Thursday, 4 September 2014

Labour and education

Labour seems to be developing an education policy, but is it going to persuade disillusioned, austerity-stricken, pay-frozen teachers to vote for them? Further developments based on a traditional policy of "equality of opportunity", might do the trick.
      There is a strong possibility that the recent  GCSE results, as many educationalists predicted, show that Gove`s assessment reforms have, in the Guardian`s words, "hit schools in disadvantaged areas hardest". The paper uses examples of schools` predictions of percentages of pupils expected to get 5 A*-Cs being much higher than those actually achieving the target, suggesting that the reforms added to the pupils` disadvantage. This is hardly surprising when the changes are considered: the return to the previous century`s chief method of assessment, the end-of-course examination, for all subjects requires weeks of revision, whereas the modular and coursework methods suit disadvantaged pupils better. The question to be asked is not only whether the assessment process should help all students, whatever their background, to achieve their potential, but also whether the country can afford to return to a system which wastes the talent of over 50% of its children.
      Labour rightly has voiced its determination to revert to the previous A-level system with AS levels, so similar pledges on GCSEs, for basically the same playing-field levelling reasons, would be sensible. The "Tory lie-machine" encouraged the belief that GCSE exams had become too easy, when the real complaint of the right was with the fact that the assessment system was producing state school results on a par with those from the private sector.
      Labour will certainly benefit in the run-up to the election by making the most of the Tory-dominated coalition government`s appalling record on social mobility: in 1991 17% of top earners came from low-income families, but by 2000 the figure had fallen to 13%. The situation today, however, is much worse: a recent OECD survey, looking at "intergenerational social mobility", which basically means the extent individuals move up the social ladder, compared to their parents, found Britain at the bottom of a league table of twelve developed countries. It is difficult not to blame government policies, when one of its first acts was to scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance, deterring many from returning to a sixth form to pursue further qualifications, quickly followed by the huge hike in university fees. With so-called top universities favouring applicants from the private sector, and the latter going on to dominate top jobs, Labour has its work cut out to restore some semblance of fairness to our society, but a start can certainly be made, cheaply, with education being returned, largely, to pre-Gove days.
     Labour`s presentation of all policies has seen remarkable improvement in recent months, but more care could be taken to prevent accusations of posturing and rhetoric, especially in the case of education. It was reported recently, and given widespread coverage in the press, that the Labour party`s view is that the "most important thing in education" is "delivering a world-class teacher in every classroom". Has this really been thought through sufficiently? The term, "world class teacher", is so nebulous as to have little meaning, but presumably it must demand years of experience of teaching as a requirement, which makes the aim of having one "in every classroom" impossible!  One the other hand, are experienced classroom teachers reaching the end of their careers likely to be able to devote the same energy and commitment as their younger colleagues? Teachers with immense subject expertise may lack the emotional intelligence required to deal with less-able pupils, and vice versa, which is why successful schools employ a collegiate approach and utilise team work, It`s also a reason to explain why education is not suited to Performance Related Pay, as the teacher with ten A*s in his/her examination class may not be the reason for the success of many of those pupils.  
      What education needs is well-trained, qualified teachers, who are given the resources necessary to maximise the potential of their pupils. Teachers need to work in the knowledge not only that a "level playing field" exists for all of their students, but that they themselves are appreciated by the society they serve, suitably rewarded for their efforts, and that, if inspected, they obtain fairness in judgement, and constructive advice if needed. They need to know, too, that the Secretary of State is aware of the problems involved in modern teaching, has the experience and expertise to solve them, and meets regularly with teaching union representatives to ensure solutions are practical, and further industrial action unnecessary. After a sixty hour working week, teachers do not expect or deserve media reports of ignorant politicians` criticisms.

    Ofsted chiefs and sacked Secretaries of State may gloat in having reduced teachers` morale, but disillusioned and over-worked teachers will not be working to maximum efficiency until politicians of all parties give them the respect and status they deserve; praise and encouragement do not only work to raise pupils` achievement levels!  

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