Posts Tagged Michael Gove

The Teacher’s Strike is not Black and White

Today Boy’s school is closed due to a strike. Having written about my concerns over his education (and my growing opinion that Michael Gove is an imperious cockwomble) you would perhaps expect me to be in full support of the walk out. But it’s not quite that simple.

Firstly his school seems to be ever more at odds between what they say to parents and what they do. A stream of letters arrived last school year urging parents to make every effort to get their child to school whenever they could. “Even missing one day can have an adverse effect on their education” we were told. The head teacher was even in the local paper saying that she would be requiring a letter from parents’ employers if they requested holiday time in term , to prove that was the only time off they could get.

This was rather unfortunate as the school’s reopening was delayed by over a week due to the building work needed to turn it from an Infants to an all-through Primary. A week of “inset days”. Now they are just beginning to settle in to the new routine and they suddenly have another extra day off. If you believed last year’s letters home this will be an absolute disaster for them. They’ll probably forget how to count or something. Or maybe parents are just expected to take education more seriously than, say, building contractors employed on school projects. Or teaching unions.

Obviously, education apart, the strike means parents (including us) suddenly have to change our plans to provide child care. As an employee on a regular salary at least I’m not losing any money myself but this won’t be the case for all the parents. The school is in what is euphemistically known as ‘an up and coming area’ and many parents will lose a day’s pay or have to spend today’s money on childminding. Some of these will be earning considerably less than a teacher. So is it fair to economically and educationally inconvenience parents in a deprived area to protect a middle class salary and final salary pension?

You may find this surprising given what I’ve written about Gove in the past but if the strike was just about pay and pensions then teachers would not have my support at all. Working, as I do, in the private sector then pay freezes (or even reductions) are common place. At the lower end of the sector zero hours contracts have become more and more enforced. At the upper end it is now impossible to get a final salary pension. The company ones based on fund value have been devastated both by Gordon Brown’s tax changes and a volatile equities market. While pound cost averaging  will help the long term prospects of pension funds there is no guarantee at all that a future government of any colour will not further raid the tax concessions offered by a proper pension. If they do we won’t be able to strike.

I know. I sound like a Tory. It’s actually quite liberating.

But here’s the flip side. Firstly there is another issue being raised by the strike, that of workload. I know several teachers and trust me, it is not the 8-4 job with enormous holidays that some people like to paint it. There are lesson plans, marking, inset days, parent’s evenings to be done. Again comparing my hours to a teachers there was actually very little difference. Since the pay issue being raised is that performance related pay will be introduced then it’s not hard to forsee a situation where teachers have to work even longer hours just to keep their salary the same in real terms.

Which begs the question is teaching a career or a vocation? Strike action, for me, should be a last resort. There is no doubt that the miners in the eighties, while led by the truly hideous Arthur Scargill, were facing not a pay cut but the devastation of the industry and their communities. I’m not suggesting that we will suddenly see mass school closures and long term graduate unemployment, but what if teaching becomes so unattractive that young people no longer want to become teachers? A shortage of newly qualified teachers, particularly in the many areas where there is already a shortage of school places would be disastrous.

Already the government have allowed Academies to employ unqualified teachers. My strong suspicion is that this is a way to save money and put bums on seats. If the teaching unions genuinely believe that the new conditions will stop teaching becoming a career choice then the strike becomes far more justified.

Is it a just strike? I can’t decide. But just in case, how about we just have a national “Michael Gove is an Imperious Cockwomble” day instead? That should be fairly memorable when it comes to the 2015 election.

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Some Totally Made Up People’s Attitudes to OFSTED Ratings

Lilliania-May Thompson is 36. She works in social care and reads The Guardian’s Education section. She has considered Steiner education but couldn’t afford it. Her daughter Alfafa Bean is in Year 2.

“Of course the whole thing is a scandal. I don’t even know what they’re rated for and they take no account of alternative means and methods of education. Who says playing all day isn’t conducive to developing four year olds? Or that vegetarian only school lunches don’t provide proper nutrition? These people would have them sat in rows of desks repeating their times tables by rote and getting slapped with a ruler if they dare speak out.”

Reporter: “And what is the rating of Alfafa Bean’s school?

“Well it’s outstanding. It has been since they started inspecting I believe.”

