Michael Gove’s recent comments that “teachers have never had it so good” reflect how totally out of touch he is with the profession. The coalition government’s education policies have left schools and teachers reeling.
Teachers begin the academic year with enormous enthusiasm to do the very best they can for every child and young person that comes into their classroom. This year, however, as it has been in previous years, it is both tempered and dented by the anger and frustration that teachers feel for all kinds of reasons.
Changes are being rushed through on examination and curriculum reform that pay no heed to the profession’s views or concerns. They are not being made in the interests of all children nor will they result in providing the vibrant environment relevant to the 21st century that schools and colleges should be.
Bringing in a curriculum in which “academic rigour” is all, and where creative and vocational education has very little place, has been roundly condemned. As have the proposals to get rid of on-going assessment and introduce a final three-hour end-of-course examination for GCSEs. Music and sport provision in schools has been cut and the budget for local authority-provided SEN support in schools has also been severely curtailed. If the education secretary has his way, there is a real danger of putting young people through nothing more than an examination factory.
The academies and free schools programme is proving to be a modern version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, as we always knew it would be. Out of the nine new free schools eligible for inspection by Ofsted, three “required improvement”. If such a report were given to local authority-maintained schools, they would be forced to accept academy status.
There is a severe shortage of school places, in particular primary school places, yet this government is sanctioning the opening of free schools in areas where there is no demand for additional places, even where there are surplus places, and eating up scarce funding in the process.
There have even been suggestions from some local authorities that to address the shortage they may have to open schools on a split system with pupils attending school three days a week for longer hours.
Mr Gove is presiding over a catastrophe in education provision which is of his own making. As education secretary he has the responsibility to ensure that all children in England have a school place. Instead of pursuing vanity projects such as free schools and forced academies, he needs to return to a system of coherently planned and democratically accountable schools for all children not the few.
Sixth form colleges are facing severe budget cuts which will worsen the breadth of education they can provide. The ending of the Educational Maintenance Allowance and the raising of tuition fees has taken access to education back half a century.
Mr Gove is well aware that on his watch as education secretary, teacher morale has plummeted. Teachers are angry at the government’s continual undermining of their pay, pensions and working conditions. The NUT and NASUWT have announced the next phase in their dispute over these issues and will be taking regional strike action on October 1 and 17. This follows the successful strike action taken in the North West on June 27. Plans are also in place for a one-day, all-out national strike before the end of term.
At the start of the new academic year, the last thing teachers wish to be doing is preparing for further industrial action. It is a great shame that the education secretary has let things get to this stage.
With pay pensions and working conditions being systematically attacked and an education secretary who refuses to listen or negotiate, teachers now however have no other choice. If we do not take a stand now to defend the profession, then the consequences for teacher recruitment and education will be disastrous.
Christine Blower is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Visit www.teachers.org.uk