Penny, my fabulous American English teacher, cannot believe the negative image of teachers in this country.
On returning to the “land of the free”, she is lauded for being part of the teaching profession – her years of study, her dedication to the job, her care.
Yet, in England, she says she is embarrassed to reveal what she does, due to the inevitable quips regarding long holidays, short days and out of control schools. Why has our profession become so eroded, become an easy target for poor comedians and know-it-alls?
The latest edict from the Dark Lord – that only a student’s first entry for GCSEs will count towards school league tables – was leaked to the subservient press instead of being released properly to the profession. The Daily Telegraph emotively headlined it for him: “Crackdown on the schools that cheat the GCSE system.” It gives a huge clue as to why the profession and the education system in this country are in such a mess.
The fact that the Department for Education (DfE) did not deliver the news, but that this was done through Gove’s media chums is typical of the poor professionalism and despotic leadership of our current education secretary.
Why not move the DfE to the Bullingdon Club and have done with it? There is so much that is wrong with this decision, taken once again without consultation and with limited and anecdotal “facts”. Also – I’m sure I am not the only member of the teaching profession who takes great offence at the implication that I am a cheat and a liar.
My staff and I do not cheat or lie, we do what is in the best interests of our students, give them every chance to excel, and allow them to manage the raft of GCSE exams properly by entering them for exams when it is appropriate for them. It is not for the benefit of the school but for the students. It’s hard to call that cheating.
Therefore I want to take away the urban myths that have been so ardently reported in the media. The early GCSE entry policy undertaken at my school and most other schools is undertaken in order to:
Give students the confidence and belief that they can do well. To leave them to take 10 exams in the summer months is too pressurised and does not, in my 11 to 16 school, allow for a second opportunity. If they do not get the right grades with us they often have no hope of getting on to the further education course that they need.
All students who do take an exam early re-take the exam in June (unless they get the top grade A*), often with the confidence that they have got this all-important C grade already. This is an expensive contribution to the profit-making exam boards but worthwhile for our students. Is this not what school exists for? The benefit of our students!
The idea that people of my generation “did 10 O levels and it did us no harm” is flawed. The movement to future courses was not determined by a C grade – we could, and did, re-take. This was the way we got to the standard – some later than others. Early entry allows professionals to plan the pressurised journey through GCSE courses, judged falsely by league tables that take no account of variable funding or privilege.
English and maths GCSE are requirements for most careers – just like the ability to drive is considered a requirement for most people. So why should students not be allowed to take and re-take the exam in the same way as the driving test – once they are ready?
To leak this attack on schools and children the day before a teachers’ strike is unacceptable and unprofessional. Mr Gove has ensured that many state schools cannot be judged “outstanding” in this data-driven world. He is ensuring the division between private and public sector will increase and this will cement the conflict between reasonable teachers and himself.
This is all unimpressive posturing by a man who clearly has ambitions for the prime ministerial role. Lost in all this rhetoric are fabulous staff such as Penny and thousands of fabulous kids at the mercy of a flawed, unreliable examination system.
Neil Morris is a SecEd editorial board member and head of Christopher Whitehead Language College in Worcester.