A time of change and challenge

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The pace of change being forced upon education by the coalition government is challenging teachers and students ― a challenge we must rise to says David Torn.

“Change brings opportunity.” Sir Winston Churchill.


Here we are again at the end of another cycle – well almost! It is always a sobering time of the year when we start to think about the progress we have made and to wonder how much of an impact we have really had on our students.

The other consideration that always enters my mind is what I will need to change about my teaching and other aspects of my job if I am to be successful next year. And that thought of change, if I am honest with myself, is sometimes a little frightening. 

The prospect of going beyond our comfort zones and entering into pastures new, whether they be within or outside our current schools, is one that causes deep reflection, or at least it should. We are now in a state of change like never before and must tackle it head on.

Teachers are naturally self-reflecting creatures, always looking for ways to move forwards, so it was with surprise that I heard Michael Gove recently announce that he would like to see a return to O levels, thus creating a two-tier education system. 

It might not happen of course, and it appears that Mr Gove has upset the Liberals with his latest brainwave, but whatever the outcome you can bet your bottom dollar that there will continue to be sweeping changes on the education horizon within the next five years.

The government has the view that there was once a “Golden Age” in which British education led the world and that the the previous administration came along and dismantled it all.

In addition to this, the way in which teachers will be trained is also going through a radical overhaul. It is proposed that by 2015, 50 per cent of teachers will be trained in schools and a programme called Schools Direct will be the driving force for this happening, replacing the Graduate Teaching Programme. 

We can either feel threatened by these changes or we can rise to the challenges before us. I have absolutely no faith in Mr Gove and his government when it comes to education. He has consistently belittled teachers and hid behind Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw, who has deliberately sought to spread a climate of fear throughout the profession.

But I do have faith in our youngsters – absolute faith! And that does not just mean our young students, but our young teachers too. Whatever the motives behind the constant abuse of schools by politicians, the future presents us with opportunities in which to grow. Moreover, there never has been such a time as now in which the youth of this country needed us. Over the next decade there is a real chance that students from less advantaged backgrounds will go back to the low expectations culture.

The massive rise in tuition fees has signalled an end to equal opportunities and the closing of the gap at the higher end of education. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg can spout all the arguments he wants about the system being fairer, but the fact remains that he attended Westminster School, not an inner city comprehensive, and though this does not automatically exclude him from decision-making, it does mean he is less likely to understand the issues faced by those who have struggled to make ends meet.

The students of tomorrow are going to need teachers who are not just visionaries and who are not just passionate, but who are particularly clued up about the challenges faced within our society.

This means that rather than looking at the well deserved break coming up as a time to retreat and switch off, we need to reflect on what we can do to improve things even further.

Often people wince or feel uncomfortable when someone provides a cheesy quote, but the fact is that if that quote touches a nerve it will be worth the slight embarrassment. It is with this in mind that I leave you to reflect on the words of John F Kennedy: “Think not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

  • David Torn is a professional tutor at St Edward’s School in Essex. He is a former Teacher of the Year for London and co-author of Brilliant Secondary School Teacher.


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