Why I won’t be complaining that the new chief inspector isn’t an ex-teacher

June 17, 2016

Amanda Spielman, who it was announced at the end of last week would be the next chief inspector, is not a former teacher. Despite my general interests in giving teachers a say over education, this really doesn’t bother me.

Firstly, there are the boring reasons related to the nature of the job:

  • OFSTED doesn’t just inspect schools. It inspects colleges, nurseries and children’s social services.
  • Developments in OFSTED over the last few years have been away from the idea that they should tell teachers how to teach or are about judging individual teachers. This is consistent with that.
  • OFSTED is a large bureaucracy, much bigger than a school, and if we have learnt anything from the strengths and weaknesses of Sir Michael Wilshaw, it’s that what might work well in a school cannot be expected to work well in an inspectorate.

Secondly, I don’t accept that ex-teachers are the experts on education. Those who walk away from teaching and into another job in education are a mixed bag. Some make use of that experience, but others act as if teaching were beneath them. One of my motives for blogging, for getting a classroom teacher’s voice out there, is how often the media present a story about the views of “teachers” that is actually about educationalists, full time employees of teaching unions or headteachers. Obviously you can leave teaching for a good reason, or leave temporarily. But plenty leave because running a classroom is not something they were happy with, and telling teachers what to do was far more enticing. The thought of somebody going from being a classroom teacher to being a chief inspector appeals to me, even if it’s not remotely realistic. But there are plenty of ex-teachers out there who are the last people on earth I’d want near the controls of our education system. There are university education lecturers who won’t admit they are not still teachers; consultants who get hundreds or even thousands of pounds for half a day’s work but still say they are in the job for the kids, and headteachers who will not even admit there are differences between their perspective and interests and those of the people they manage. These might be ex-teachers, but the difference between their world and mine is enormous. The difference between them and somebody who was never a teacher, is that the latter won’t claim to speak for teachers.

Finally, there are positive reasons for wanting Amanda Spielman to be in the most powerful position in education in England. If you are a blogger who has blogged (sensibly) about qualifications while she has been in charge of Ofqual, she’s probably been in touch with you. She listens to teachers and asks how they have been affected by her work. Her record of achievement with Ofqual has been impressive. She has helped make Ofqual evidence-based, transparent and coherent in its approach. If you want somebody with a proven record of reforming a large public bureaucracy in order to make it fair and reliable, there is no person better qualified. She has also done this without seeking any publicity for herself. It is highly unlikely she sees the job as one of telling teachers what to do and making pronouncements to the press. If anyone can ensure that OFSTED that does its job: dealing with the unacceptable without creating uncertainty for everyone in the system, it’s her. Her appointment was the best education news I’ve heard in years.


Bye, bye, Sir Michael

June 12, 2016

This is a little early as I don’t think his term of office officially ends until the end of the year, but I thought my first response to the news of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s replacement as Chief Inspector would be to reflect on the job he has done since his appointment in 2012.

I’ll start with the two main negative points, and then explain why I’m now generally inclined to view his time as chief inspector positively.

Firstly, one of his biggest weakness is that he has been too high profile. He has been too willing to do media interviews, and too willing to express opinions on how to run schools that go beyond reflecting the plans and priorities of his own organisation. I’ve agreed with a lot of opinions he’s expressed, but time and time again things he’s said have been used against him to damage the credibility of his organisation. Usually the comments have been taken out of context or distorted. He did not say it was good for a school if “staff morale is at an all time low” only that people will claim that to stop you improving a school. He did not claim that teachers “don’t know what stress is”; that was a comment about headteachers who won’t accept responsibility for the job they have chosen to do. However, no HMCI has so frequently had his own words used against him since the days when it was normal for every newspaper story about Chris Woodhead to mention his claim that 15 000 teachers were incompetent.

The effect of his outspokenness on his organisation may not have been as bad as the effect on schools. A legion of consultants are still making money out of spreading myths to scared managers about what OFSTED want. Sir Michael’s publicly expressed opinion could be used to add to this. Here’s a quotation from one speech that affected me:

So, what sort of questions will HMI ask? Well, they are ones you would expect. Have the leaders got a grip on the institution? … Are they, for example, people who tolerate scrappy worksheets? [my emphasis] Are they people who insist that children should have good materials to work with, including textbooks, readers and library books which they can use for classwork and homework?

