies it) then it would represent yet more centralisation of power on the part of the Secretary of State. I can think of few things more likely to discourage teachers from exposing children to a broader canon of classic literature than a specification imposed by central government and reinforced via high stakes examinations. Interestingly Gove's own rebuttal references an academy that is yet to put a student through a GCSE English Literature exam.
I think that many of the educators leaping to the defence of Gove over the rogue meme were as uncritical about it as the detractors were petulant. Specifications and compliance targets are a massive cause of dumbing down although the finger of blame is often pointed, by those writing the specifications, at 'incompetent' and 'lazy' teachers. The solution is always more specifications and compliance targets. If we are aiming to broaden children's horizons by exposing them to a larger spectrum of classic literature then we'd do well to look at method and not just sentiment – what was described in the Sunday Times was a represented a terrible method and it is to Gove's credit that he has distanced himself from it:
'Gove was widely criticised for stripping English literature out of the core GCSE exam but according to his argument, when Shakespeare was on the national curriculum, children actually had less opportunity to experience whole plays. He blames poorly designed league tables, pressure on teachers and the unscrupulous behaviour of some exam boards. Then, children only read extracts, whereas now, thanks to initiatives by such organisations as the RSC and the Shakespeare Schools Fund — both of which he supports — the opposite is true.'
A few days ago the Times published an article (behind paywall) about teachers objecting to the increasing rarity of the school staffroom. This isn't news. CEO type managers have long set their sights on the staffroom whose very existence runs contrary to their 'utopian' vision of teachers taking tea with students or enjoying a working lunch in communal spaces within their departments.
For most of these managers the road to utopia has revolved around making the staffroom so inconvenient a proposition that teachers may as well never go there; for some this process is virtually accidental:
Foulds, head of Cheltenham Bournside School, is not a fan of the staffroom. In the past year he has moved the one at his Gloucestershire school and reduced it significantly in size.
The PE departmental staffroom is what might be politely described as “lived in”. Two parallel rows of desks are cluttered with laptops, folders and loose sheets of paper. Above them, the walls are lined with timetables and notices. By the door, pictures of babies are pinned to a noticeboard. Four teachers are sitting in the small space; fleeces hang on the backs of their chairs. One works on his laptop, while holding an open book on his knees.
“We don’t have a lot of time between lessons,” says PE teacher Victoria Clasper. “We’re either setting up equipment or we’re in the changing rooms. Lunchtimes, you’re either on duty or running a club. Then we’re in here when you’ve got non-contact time – when you’re planning and organising.”
The PE staff are, essentially, proving Foulds’ point for him. His school has almost 1,800 pupils, 125 teachers and 75 members of non-teaching staff. “In terms of space, the main staffroom would not support that,” he says. But it does not need to: most people simply do not use it. There is an all-staff briefing once a week, but that is the only time all colleagues will be in there at the same time. Many barely visit at other times.
“You have to ask yourself: what purpose does it serve?” says Foulds. “What’s it for? Are there other priorities for the space? There’s always a question over the efficiency of having a staffroom at all. But that has to be consistent with the ability for staff to have work areas.”
For others the decision to axe the staffroom was deliberate:
…scrap teacher staffrooms. Michael Wilshaw has done precisely that and, along with other measures, has produced one of the most successful state schools in the country – Mossbourne Community Academy. He has no central staffroom and teachers have to take tea and coffee in 'learning areas' around the school, “I wanted staff and students in close proximity at all times so that, at vulnerable periods such as breaks when you get bullying and vandalism, pupils don't all head in one direction and staff in another”.
In case anyone felt like complaining the Secretary of State for education Michael Gove, desperate for acceptance from his petulant cabal of free marketeering idols, quickly sought to remove any legal obligation for schools to provide a staffroom in the first place.
So the problem here isn't so much the vision of utopia itself but the way in which we have got there. The modern normality of the working lunch is rather sad as is the idea of the corporate school manager kettling teachers out of the staffroom for a pasta pot and riot control; Wilshaw may have scrapped staffrooms but, to his credit, had a bigger grasp on behaviour in the first place. The exhaustion and stress caused by these ill thought out acts are a mere microcosm of the wider culture of burn out and short termism within the teaching profession. There is little to be gained from pointing this out to the educational establishment and ambitious managers that seek to join it for experienced teachers with the time and space to talk are the enemy of that other grand vision we hear less about – a cheap, recyclable workforce that doesn't complain.
