The author is a teacher. Joe Baron is a pseudonym.
The expansion of the academies programme is being promoted as the long-awaited solution to educational underachievement. According to the Government, the pathology of failure will be eradicated by sponsored schools, liberated from the stultifying shackles of local authority control. Greater autonomy will lead to the removal of needless bureaucracy; innovative, pioneering ideas will be free to flourish, and standards will inexorably rise as a result. Moreover, in a bid to encourage competition, popular schools will expand whilst their failing counterparts disappear. Sound good? The Coalition certainly thinks so.
Yet as a teacher who works in one, in my opinion, academies aren’t the catchall panaceas being touted. First of all, let’s address the root causes of underachievement. In many schools, including mine, bad behaviour and indiscipline are the most important factors responsible for student failure. Indeed, common sense tells us that nobody can learn in an anarchic environment, and, regrettably, anarchic environments have been inadvertently created throughout the state school system over the last 20-odd years.
In my school, as is the case in many other schools, this problem has been created by the blind refusal of our senior leaders to discipline disruptive children. They are solely responsible for our current malaise.
I did once hope that reform would accompany academy status. Perhaps our sponsors would take the opportunity to dismiss our underperforming leadership – something, ironically, being considered by the local authority before the academy took over. How wrong I was. Instead they foolishly renewed the Senior Leadership Team’s (SLT) legitimacy and with it, ensured the survival of the status quo. SLT, buoyed by its benefactors, remains stubbornly wedded, against all the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, to an outdated Leftist dogma that proscribes the punishment of badly behaved students. As a consequence, our children are still prevented from learning by unrestrained, recalcitrant yobs.
My fear is that Leftism – unashamedly promoted by Marxist and ex-Marxist school leaders – is so deeply ingrained in our schools that, with a few notable exceptions, only like-minded individuals and organisations are interested in running them. Our academy is just one example. So the academies programme, rather than incentivising a stronger approach to behaviour management through increased competition is, in reality, granting greater autonomy – and therefore greater power – to the very people responsible for our current problems.
Likewise, as with the academies policy, the Government’s decision to make it easier for head teachers to dismiss failing staff seems, prima facie, perfectly reasonable; after all, it happens in every other profession. But, I hear myself ponder, when is Mr Gove going to address the problem of failing heads and poor behaviour? Up until now, his actions have failed to match his rhetoric on behaviour, and he has said very little about the scourge of poor leadership. Indeed, he appears to believe that declining standards and failing schools are caused by bad teachers protected by omnipotent unions. In this analysis, head teachers are innocent victims, bullied and shackled by a malignant conspiracy. In reality, though, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Our head’s ideological commitment to ‘non-judgementalism’ has led to classroom chaos and poor standards. If we, the teaching staff, have the audacity to complain about the inhumane treatment we suffer as a consequence, we are threatened and bullied into silence. Our unions are pusillanimous in the face of a wily, union-savvy head and a conflict of interest – after all, they represent members of the SLT as well as ordinary classroom teachers. I am not against this proposal – poor teachers should be fired -, neither am I against the introduction of performance related pay, but I am concerned that it will give left-wing heads a licence to dispose of unwanted, conservative staff who would like to see rules enforced and higher standards of discipline. Is Michael Gove, through these reforms, playing into the hands of ‘The Blob’?