I make this last point because HMI increasingly report to me, and I’ve seen it for myself, that too many schools, particularly secondary schools, have conceded defeat on this issue. As a senior leader in a secondary school said to an HMI recently, ‘we don’t allow our children to take books home because they won’t bring them back the following day’.

What on earth does that tell us about the culture in that particular institution? What on earth does it tell us about leaders who are not prepared to fight the good fight on this basic issue?

Now to me, the point that some schools cannot even enforce a standard as basic as ensuring that students to take home and look after exercise books and textbooks is fair. But following media reports about “scrappy worksheets” one school I worked at last year banned me from using worksheets entirely even though some of my students were working way below the level of the textbooks I had access to and they could not take textbooks home. The OFSTED watching industry feeds off comments like this. Careless words from the HMCI give bad managers a license to tell teachers they are doing it all wrong.

Sir Michael’s other shortcoming was that he took too long to realise what it would take to change the workings of the organisation. He inherited an organisation that was heavily invested in telling teachers the correct way to teach. He himself was fairly traditional, and perfectly happy to tolerate traditional teaching in his own school. He said as much right from the start of his time as HMCI, but it took over two years to get the message across to his inspectors that they were no longer the “child centred inquisition” in charge of driving out traditional teachers. His instincts were to defend his organisation from political pressure first, rather than to seek to change it. Other parts of his organisation, and many, many inspections reports contradicted his claims not to be enforcing a particular style of teaching. The full saga of how gradually things changed can be found by searching for “OFSTED” on this blog. My chapter in Changing Schools also provides some accounts from behind the scenes in the DfE about how concerns were raised.

So why do I think that he was a good Chief Inspector?

I think that most of what I describe above, and most of the other criticisms levelled at him, stem from his efforts to do the right thing. The key point for me is that he always did want to stop OFSTED from dictating teaching methods to classroom teachers and for that we can all be grateful. His pronouncements may have been ignored at first, but over time he made the message clearer and clearer. Reform started to happen within the organisation. Training for inspectors working for private inspection companies was  taken in house. There was a deliberate effort to remove inspectors who had never taught from inspecting teaching, and to bring in inspectors who still worked in schools. Teachers stopped being graded. Eventually inspections stopped being contracted out. Those working as inspectors can no longer advertise that fact in order to get consultancy work which was a likely cause of the spread of myths about how teachers were required to teach. More can still be done, and the latest education white paper suggested further changes. There are still crazy things done in schools in the name of “what OFSTED want” and there are still aspects of what they do that need clarification or reform. But it is now easier than ever to find out what OFSTED actually want, and it impinges less than ever on classroom practice. He has been a successful reformer, if not an efficient one, and I do think classroom teachers, and their students, are better off now than if he had never been Chief Inspector. If his actions have undermined the credibility of OFSTED, it is not because his actions were wrong, but because they helped expose what was wrong with OFSTED before he started the job.


In Scotland’s Schools, it is still 2008

June 3, 2016

Every so often it occurs to me that if you became a teacher in the last 3 or 4 years, and you trained in a good school or possibly on a good university course, you might not be aware of the situation that inspired this blog and also inspired the posts that had the most impact. Then I remember just how many schools there are that just haven’t changed and how many blogs by trainees repeat experience of the same old claims and I realise that almost everybody reading this has heard about the “OFSTED teaching style” (now no longer endorsed by OFSTED).

But just in case you are not familiar with it, the idea was that there was a correct way to teach. Key aspects of “outstanding teaching” were:

  • Sharing long-winded learning objectives (preferably differentiated) and revisiting them at the end.
  • 3 part lessons (starter, main, plenary). The main could be made up of multiple activities.
  • Avoid, or minimise, teacher talk and explanations. Students must be “active” not “passive”, i.e. doing activities not listening. You could be condemned if your class were working too quietly.
  • Progress every 20 minutes, which meant something new would be introduced and assessed in every 20 minute chunk, i.e. no time for prolonged practice or time spent getting better at things they could already do.
  • Do group work every lesson. (Tables would be expected to be in groups not rows.)