Reporter: “And how did you get her in?”

“Well I may have fiddled the council’s residency records a bit.”

Oliver Bastard is a commodity trader for a firm of Swiss Nazi brokers in the city, specializing in jackboot futures. He likes rugby, champagne and following Jeremy Clarkson on twitter. His son Timothy is in Year Two at Station Primary.

“Bloody good idea I say! Makes sure they’re learning with the right kind of chap if you catch my drift. I didn’t gazump that Web Designer for the house right next to Timmy’s outstanding school for nothing you know. Now he’ll be able to read and write properly before we send him off to spend his teenage years in buggery and cold showers. An entire education spent without having to speak to a fucking chav. I just wish they did Latin.”

Reporter: Because it’ll be useful at private school?

“No you idiot, because it makes you fucking miserable and I had to go through it.”

Sara, 29, is a teacher at a satisfactory school. Her son Sam attends the nearest school to her house which has just been rated as “good”. He’s in reception.

“To be honest we’ve had so many inspections where I work and yet I’m sure we’re marked down simply for being in the catchment area of Bernie Grant House over there (here she points to a burned out shell of a block of flats with an Uzi poking out of a top floor window, clearly visible from the Head’s Office at her employer’s, Shameless Primary). We put Sammy in to the nearest school because we don’t think the OFSTED is as important as getting him and me to school on time and having some nice local friends to play with. In any case they always mark you on something different. I’ve literally no idea what we’ll be marked on next.”

Reporter: Here’s Michael Gove’s latest proposal.

“If you want me I’ll be in the toilet weeping.”

Wendy, 34, is a Stay At Home Mum who is also a qualified accountant. Husband Simon is in IT. Their son Toby is due to start school in September.

“Well we’re right on the border between two good schools but when we looked at last year’s admissions it was touch and go whether we’d get in  either. The nearest school to us is a church school and it’s outstanding but neither of us are religious and we just didn’t feel right sending him there. Unfortunately we didn’t quite get in either of the other two so now it looks like Toby will have to do a 3 mile return bus trip to Shameless Primary. It’s not ideal but at least they’ve cleared out the last of the crack dealers from Bernie Grant House.”

(noise of reporter choking)

Nigel, 37 lives next door to Wendy with his wife Mandy and their son Frank.

“Come in. Have a pew. And I do mean literally. They gave us that for the kitchen when we made up 60% of the collection for the new church roof. It’s amazing how connected I feel to the church despite only having gone for the last year. What’s that? No that isn’t a Richard Dawkins book on the shelf. Get out! OUT! I need to pray.”

Dave, 40, is “on benefits”. He likes Special Brew, Jeremy Kyle and farting. His son Tyrone is currently excluded.

“What’s an OFSTED? Whaaaaaarrrrrrp!”

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Respect, Education and the Far Right

Yesterday saw small protests by far right groups the EDL and BNP and counter demonstrations. The story is not very high up in the mainstream media but it dominated my twitter timeline. A chat about it all last night with @JimmyBHAFC set me thinking.

First let’s state the obvious. The EDL / BNP do not own paying respect to Drummer Rigby or any other fallen soldier for that matter. If you want to do that you can go to a memorial and leave a tribute any time you want. The far right tried to turn a fallen soldier in to a ‘Princess Diana’ issue. Back in the day it seemed you had to publicly outpour your grief for Princess Di (not to mention buy Candle in the Wind) or you were some kind of sick, uncaring bastard who wanted her dead. Now here’s the EDL trying to say that unless you were with them you were against Drummer Rigby. They failed massively and once again were outnumbered by both protesters and the police. Good.

However it also has to be said that while I think that peaceful counter demos are fine the UAF was in danger of scoring an own goal yesterday. They do not own ‘respect’ either. Stand by the side and mock by all means but even fascists have a right to lay wreaths at a memorial in this country. I think it would be a worse place if they didn’t.

So that’s the respect part dealt with but why think about education in all this? Because, for me, politics is starting to polarise as it so often does in times of forced austerity. As the credit crunch hit initially, here in Brighton people veered left, leaving the City with a Green MP and Green led council. (This gave the City an excellent MP and terrible, incompetent joke of a council from the same political party but that’s a whole other post). As further austerity has bitten, as benefit claimants continue to be demonised and as the Tory party obsesses over Europe again a significant portion of the rest of the country has veered right. UKIP support is probably at an all time high, at least in terms of poll ratings. And UKIP (or at least their spokesman) seemed quite happy yesterday to hop on the EDL bandwagon.

