Time For a Change

By Bruce, a supply teacher from Norwich

So far, my blogs have been defiantly light, stressing the funny side of supply teaching, but I feel the need for a change.  There is the danger when one is working relatively outside the system, that one can become flippant about the very real pressures facing full-time teachers today.  Recently, I have felt a mixture of luck and real concern; a curious mixture.  Luck for having taken early retirement from full-time teaching before the goal posts were moved over the horizon, and concern for the colleagues I come across in the various schools in which I find myself teaching.

To quote Paul Simon, “I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered, don’t have a friend who feels at ease; don’t know a dream that not be shattered, or driven to its knees.

The reason for the concern is that teachers are being pressured from many fronts.  Financially, they are in a pay freeze that is seemingly never ending, whilst living under the threat of having to pay 50% more on their pension contributions.  When they finally reach retirement age (68?) their pension will not be anything like that received by teachers who have already retired.  The prospect of teachers aged 68 teaching a class of thirty- plus youngsters fills me with alarm, for both the teacher and the pupils.  Professionally, they feel more insecure about their tenure than ever before.  Good, hard-working and experienced teachers are feeling the increasingly intolerable pressure of snap Ofsted inspections where a grading of ‘satisfactory’ can mean dismissal in a matter of weeks.

Michael Gove, a Gradgrind for our times, has determined that ‘satisfactory’ is the new fail; if that is the case, then the language should be changed, otherwise we are in Orwellian territory where the Ministry of Truth is the Ministry of Lies, or in the land of the French Revolution where the Committee of Public Safety was in charge of the guillotine.  So, now when I go to visit my doctor and he tells me that my health is ‘satisfactory’ should I say to him that this is not good enough and that he is failing?  A master of timing, Gove has also recently announced that the GCSE is to be replaced.  He announced this whilst tens of thousands of students are sitting these very examinations.

How it must feel to be told just as you are completing a course that, however hard you have worked at it, the course is worthless.  The country apparently to be lauded is now Singapore, where maths, science and languages dominate to the extent that most art subjects are not taught at all.  Pupils are held back for years if they fail to achieve the correct levels.  The creative industries contribute as much to Britain’s GDP as the financial services and yet Gove would take us down a narrow one-way street to a technological wasteland.  All teacher inset initiatives tell us that to get the best out of our pupils all our targets need to be S.M.A.R.T., i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-scaled.  Pupils, in order to be stretched, also need to feel secure in their environment, and we regularly tell them to be brave enough to fail.  Surely such principles are good for all of us, teachers included?

The most recent Ofsted ideology, driven by the academy agenda, seems to be working to targets that are unclear to the teacher, frequently unrealistic and unachievable.  Teachers are not allowed to be brave enough to ‘fail’; they must not even be ‘satisfactory’.  Schools that are given an overall poor rating will immediately be put on the fast-track to become an academy.  And how long will academies be the saviour of the state education system?  Answer: for the length of time served by the present Minister for Education.  Already, the zealots at Ofsted are beginning to fail academies.  Clearly, this is not what Gove wants.  He has two choices; come up with ‘Premier Academies’ or ‘Academy Plus’, or pray that he gets a new job in the next cabinet re-shuffle.  In the meantime, teachers continue to do their best for the pupils in their charge.  They know their pupils better than anyone and, most of the time, know what their students are capable of achieving.  If Gove and Ofsted no longer trust teachers then at least most pupils do.  They try to follow the instructions coming down from on high, but too frequently those instructions contradict each other.  It’s not just a case of moving goal-posts, sometimes the goal-posts disappear and it’s a whole new ball-game.  Those of us educated in a different era, frequently ask ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes’?

It’s a little ironic that I appreciate the work of teachers more now that I am a supply teacher than ever before.  They deserve every ‘World’s best teacher’ card, mug and chocolate that some pupils still bring in at the end of the year and a lot less vitriol from Westminster.

Enjoy your summer holiday.

Editor’s Note.  This blog was originally published in 2012