There are still managers out there expecting this stuff in every observation, but the days when mosts schools had a checklist provided by a consultant, which would be used to grade teachers on whether they ticked the boxes are gone. This is no longer the era where making this all happen was considered massively more important than exam results. The tide has turned in England, largely because OFSTED have said they aren’t looking for this stuff.

Yesterday, I discovered that Scotland hasn’t moved on. You may have seen headlines such as “Teacher struck off because lessons were ‘too boring’, tribunal rules after complaints from pupils” about the case of Gillian Scott, a teacher in Scotland who was struck off for not living up to the teacher standards. A lot of the response I saw was to the way media coverage suggested that silly complaints (like being “boring”) which are subjective and could be levelled at almost any teacher on a bad day, had been a part of the case. Others pointed out that she had not responded to attempts to improve her teaching and suggested that this could provide better grounds for striking somebody off.

However, what amazed me were some of the complaints mentioned in the final judgement, much of which was based on the lesson observation judgements of David Macluskey, a senior manager. Firstly, it needs to be noticed that actual exam results were dismissed as a measure of teacher effectiveness:

In response to whether it was possible for a teacher to secure A passes for pupils if the suggestion was that the course was not being delivered, Mr Macluskey said that such a result could be down to a variety of factors, including the pupils’ own ability, outside tutors, prior learning, although the teacher would have an impact. Mr Macluskey said that the Respondent would follow the course but there were other issues.

So if exam results cannot show a teacher to be effective, what sort of evidence can be included to show they aren’t? I should say now that I am not trying to summarise the full case, just the bits that amazed me. And I have missed out things that I find objectionable, but cannot be sure are misguided or malicious. Here, from the complaint, are some of the examples of teaching that didn’t meet the teaching standards:

On 2 February 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey….There were no clear learning intentions or success criteria identified at the start of the lesson…

…In or around September 2011, you planned to deliver lessons to your S2, S3 and S4 classes which were repetitive…

…On 21 November 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:

  • You did not refer to success criteria.
  • You failed to recap the learning intentions at the end of the lesson…

…On 15 December 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: You did not use learning intentions or success criteria other than have the pupils copy them down….

…On 2 February 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: You implemented a task which was meant to be co-operative learning but it was not…

…In or around November 2012, you spent three lessons reading a novel to your S1 class and did not engage the pupils in questioning…

On 3 December 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: …You did not end the lesson with a plenary session and did not refer to success criteria.

On 13 December 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:You did not end the lesson with a plenary session.

On 6 February 2013, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:

  • You quickly referred to the learning intentions and success criteria, however you failed to have any discussion or interaction about these with the pupils.
  • You failed to end the lesson with a plenary in order to check for pupil understanding

On 14 February 2013, in a lesson observed by Mairi Houston… instruct pupils to write an essay following the plan on the board without providing a clear indication of the objectives of the lesson in terms of the learning outcomes and success criteria.

…You failed to communicate with pupils in ways which involve them actively in classwork.

For example: On 21 November 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: There was no active learning by the pupils…

On 15 December 2011, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: You led the lesson from the front of the class and did not use a variety of learning techniques including co-operative learning techniques.

On 12 November 2012, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey:

  • Pupils sat as far from the front as possible.
  • Pupils were not actively engaged in the lesson and there was little personal interaction between yourself and the pupils.
  • You failed to implement a variety of learning techniques and in particular cooperative learning…

…On 6 February 2013, in a lesson observed by David Macluskey: There was little evidence of dialogue between you and the pupils and between the pupils themselves.

…On 14 February 2013, in a lesson observed by Mairi Houston:  …Pupils were spread out across the classroom, isolated and did not interact with each other…

From the summary of the actual case:

Mr Macluskey confirmed that all Perth & Kinross staff had been sent on a course about cooperative learning teachniques [sic] but that he did not think that the Respondent understood the concept. He said that one of the other teachers tried hard to help her understand it but she refused to listen. He said that he had not ever seen her using the technique effectively.