In this series of blogs I argue that, under the stewardship of the current educational establishment, teaching has ceased to be a career and is fast becoming a McJob. In Part 1 I concluded that terms and conditions, which are currently quite good, will deteriorate due to deregulation and market forces. In Part 2 I suggest that teaching can claim no prestige while the educational establishment stalls over the behaviour crisis. Wikipedia defines a McJob as a 'low-paying, low-prestige dead end job…where little training is required, staff turnover is high and workers activities are tightly regulated by managers' – this blogpost deals with the issue of training.
Like the system of national scales that governed pay there has also been a certain amount of regulation regarding Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Teachers working in state funded schools have been required to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) following a period of ITT – contrary to the beliefs of many of the anti QTS voices there has always been a number of ways to achieve QTS and all of them involve a significant amount of training. As part of their regulated pay and conditions qualified teachers were entitled to five days of INSET training as part of their CPD. The point is that, until recently, it would be counter productive to claim that teaching is a job that requires little in the way of training.
Whether this training is actually any good is not the purpose of this blog although it is worth mentioning that the perception of poor quality training (particularly university based training) is apparently behind Education Secretary Michael Gove's desire to move teacher training away from where it largely happens currently, the universities, into 'the best schools'. He has also sought to deregulate training altogether by allowing academies to hire teachers who have not worked towards achieving QTS and tamper with entitlements to training through INSET.
Trusting schools to provide higher quality ITT than the current system, once again, requires a belief that school managers are actually able, or even have the desire, to do a better job – given the poor quality of CPD offered in many schools (see here) this seems optimistic. Gove's deregulation of training also coincides with the marketisation of education and the increasing dominance of large academy chains. If we accept Klein's observations about corporations and the market (see here) then investment in training or even people who have gained QTS will not be a priority for chains who will seek to reduce the costs of their workforce to fund expansion or profit by purchasing services from subsidiary arms of their own business.
“Take one of our brilliant maths teachers, Melissa Harding. Mel started with us in 2008 as cover and she immediately shone with her refreshing motivational style and enthusiasm. It was clear we had an outstanding talent on our hands, so we made her a maths “teacher”.
Her students performed above expectations, which is surely a good indicator of success, and then, after only two years with us, she was graded highly during an Ofsted inspection. In fact, she received a higher grade than some qualified maths specialists. No one – parents, teachers, staff – could have guessed that Mel was non-QTS.
Of course we were monitoring her closely, as we do with all our staff, but the bottom line, surely, is results, and Mel’s results are superb. Our entrepreneurial vice-principal/head of the upper school, Jane McBride, still does not have QTS, but her teaching of business studies is outstanding.”
Monitoring (likely Ofsted style) is not training so essentially this pretty objectionable rhetoric is advocacy for employing people (probably for much less money) as cover supervisors then making them 'teachers' if they are any good.
The worst we can expect, aside from academy and free school CEOs actually getting the students to teach each other for free, is the creation of jobs that do not require any training at all; McJobs where all that is required of the teaching staff is to be one step ahead of the kids:
“These recommendations will make teaching a more attractive career and a more rewarding job. They will give schools more flexibility to respond to specific conditions and reward their best teachers.It is vital that teachers can be paid more without having to leave the classroom. This will be particularly important to schools in the most disadvantaged areas as it will empower them to attract and recruit the best teachers.”
Gove has also scrapped some regulations that govern teachers contact time and holidays:
There are many reasons to reject PRP (Andrew Old's convincing argument against PRP can be found here) and it is difficult to see how Gove's rhetoric about school hours is little more than advocacy for schools providing other (non educational) services for free effectively leading to a cut in teacher pay. Attempts to allay these concerns frequently revolve around the moral integrity of the school managers who are being given the 'flexibility' to change the terms and conditions of their employees; the assumption here is that all school managers believe that hiring the best teachers will secure better outcomes and that they will attempt to out bid each other for those teachers.
My objection to this argument is that it ignores pretty much every observation made about the effects on pay from the type of quasi market that schools now operate in. Klein (2000) documented some patterns in the behaviour of corporations vying for market domination:
- Large corporations consider branding and 'selling lifestyles' to an increasingly younger group of consumers more important than manufacturing products.
- In order to achieve market dominance corporations merge to create even larger bodies that can undercut competition or aggressively invade target areas. Said corporations also abuse existing laws to prevent legitimate criticism of their brands.
According to Klien the prioritisation of branding and market dominance have had the resultant negative effects on workers pay and conditions:
- Corporations have sought to outsource burdensome aspects of their work – the decline in manufacturing in the West and the rise of sweatshops in the East are a direct consequence of this.
