When I submitted my last diary entry to the editor, I actually apologised because the subjects of my recent entries had been distinctly grumpy. I promised to try and be more positive.
This set me thinking about why I had been feeling so negative in recent months. I realised that at least part of the reason was that I am unable to recall the last time that our profession was represented in the national media in a positive light.
Instead there seems to be almost daily “school-bashing” by politicians or Ofsted. One recent example is the blame for last summer’s English marking fiasco being laid firmly at teachers’ doors because they were marking too leniently – yet surely effective moderation by the exam boards would have mitigated for the odd lapse of generosity.
My school is in a county in which a prominent member of Parliament has his constituency. Last summer the GCSE results in our county were very publicly used as a political tool to bash the GCSE qualification.
While I fully accept that we always need to improve, it would have been nice if this negative comment was balanced by good news. For instance, our local primary schools have achieved significant improvements in key stage 2 results and are now placed joint first within our statistical neighbour group. However, such positive news tends to be drowned out by the seemingly continuous stream of problems for which schools seem to at fault.
So how can we change things? Is it totally unrealistic to hope that education policy could one day be less susceptible to politicians and the prevailing political mood? I can’t think of any other policy area which has been subject to such a sustained onslaught of “on-going reform”.
To be fair, it is not only the current government which is guilty of this, although I think it is fair to say that the current secretary of state seems to be a man on a mission. Take the (non)-abolition of GCSEs. Since coming into power, the government has been highly critical of the GCSE qualification, has staunchly promoted the EBacc as the solution to all ills, and has relegated vocational qualifications to the scrap heap. As always, schools have to try and plan for the announced changes by reshaping our curriculums, putting on additional languages classes after school to enable students to achieve the EBacc, and reviewing our vocational offers.
Would an apology have been too much to hope for when the political agenda shifted yet again recently?
Or, at the very least, some positive acknowledgement of all the wasted hours put in by school leaders to try and prepare for all this constant change?
And what about after the next general election? A change of government and it is likely to be all change again. Even without a change of government, a change in secretary of state could bring yet more reforms as a new incumbent seeks to make his or her mark.
I firmly believe that it is time to stop playing political ping-pong with education. The positive impact that a school has on children’s life chances is far too important to be subject to political point-scoring. I am certainly not suggesting a total lack of scrutiny, as that would not be in anyone’s best interests, but surely this need not be so closely allied to political influence.
Instead, we need to be trusted to do what we do well and be allowed to celebrate our many successes so that we can once again take pride in what we do and, hopefully, re-establish the respect that our profession seems to have lost in recent years.
Re-reading the above, I realise that I am still a tad grumpy – well there’s always next time!
Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.