Mr Macluskey said that he was horrified at how bad the Respondent’s lesson was on 2 February 2011, that he had observed. The teaching was so low level that the whole class was bored; the Respondent was telling the class rather than teaching….

…Mr Macluskey said that he had discussed strategies with the Respondent in advance of an observation he was carrying out on 21 September 2011. He said that there was some improvement in this lesson. However, the Respondent had not taken on board most of the things 18 that they had discussed. After a technical malfunction with a YouTube clip, the class became engaged in an ethical discussion about boxing. Mr Macluskey said that the class was ready to be engaged and had strong discussions. However, the Respondent stopped the discussion too early…

…In respect of the classroom observation that he had carried out on 21 November 2011, Mr Macluskey said that the Respondent had set learning intentions, albeit that they were vague. However, he could not remember any success criteria being used in that lesson. He met with the Respondent on 29 November to discuss the observation. He said that it was not as bad as the other lessons but there was no learning or engagement; the Respondent either gave out handouts or told the pupils information…

…Mr Macluskey said that he carried out a further observation on 15 December 2011, after which he prepared a note on the Respondent’s progress on the action plan. Mr Macluskey said that she did not use learning intentions or success criteria, other than have the pupils copy them down; the pace of the lessons was slow and there were no extension materials nor was there any cooperative learning…

…  It was clear that she did not understand co-operative learning…

…Mr Macluskey said that the Respondent got mixed up between what was a learning intention and what was success criteria…

…Mr Macluskey said that he felt that if the Respondent had just “seen the light” then she could have been a better teacher.

…Mr Macluskey said that his concerns that the Respondent did not understand or apply co-operative learning techniques was a recurring theme. He said that there was a variety of different nuances and techniques regarding co-operative learning but that the principle is the same…

…Mr Macluskey was asked whether there was an obligation to have a plenary in a lesson. He replied that it would be strange not to “wrap up” in order to check the pupil’s understanding. He explained that in education, a plenary session is the time to check for understanding, to recap and make sure the pupils have learned what was intended before moving on. He said that it was not compulsory but if a teacher did not do it then they would need to have a good reason, which was not evident in the Respondent’s lesson…

… Ms Libreri said that the observation was carried out on 8 March 2011, with an S1 class … there was a significant period where the pupils were very passive and not engaging in the lesson…

…She said that she could see no active learning on display during the lesson. There was no plenary at the end of the lesson…

… Ms Liberi said that the task given to the pupils of ‘what makes a good friend’ was too long; …

…She said that she discussed with the Respondent what would make good learning intentions and success criteria. She also discussed incorporating a variety of teaching methods, such as role play…

… the Respondent came to observe one of her lessons with the specific purpose of looking at co-operative learning, which encourages pupils to discuss their thoughts and ideas. … Ms Libreri said that she did not see any evidence of co-operative learning during the lesson that she had observed…

…Ms Libreri said that she would expect any probationer teacher to understand about learning intentions and success criteria. In her opinion, the Respondent did not understand the nature of them…

… Ms Libreri said that a plenary session in a lesson is a dialogue as to whether the pupils had achieved the outcomes set and that using success criteria is a good way to form a plenary. Asked whether it had to be at the end of the lesson, Ms Libreri said that a plenary is a summary to assess learning and identify next steps. Asked whether every teacher is required to use learning intentions and success criteria in every lesson, Ms Libreri said that every teacher should be using learning intentions. She said that a plenary could take place during the lesson but that there should be evidence of where the pupils are with their learning and where to go next…

…Ms Houston said that there was a lack of communication from the Respondent and a lack of proper interaction with pupils. From the start of the lesson, there was no clear indication of what the objectives of the lesson were in terms of learning outcomes … She said that she would expect a teacher to set out clear learning intentions and success criteria for pupils so that they are clear what they should be learning and how they would be successful in demonstrating their learning. … She said that she did not think that the Respondent understood why learning intentions and success criteria were important and that she did not believe that a person could teach effectively if they did not have that understanding. Ms Houston said that the six pupils were spread out across the classroom; they were isolated. There was no encouragement from the Respondent for them to interact with each other. She went on to explain what she would have expected from a lesson on how to write a critical essay, including having pupils sharing practice. She said that the purpose of the lesson should have been to equip the pupils with the skills to write a good critical essay, rather than just have them following basic instructions on how to write the essay…

…Ms Houston said that she would have expected even a student teacher on an early placement to have a basic understanding of learning intentions and success criteria but this was not evident in the Respondent’s performance…

… Ms McPherson said that the class were largely passive in their learning and that there were missed opportunities for active learning,..