- In the West manufacturing jobs have been replaced by jobs in the service sector – these jobs are often low paid, temporary and overwhelmingly part time. The public is sold the idea that these jobs are for students or recent graduates so the low pay and poor conditions are not an issue.
- Direct or indirect union busting.
- In order to secure a better job many competitive industries require people to work for free or pay for their training before they will consider employing them on a permanent basis.
It is often assumed that most of this corporate behaviour is limited to fast food giants or the big supermarket chains – the following excerpts from Klien (2000) are about the behaviour of Microsoft in the 1990s:
“..after employees have been scouted, interviewed and selected by Microsoft, they are instructed to register with one of five payroll agencies that have special arrangements with the company. MicroTemps are then hired through an agency that acts as the official employer: cutting pay checks, withholding income taxes and sometimes providing bare-bones benefits”
“And in June 1998 the company introduced a new policy requiring temps who have been on an assignment with the company for a year or more to take a thirty-one day break before they can take another “temporary” post.” (thus ensuring that, legally, the temps stayed temporary)
“”Don't get caught with useless fixed assets,” Bob Herbold, Microsoft's chief operating officer says, explaining his staffing philosophy to a group of shareholders. According to Herbold, pretty much everything but the core functions of programming and product development fall into the “useless fixed assets” category – including the company's sixty-three receptionists, who were laid off, losing benefits and stock options, and told to reapply through the Tascor temp agency. “We were overpaying them,” Herbold said.”
“…Microsoft contracted out the task of managing the contractors to Johnson Controls, which also takes care of the campus facilities. “Our revenue has gone up 91 percent and our head count has actually decreased 19 percent,” Bob Herbold says proudly. And what did Microsoft do with the savings? “We're plowing them into R&D and we're plowing them into profit, obviously.””
The government currently has no ideological objection to brand expansion or quasi markets in education and it shows; in the two years following the 2010 general election most of the large academy chains doubled the number of schools in their portfolio – the largest (AET) moved from 7 schools to 33 schools during this time period (Hill et al 2012). The following quotes from Michael Gove and Hill et al (2012) illustrate this zeal for expansion in some quarters of the educational establishment:
“I believe that chains such as the Harris group, Ark or the United Learning Trust are doing an amazing job on the ground, working with local authorities and turning round schools in the worst condition. As far as I'm concerned they should grow at the fastest sustainable rate.”
“The advantages reported by CEOs of expanding chains include an increased capacity to improve attainment for more young people; a broader base for developing leaders; greater scope for sharing school improvement expertise and CPD; more opportunities for staff deployment and promotion; increased economies of scale; a bigger platform for supporting innovation; and a stronger brand to attract parents and applications for admission.”
The current behaviour of many managers and/or establishments also leaves little room for optimism:
- Many schools have already shown willingness to dump some 'useless fixed assets' by outsourcing their catering and cleaning services – the results are variable and no one is pretending that the jobs are desirable.
- Teaching staff are, on average, already paid less in those institutions (academies) that have the most freedom over pay and conditions while the managers in those same institutions are, on average paying themselves more (see Garner 2013).
- I know of two schools where management have implicitly threatened staff about union membership.
- Schemes such as TeachFirst openly describe teaching as a temporary career option for graduates.
The existing system of national pay scales, where an experienced journeyman can be paid more than an effective teacher with less years in the classroom, was never going to be perfect. That said, at least it was honest in the sense that a graduate knew what to expect before investing time, money and effort to enter the teaching profession. Education is a quasi market. Just like the fast food, fashion and grocery markets of the 1990s it looks set to be dominated by a small number of big name organisations and there is no shortage of managers out there who seem willing to facilitate further 'expansion' by cutting workforce costs. With even more freedom to set pay and conditions secured what is to stop the new CEOs of British education from making further cuts to their workforce resulting in teaching positions with McJob levels of pay?
Garner, R. (2013) Rising Number of State School Headteachers Paid £100,000 Salaries. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/rising-numbers-of-state-school-headteachers-paid-100000-salaries-8597992.html. (Accessed 30.07.13)
Hill, R. et al (2012) The Growth of Academy Chains: Implications for Leaders and Leadership. Available from: http://www.thegovernor.org.uk/freedownloads/acadamies/the-growth-of-academy-chains.pdf (accessed 30.07.13)
Klein, N. (2000) No Logo. Flamingo: London.
Robinson, G. (2010) Qualified Teachers' Pay Scales. Available from: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6000186 (accessed 26.07.13)