So we worried in our chat that this sort of ideology might become more and more attractive to the working classes. How do you stop people from making the two plus two equals five choice that you have to join the right of politics to show respect to those who fight for this country?

Education. I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The EDL may stand for English Defence League but spend just a few minutes looking at their communications on Facebook and you will see that English is not their strong point. In fact most of them can barely spell simple words. Some of them seem to think that Brighton Pavillion is a mosque (should they know different? Of course. It used to be a Royal Palace and is therefore as much part of English history and culture as fish and chips or The Sun. Plus they could have Googled it.). In short we are talking about people whose education is appalling, You could call them thick and you’d be right but that’s not a good thing. As a society we’ve failed them.

But it isn’t enough just to teach children to spell and that two plus two equals four if you ask me. Teaching of respect is equally important and something I worry Michael Gove (yes him again) does not understand in his drive for grammar tests, OFSTED inspections and Free Schools a la Toby Young. Teach a child simply to read and write without thinking and they may not know what to do with it. Teach them to think for themselves and the spelling and reading will come because they will darn well want to express themselves.

I remember when Boy came home and told me about the various festivals they had been taught about (Eid, Diwali) and being once again proud of the school he is at. They do a Nativity too though. He has a couple of Muslim children in his class who were, nevertheless, part of the Christmas concert. This is what true multiculturalism means. Not terrorism or creeping Sharia but learning about one’s own culture whilst learning to respect other people’s. I worry how long they will be able to do this.

When I bang on about education it’s because that is one place where we really can start to make a difference. The UAF blocking the Cenotaph yesterday may have lost a few more to the far right who were heading that way anyway but surely the long game is to not have anyone heading that way in the first place. Not through indoctrination or forced political correctness but by giving everyone a fair chance to think for themselves and to discuss problems in a reasonable manner. This goes for Islamic extremism too. Islamic terrorists have been poorly educated. They are vulnerable people easily brainwashed by hate preachers. They need help to extricate themselves from hate just as much as the EDL.

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of just having plans to subject 7 year olds to high pressure grammar tests (to start SORTING THE FAILURES at 7), Mr Gove also came up with ways to prevent children, particularly from poor backgrounds, being led into worlds of crime, extremism and hopelessness?

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Gove’s Reforms are for Gove not Children

So Micheal Gove wants to increase the school day and shorten holidays. Specifically he would like the school day to run until 4.30 and to have a four week summer holiday instead of six in an attempt to “catch up” with East Asia and be “family friendly”. Good job I was on the train when I read this or I would, once again, have choked on my cornflakes. It’s rare that I agree with a Union but on this occasion I have to agree that he seems to be making this stuff up on the fly. So let’s take the reforms one by one.

Firstly running the school day until 4.30. For older children, especially those doing GCSE and A levels I can actually see this making sense. It gives the children more time in a focussed environment to concentrate on study and revision rather than relying on them doing it at home. But as soon as the children are younger than this then it does seem to be, well, monumentally stupid. Very little children certainly cannot study until 4.30. Boy is in Year One at the moment and he is regularly shattered and pale when he’s picked up. In reception some of the kids are still 4 at the end of the summer term and, when I did the pick up as I do once a week, you could see that at 3pm they were on the verge of meltdown.

Finishing at 4.30 for little ones would see them going home in the dark every day in the winter whereas the current day end allows them to get home before dark even in winter. Whenever a proposal is made to get rid of the idea that our clocks change one argument is that children further north would have to go to school in the dark. Now we seem to be quite happy to send them home in the dark. Is it more dangerous or not?