… Ms McPherson said that it is standard practice, at the end of the lesson, to return to the learning intentions in a plenary session. In the observation, she noted that the learning intentions had not been clearly identified at the start and so the Respondent was unable to draw the pupils back together in a satisfactory way. She said that she could not recall how the learning intentions were conveyed to the pupils but that she would have expected the Respondent to stop and recap on them…

I still haven’t read every part of this case. It is complex and a lot has been written and I am not familiar with the Scottish system. But what I do know is that this year in Scotland, failing to comply with fads from ten or twenty years ago, which have no proven benefit for learning, can be used as evidence that you are not fit to teach.


My post for @LabourTeachers : The Five Worst Education Clichés

May 27, 2016

I wrote a post for Labour Teachers the week before last. As it was about education, I thought I’d share it here. Graphics courtesy of @JamesTheo.

George Orwell, in Politics And The English Language, described how a stock phrase, or cliché, could stifle thought. Sentiments that seem disreputable, if clearly expressed, will instead be expressed obscurely and in familiar, over-used phrases.

“As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.”

If I had to identify the phrases used in education that do most to obscure the clear expression of ideas, I would pick the following:


1) “regurgitating facts”. This cliché has become such a crutch for those who oppose testing that I’ve seen it used twice in the same Guardian letters page. But as unpleasant as it sounds, it means little more than “recalling knowledge”. You could argue that the word “facts” indicates a particularly disjointed or atomised form of knowledge, but in practice it would be hard to distinguish between information recalled as facts and that recalled in any other form. Regurgitation might seem to suggest that the recalled knowledge is in some way undigested, but how do we “digest” knowledge other than by recalling it?


2) “a political football”. Education, properly understood, involves consideration of what is worth learning. This is a  philosophical argument, and one where its conclusions will determine the spending of billions of pounds of public money. This is necessarily and obviously political. To put the power to make such ideological judgements outside of democratic control, seems immediately tyrannical. And that’s where this cliché comes in. Public discourse involving those who have been elected to office and are subject to public scrutiny, is dismissed as a game by those who would see less democracy in education and more bureaucracy and control by unaccountable vested interests.


3)  “exam factories”. Another cliché used to argue against academic education and testing. Rather than arguing over what forms of assessment work, or are necessary, we have this dismissal of exams and the implication is that to actually find out objectively, and on a large scale, what is being learnt in schools requires an artificial and mechanical process. While exam systems can be bureaucratic and unhelpful, only in education would objectivity and efficiency be feared. Though the greatest irony here is that, in many respects, the alternatives to exams might seem more like factory work. Anyone involved in the “manufacture” of coursework might see the irony here. Those recommending subjective teacher assessment as an alternative to exams are surely only imitating the “performance management” culture of many private companies, including those that run factories.


4) “educating the whole child”. An odd phrase, given that I have never met a teacher that sought only to educate parts of a child. In practice, of course, it is not the child that is to be treated as a whole, but their life. If you want to extend the scope of education beyond the academic, into therapy, social work, entertainment, preaching and parenting, then this cliché can be used to suggest all aspects of a child’s life fall in the domain of teachers. If you have any faith in parents or a wider community; any belief learning is so important that there should be a profession dedicated to helping children with this above all else, or if you are simply concerned about the intrusion of the state into family life and leisure, then you can, as a teacher, happily develop the whole child’s intellect without feeling you are only doing part of your job.


5) “one size fits all”. We tend to assume that, at least as a default, human beings should have equal rights and equal entitlements. Therefore, if children are to be treated differently, we would hope to justify it by demonstrating that the outcomes might still be equal or, if that’s not the case, by demonstrating that inequality is justified in pursuit of another aim. The “one size fits all” cliché, beloved both of right wing advocates of selection and left wing opponents of an academic tradition, seeks to reverse this principle. Suddenly those who support equal rights and equal entitlements for all children are expected to explain why they are ignoring differences between children, rather than those who support inequality demonstrating that the differences they perceive justify different and/or unequal treatment.

