Teachers called on to ‘speak up’ against political and media rhetoric

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
Rallying cry: Sue Williamson addresses the SSAT National Conference in Manchester (Image: Duncan Palmer Photography)

The head of one of the UK’s leading education organisations has issued a rallying cry to heads and teachers to speak up for children and education.

Sue Williamson, chief executive of the Schools, Students and Teachers Network (SSAT), said that state education was subjected to constant derision by politicians and the media, and that is was down to the profession to stand up to the criticism.

Addressing the SSAT’s National Conference in Manchester, Ms Williamson said she hoped the event, whose theme was Illuminating Learning, would challenge the delegates’ thinking about what learning means.

She said: “I hope it will inspire you to speak up for the profession. Education is illuminating, and we must be better at illuminating that fact.

“We have allowed some politicians to give the wrong impression about our schools and some media outlets have been only too willing to assist them with this myth.

“In 2010, Michael Gove, the (then) secretary of state for education, painted the picture of a failing school system and set about breaking it up with no thought about the damage this might do.

“For some reason, those who had a different view of the system were condemned as ‘The Blob’ and seen to be anti-standards,” she added.

“So together, as the SSAT network, let us make sure we do more to illuminate the amazing work that happens in your schools. We should never let anyone paint an untrue picture of the system, because the work you and teachers do every day is genuinely inspiring. I know this from visits to many of your schools.”

Among the excellent work she had observed was with disadvantaged and vulnerable children. Ms Williamson said schools were doing good work in removing barriers to learning, and they understood these barriers were different for every student. Teachers showed passion for working with young people, she added.

Elsewhere, Ms Williamson said that it was “annoying” that the chancellor in his autumn Budget had announced a new initiative for schools focused on mathematics, when there had been more than 200 maths and computer schools in existence in 2010.

She also expressed concerns about staff shortages and the recruitment and retention problems in education: “We do not have enough teachers entering the profession and are still not retaining enough teachers after the first five years,” Ms Williamson said. “Workload is certainly an issue but so is not giving enough recognition to the profession.

“As well as the challenge of recruiting and retaining teachers, we also need to recruit school leaders if we are to have a great education system. We need high-quality leaders at all levels.”

She said that SSAT’s experience of changes to membership showed there was a rapid turnover of headteachers: “We are losing a lot of wisdom and expertise from the system,” she added.

Last year the SSAT launched its Leadership Legacy project, to play its part in developing future generations of school leaders. A second cohort will be launched in September 2018.

Ms Williamson concluded: “I want to make a plea. As well as not allowing anyone to disregard the fantastic work of schools we must also come together and shine a light on some of the negative practices that you’re being forced into.

“Let’s show why the EBacc is not right for every 16-year-old, and how it is narrowing the curriculum. Let’s show the impact of funding cuts and what effect this is having on the offer and the wider support we can provide.

“We owe it to our children, because ultimately we are here for the young people. As a profession, and however great the pressures, we must never forget that young people are at the heart of everything we do.”


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