But the worrying thing about this is the desire to emulate East Asia. The exam focussed learning there goes back to the 1890s and before – exactly the reason Gove says the school day needs to change. In Imperial China your best chance of a good job in the civil service depended on your ability to pass exams, each one harder than the next, that you could in theory take unlimited times. Long after Sun Yat Sen and Chiang  Kai Shek’s revolution the Chinese culture of cramming remains but is it healthy? I lived in Taiwan for nearly three years and the children there, while ostensibly focussed and studious, are actually only that. They are not children. Huge pressure is put on them to succeed so that the stress of their education and a lack of role model has led to a notoriously high teenage suicide rate. Not having a role model  may not seem connected but, of course, if your thinking is purely based on cramming and how to pass an exam, you may not have the creative ability to understand what it is that you want to do with your life. This is something they are starting to understand in Singapore for, ironically, as Gove wants to make us more like Singapore, Singapore wants a more creative and holistic education system.

Ultimately though, and most importantly, I think that children should be children rather than little adults. To have time to play, explore and be with their families.

Now the holidays. Do you like going away to somewhere foreign and sunny in the summer holidays? Because under Gove’s proposals you’d pay a lot more for doing so and have less chance of having your leave approved. In my day job I manage a team of three people and all of us have school age children. Every summer there is a balancing act that needs to be done between ensuring the staff have a break with their family and that work continues without the quality suffering. This is hard enough to organise in six weeks. Trying to cram four people’s trips away in to four weeks would be harder still. Your two weeks in the sun, if you have school age children, may be about to become one.

That may be ok though because it will also become far more expensive. We all know how much more expensive flights and hotels are in the summer holidays right? Well now that demand is going to be spread over not six but four weeks if Gove gets his way. The simple law of supply and demand dictates that the price will rise.

So a more competitive society with cleverer kids? Or a more rigid and tired society, prone to depression, and with a government supposedly committed to wealth imposing another indirect cost rise as a result of policy?

I can’t help but think that if you thought about it for more than five minutes you can see that this reform is not about the children at all and as such loses any claim to be ‘family friendly’. So if it’s not for the children who is it for?

I am sure that deep down many Tories think of teachers as lazy, militant public employees working 8.30 to 3 and doing nothing in their huge six week holiday than rolling out of bed late and catching up on Jeremy Kyle. How UNFAIR they cry when employees in the private sector are pulling 13 hour days EVERY DAY for the love of it! Taking aside the fact that teachers are actually marking and lesson planning, and preparing and hosting parents evenings, again what is so healthy about the alternative? You’ve watched The Apprentice right? Where in a rush of testosterone and duty (especially the girls) the teams roll their sleeves up and pull an all nighter for the good of the task. The task of course goes horribly south because it’s being carried out by people who are tired, inexperienced and unnaturally competitive. They all head back to the boardroom to remark on what a spectacular failure it’s been and to turn on each other like savages. Not quite how I want my kids’ teachers to behave.

But I don’t even really think this is the motivation behind the changes. I think the real reason is that Michael Gove goes home at night and imagines people in ten years time referring to ‘the Gove reforms’. He’s after fame, not improving your children.

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Why I Wouldn’t Send My Child To An Academy

I don’t know if there is a name for the practice in the UK but on the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland, quite near Derry / Londonderry, there is a practice called ‘granny-ing’ whereby children  or families go and live with a relative in Northern Ireland to get a school there or in the Republic to get a school there when in fact their normal residence is the other country. This is quite extreme but I mention it because it has a name I know about. The not dissimilar practice in much of England does not have a name though so I’m going to give it one. I’m going to call it Corrupt Underhand Neighbourhood Tweaking. Or C.U.N.T. Snappy eh?

People who indulge in being a C.U.N.T. in England generally do so thus. They find out the local OFSTEAD outstanding schools then they find that they are outside the likely catchment area for these schools. Then they find out that little Milly and Josh aren’t quite in that area and so they do one of two things. Firstly they actually short term rent in the catchment area  until their application has been approved, at which time they move back, safe in the knowledge that not only will Milly now get in but Josh will too thanks to the sibling link. Those with less cash but just as much underhand corruptness simply pretend that they live at an address in the catchment area when really it’s a relative or friend, get their post redirected for a few months and hope they don’t get caught.

In such a way local schools become less local.  Community schools become less about community. Class barriers are maintained as property becomes prohibitively expensive close to outstanding schools in middle class areas and the middle class gentrify working class areas with outstanding schools.