My challenge to anyone who feels inclined to use any of these phrases in education discussion is to try to express the same idea in your own words. If you find that this makes your argument fall apart, or your opinion seem less plausible, then take this as an indicator that it is time to reconsider.


Catching Up With The College Of Teaching

May 13, 2016

As you may recall, plans for a new professional body for teachers have been hijacked by a group of vested interests who, with the promise of taxpayers’ money, have begun setting up their own body which seems to have a lot of interest in those who already have power in education, and very little interest in those working in classrooms,

It’s been a while since I last commented on them, and some new developments have taken place, so I guess it’s time for another post.

Firstly, you may recall that I pointed out that the “teachers” among the trustees of the College consisted of 3 heads, 3 middle or senior managers, and a grand total of 2 unpromoted teachers. At the time, one of the managers complained that although he was head of English, he did teach almost a full time table:

This did not deal with the complaint that the trustees were already people with a position of power over teachers, it did suggest he might be on the side of building an organisation that was of use to classroom teachers, rather than their bosses. Unfortunately, it says here:

Victoria Walker, Teacher and Head of English at Addey and Stanhope School in London, is joining the Board of Trustees. Victoria has been a teacher for the past 10 years and is a Teacher Leader at the Prince’s Teaching Institute and a member of University College Oxford’s Student Support and Access Committee.

Victoria replaces Simon Dowling, Head of English at Colchester Royal Grammar School, who has made the difficult decision to step down due to increases in his teaching commitments for the remainder of the academic year.

So much for that then.

Secondly, two of the teachers were appointed chair and vice-chair of the College of Teaching and this is announced on the Claim Your College website:

College of Teaching outlines key governance appointments

4th December – Teacher led and teacher driven – College of Teaching outlines key governance appointments

As Founding Trustees prepare to gather in London tomorrow (Saturday 5th December), the meeting marks a number of developments in the governance of the College of Teaching.

Classroom teachers are leading and driving the College forward with the appointment of Claire Dockar and Victoria McDowell as Chair and Vice Chair (respectively).

Incredibly, no such prominence was given to the appointment of the third vice chair. I happened to notice the following section on a 4 year timeline of the College’s development:

Screenshot 2016-04-07 at 22.23.12

In case you missed that: “Sonia Blandford, Founding Trustee, joins Vicky McDowell as Vice Chair of the College”. Why was this not announced with a headline? The most likely reason is because unlike the chair and vice chair, Sonia Blandford is one of the non-teaching trustees. If you recall, the College Of Teaching was at this point meant to have been consulting with teachers about whether non-teachers could, as originally agreed, be members. Yet, somehow, they decided to go ahead and appoint a non-teacher to a leadership position while the consultation was still happening. And they did it discreetly, while trumpeting the appointment of teachers. And, as if it couldn’t get worse, when I pointed out what they’d done, they changed the website to say:

Sonia Blandford, Founding Trustee, joins Vicky McDowell as a Vice Chair of the board to the College of Teaching.

The distinction between leading the trustee board and leading the College had not been made previously. And generally hasn’t been made elsewhere, particularly when they were appointing teachers to similar positions. At the very least, they are aware enough of what they are doing to try to conceal it.

Thirdly, and this one still staggers me, there was a regional conference. It happened last week, details here. Now remember, this is an organisation that is meant to be for teachers, and would presumably deny that they have continually prioritised the involvement of non-teachers such as educationalists, and managers over ordinary classroom teachers. This is the sort of event they decided to hold:

  1. An event at 2pm on a school day.
  2. An event in a university education department.
  3. An event held during the Key Stage 1 testing period, a few days before Key Stage 2 tests, and in the month where Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 exams start.
  4. An event advertised for ” teachers, headteachers, Teaching Schools and Academy Trust representatives and system leaders” [my emphasis].

