John Bald, an independent education consultant and blogger, says today's strike is unjustified
Apologies for recent absences due to pressure of work, and belated congratulations to Sir Chris Woodhead, hammer of the Left. The knighthood was greeted with bad-tempered rage in the Times Educational Supplement’s public participation section, complete with pictures of somersaulting wheelchairs going over a cliff. At a time when Conservative fortunes were at a low ebb, in the early nineties, Sir Chris stood up and told the Left clearly that it was wrong, told it why it was wrong, and proposed an alternative that is now coming to fruition through the academies programme. A word of praise for his predecessor in the good fight, Sir Rhodes Boyson, is also in order.
A young teacher tells me how her child’s secondary school has just received a “good with outstanding” rating from Ofsted, despite a breakdown in discipline that prevents her daughter from being taught in most lessons, and a general failure to mark books. Her daughter has written on her science book, “this has only been marked because Ofsted are coming”, for which she is duly berated by her teacher.
Ofsted notice that marking and homework are “variable” – a non-judgement, which dodges the issue of whether they are satisfactory or not – but gloss over this, as well as the occasional indiscipline that they see. The organisation is clearly still not doing its work properly. The teacher is equally concerned about the reign of terror on the estate where she lives, mostly carried out by pupils after school, who “know that they are untouchable”. She is spending all of her spare money on private tuition in an attempt to get her daughter into an academy.
Another young teacher, taking one of the thousands of dyslexia courses funded following Sir James Rose’s review of provision – in which he made the gross error of conflating dyslexia with all sorts of other reading difficulties – says it has been taken over by “guessing game” theories of reading that have nothing to do with Sir James’ recommendations. This is no surprise. Most of the people involved in training teachers are opposed to synthetic phonics on principle, and are not above distorting research evidence to make their case. Being given funding for a course is just another lever of power to them, allowing them to do as they please. They may be in for a surprise this time, as Sir James has asked John Rack, in charge of funding these courses, to investigate.
Today’s strike is on everyone’s mind. When I started teaching, in the early seventies, the government was making a huge annual profit from the teachers’ pension fund, as people retired at 65 and did not live very long, especially men. In the eighties, it suited local authorities and school governors to use pensions as a carrot for early retirement – they made the decision, central government paid, and so lots of highly paid people put their feet up in their early fifties. One head of department I know of had the brass neck to ask for early retirement in her thirties!
Many young teachers signing up for the strike are babes in the wood, thinking one day will settle the issue, and not even sure whether they lose a day’s pay. I’ve no doubt that education’s boss class will happily enjoy sitting in offices and drawing salaries until the age of 68, not unlike the judiciary, whose
stress-free existence allows them to work until 70 without detriment to their health. A working week in a difficult school is a different proposition. One way or another, this will end in tears.
I had a column in The Guardian for several years on modern languages teaching, and my work has been featured in The Mail on Sunday. The exchange of pleasantries between these two papers amuses me – both will pick on aspects of the truth the other ignores, and neither is immune from exaggeration. Overall, I’m on the Mail’s side, and it was good to read in The Guardian this morning that the infamous Holland
Park comprehensive is to become an academy. As they like to say, facts are sacred…