A couple of years ago I would have said I would never indulge in the behaviour of a C.U.N.T. but that was before Michael Gove came along. Michael Gove loves Academies and my local secondary school has just become one. I do not want my children attending an Academy. Firstly they are, by and large ex-failing schools. At Infant and Junior level this is less of an issue but at Secondary level you are talking about complete breakdown among hormone laden teenagers, some the size of adults, some about to take exams that will map out the path of the rest of their life. Rebrand all you like but the same kids will largely be in the school even if it will have a new name, logo and teachers. It will have teachers right? Well yes. But not all of them will be qualified.

On 27 July 2012 the BBC Education Correspondent Angela Harrison reported that England’s new academy schools can hire unqualified teachers with immediate effect. Government officials were quoted in the piece as saying this would mean they could hire “great linguists, computer scientists and other specialists who have not worked in state schools before”.

Excuse me while I choke on my lunch.

Great linguists I would expect to be in Universities or abroad, researching and lecturing. Not teaching French in an Academy in the middle of Stoke’s roughest council estate. Great computer scientists I would expect to be earning hundreds of pounds a day contracting or working at Google where they can choose a bit of personal space, get gourmet food and work out all without leaving the office cum chill out area. Not teaching I.C.T. in an academy in the middle of Stoke’s roughest council estate. So let me correct that for you oh Government Official. You should have said “this will allow them to hire unqualified people very cheaply who know a bit about the subject matter but nothing about pastoral care or how to control a class of 16 year olds, some of who may be high and/or tooled up.”

Why cheap? Academies are not meant to be profit making. However they don’t need to. All they need to do is demonstrate that they can be run more cheaply than the local authority schools and those on the right believe that they have demonstrated that Acadamy good, LEA bad purely on the basis of cost. However, anything close to a normal education is going to be thrown away as a result. Think I’m paranoid? Here is a quote from the Aldridge Foundation’s website (The Aldridge Foundation run my local comprehensive).

“Each Academy has entrepreneurship as its lead specialism which is integrated into all areas of Academy life – focusing on the development of entrepreneurial attributes, rather than just enterprise skills. Our definition of the entrepreneurial mindset is one ‘which strives to take action, solve problems, and rejects the status quo’.  The attributes that we reward in students and prioritise in all our work are passion, creativity, teamwork, risk taking, determination, discipline, problem solving and vision. ”

In other words the kids are going to be taught how to sell stuff in an office environment. Never mind if you’re from an area with an Academy and you want to be a poet or an artist or a nurse or a policeman or a writer or a truck driver or any of the thousands of other professions out there that DON’T need entrepreneurial attributes. Risk taking? REALLY? Yeah cos that worked out well in the banking sector. There are jobs where risk taking is an absolute necessity but of the ones I listed above risk taking would be a pretty bad idea for a nurse or a truck driver. How much teamwork does an artist or writer really do? What the actual fark does “vision” have to do with understanding Shakespeare or “creativity” to do with translating French? “Michael Gove est merveilleux”. Yeah I just creatively translated that as Michael Gove is a total fuckstick.

How about a balanced curriculum where the kids can shine naturally at what they’re good at, with teachers that a trained to recognise this? What, really, is so bad with that? Are we THAT far away from that with LEA schools?

Furthermore they say their schools run in “areas of disadvantage, low aspiration and poor attainment” Now if you have ever been to a football match and been in the market for a ticket or one of those ridiculous half and half memorial scarves, if you have ever drunk in a dodgy pub or been to a rave or festival or bought from a car boot sale you will know that entrepreneurial skills are not lacking in ‘areas of disadvantage’. We are talking about people who have had to make ends meet for generations in ways which are not actually dissimilar to corporations or bankers, simply on a much smaller scale. Del Boy and Rodney were funny for a reason – because they were instantly recognisable characters. The removal of the possibility of extracting yourself from such a place by means of education, science and art is an absolute scandal and it is being got away with largely because the people it’s being perpetrated on don’t realise.

Of course there’s the chance that Labour will get in to power in 2015 and start repealing the Academy laws but I suspect this will end up with things no better. It will be back to new (but qualified) staff, new Governors, new curriculum. The only losers will be the kids.

Our plan is to get out of the current house way before we end up having to select the Academy as one of our choices, a choice that is only open to us in my current circumstances which is rather unfortunate as we are talking about 5 years time. There is no doubt though – none at all – that if all that fell through I would consider being a C.U.N.T. rather than taking the Academy place.

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