And it’s not as if they haven’t been criticised enough times previously for events on school days. I count myself among those who first gave up on the College Of Teaching when its launch was announced at an event on a school day.

And one last thing, just in case you thought this organisation is just a way of conning the government out of money that could be spent supporting teachers, but which won’t actually have any power over teachers, Schools Week reported today just what powers the educationalists, SMT and CPD providers behind this are seeking to gain:

The proposed College of Teaching wants to be the “gatekeeper of standards for teacher training”, Angela McFarlane, a founding trustee of the fledgling organisation, has told professionals.

Speaking at a Westminster Education Forum event on Tuesday about the future of teaching, McFarlane said she hoped the organisation would be in a position to take over the regulation of teacher training providers from the government.

Responding to a question from a member of the audience on what the college could take responsibility for from the Department for Education, McFarlane said: “My personal view is that I would love to see the profession in a place where the criteria for entry is actually set by a professional body run by experts in that profession.”

I can’t have been the only one to wonder whether “experts in the profession” means “experts who are part of the profession” or “experts in telling the profession what to do”.


My post for @LabourTeachers : Defending teachers who work in academies

May 8, 2016

I wrote a post for Labour Teachers the week before last. As it was about education, I thought I’d share it here. Minor edits have been made to update it.

You may recall I wrote a post called “Stop Demonising Academies” about some of the rhetoric being used in response to the government’s plans to force all schools to become academies. I started by making it clear that I don’t support those plans:

The government’s plan to make all schools convert to academy status over the next 6 years is an example of the sort of policy-making that gives politicians a bad name. It creates huge disruption and uncertainty without having any clear benefits.

I then complained about the willingness of some on the left to talk as if all academies were behaving badly, and to be completely indifferent to what those accusations might feel like to those teachers working in academies. I gave two examples of that rhetoric, neither of which came from official Labour sources, although one of them was shared on Twitter by Lucy Powell, the shadow education secretary. I did not defend forced academisation and I did not oppose Labour policy.

The post got one of the most positive responses I have ever had to anything I’ve written on Labour Teachers. It very quickly became Labour Teachers top rated post of 2016 (and remained so for all of eight days), mainly through being shared by teachers on social media. It turns out there’s quite a few teachers working in academies, or other types of schools that are being demonised for not being LA controlled, who felt the same way I did. No teacher likes being told they are less caring than other teachers just because they work at a type of school somebody has an ideological grievance about.

I was reassured though, that when the post was brought to the attention of Lucy Powell on Twitter, she distanced herself from that rhetoric, denying a claim that Labour’s response to white paper has been “relentlessly anti academy”, saying:

that’s not come from us… we’ve always reiterate[d] that many academies are good or outstanding. Read my speeches & comments.

Which brings us to yesterday, and the following exchange during education questions:

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)This weekend, the Conservative-led County Councils Network added its very strong opposition to the Secretary of State’s plans to force all schools to become academies, adding to that already expressed by the National Association of Head Teachers, the Association of School and College Leaders, parents, the National Governors Association, leading names in the academies programme such as the chief executive of the Harris Foundation and the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association, as well as a growing number of her own Back Benchers. It is hardly a list of what she might call—or, in fact, what she just called—the vested interests. Can she therefore clarify today for those who have these very serious concerns whether she will bring forward legislation to force good and outstanding schools to become academies against their wishes?

Nicky Morgan I have already set out very clearly our desire to make sure that every child gets the best start in life. We believe that academies, as the House has heard from other Conservative Members, are absolutely the right vehicle for innovation on curriculum, pay and freedom for headteachers. I wonder whether the hon. Lady in her vocal opposition has taken account of the writer on the Labour teachers blog, who said that

“we have people on the left describing thousands of schools, in fact a majority of secondary schools, and the hundreds of thousands of teachers who work in them, in terms that are so unjust as to be deceitful.”

Is that how the hon. Lady wants to be taken?

Mr Speaker Order. I simply point out to the Secretary of State that she is not responsible for what is written on Labour blogs and that there is a shortage of time on topical questions. We must press on, without extraneous matters being introduced.

I was not particularly pleased to be quoted as if I was talking about Lucy Powell, although, to be fair to Nicky Morgan, she did phrase that part as a question. The immediate social media response was predictable. Not for the first time Labour Teachers was attacked for failing to censor ideologically impure contributions, for claiming to speak for the party (we don’t) and for disagreeing with party policy (I didn’t). Despite the positive reaction  to the original article from so many Labour supporting teachers, people who may never have been inside an academy told me that I had betrayed the party by daring to suggest that myself, my colleagues, and 1000s of other teachers working in academies are not evil. That Lucy Powell had denied the party had an anti-academies position seemed irrelevant to those convinced that to oppose such a position was to attack the party. Nor was the fact that I am a teacher working in an academy considered relevant, the only possible agenda behind my post was that I was a Blairite attacking Jeremy Corbyn and I should be stopped.

Obviously this changes nothing for Labour Teachers. The Labour Teachers blog will still be open to all Labour supporting teachers. Posts will still only represent the author, not the party, nor any organisation called “Labour Teachers”. We still exist to allow debate among Labour supporting teachers. The extra irony here is that I had not even disagreed with the party, only with a Twitter account that explicitly says “Please note, we don’t speak for @jeremycorbyn or @UKLabour” and with an article on The Independent website.

Unfortunately, we seem to have reached a situation where, on a number of issues, opposing even the rhetoric of extremists is seen as disloyalty. Years of campaigning for the party, the strength of one’s argument and the actual details of Labour Party policy are all seen as irrelevant compared with one’s loyalty to particular factions, including ones operating largely outside the party. If the party cannot distance itself from those who would remake Labour in the image of the SWP, we will only have ourselves to blame when the Tories win an inevitable landslide in 2020.


Mental Health Champion Axed

May 4, 2016

Twitter just brought my attention to the following story in the Guardian:

Mental health champion for UK schools axed after criticising government

Department of Education denies axing of role is connected to Natasha Devon’s criticism of policies such as increased testing

The government has dropped its mental health champion for schools after she publicly criticised current education policies, in particular the testing regime which she claims is detrimental to children’s mental health.

Natasha Devon was appointed by the government last August to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding young people’s mental health, as part of a wider £1.25bn drive to improve care.

On Wednesday however, it emerged that the high-profile role had been axed, raising concerns that the government was attempting to silence her.

You may recall that Natasha Devon has been popping up a lot recently in these parts. Over on the Labour Teachers blog (which I edit), Nick Rose revealed she had a history of advocating NLP, a solidly debunked bit of pseudo-science that should be kept out of schools. I wrote a blogpost about her when it turned out she was judging and shortlisting for TES’s teacher blogger of the year award (the shortlisting part of which appears to have been done rather badly) mainly dealing with her habit of being insulting about bloggers. She was insulting about anyone who challenged her on social media, but she also attacked Tom Bennett who had not even mentioned her:


One of her particular concerns was children being bullied on social media.

She managed to react to my complaint that she was rude to bloggers by suggesting that her critics “mixed things which were true with things that weren’t in order to create the impression of truth which, incidentally, was a technique favoured by Hitler”.

She then turned up again when I blogged about various newspaper articles that seemed to be using very misleading statistics to suggest there is a mental health crisis in schools. She has been at the forefront of trying to create panic over mental health, often being quite dismissive of anybody who dares try to put the issue into perspective.

The Guardian, unfortunately, has not considered whether her abusive comments on social media, her scaremongering, or her indifference to evidence may have been the reason the government cut her loose. They are right that she has criticised the government for testing children, although they are mistaken if they think that the government has increased testing. Is it really that long ago that they were under fire for decoupling AS-levels and discouraging resits and modular exams? It seems unlikely that her criticisms did any more than bring to their attention that her anti-academic agenda is not their own.

The government should not be criticised for letting her go, but for appointing her in the first place. There is an all too familiar pattern here where politicians publicly cosy up to charities that work with children. I would argue that Natasha Devon, like Camila Batmanghelidjh before her, is somebody with the best of intentions, some very odd ideas and whose greatest talent lies in getting media attention. Politicians who want to make a difference to young people should stop looking for photo-opportunities, and ask “Am I dealing with somebody who knows what they are doing?”


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