Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Education in crisis

News broke at the weekend that leading Tories are in a panic about the government`s myopic education policy, with cuts to Conservative-run councils meaning many will be unable to provide school places for all the children in their areas. Days earlier we learned of a shortage of headteachers, especially in more deprived localities, to accompany the better-known fact of teacher recruitment numbers being down, and agencies being used to recruit staff from abroad.
   Tory reaction? Councils should seek sponsors for "free schools"!
     The government`s perseverance with its policies, favouring academies and "free" schools, beggars belief, especially without any evidence whatsoever, that they raise standards. 
       Whilst it is true that good leadership can make a huge difference to the quality of education provided at schools, no headteacher can turn a school around without the hard work of the classroom teachers. With the current teacher recruitment crisis, it can hardly be a surprise that schools are struggling to recruit headteachers. Although the job of principal can undoubtedly be rewarding, and not only financially, running a school with staff shortages in key subjects like Maths and Science, with staff morale at its lowest for years, with pay rises restricted by a short-sighted chancellor to 1% for the next four years, and with a working week for the average teacher approaching 60 hours, the headteacher`s job is simply too stressful. No wonder research is showing that 86.8% of school leaders believe headship to be less attractive than five years ago.
   The government must accept responsibility for this, and take appropriate action. Constant criticism of the teaching profession from recent secretaries of state, coupled with broken promises not to introduce new initiatives in term time, as well as the threat of unfair and inaccurate judgements by Ofsted inspectors, have all made the job of headteacher more difficult, with no sign of improvement. In fact, the chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, rather than accepting that pressure from Ofsted deters potential applicants, blames existing headteachers for the current shortage, as they have not sufficiently "encouraged their leadership teams to develop through in-school opportunities or external programmes"!
Furthermore, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently provided results of its research, showing that high pay for bosses demotivates the rest of the workforce, which then is reflected in productivity levels. With large companies` CEOs being paid 183 times more than their average employee, this is hardly surprising, but it also applies to schools. The pay ratios are much smaller, but morale is always low when the headteacher is paid four or five times that of the average classroom teacher, yet never faces the constant pressure of actual teaching and its consequences, such as marking, reports, meetings, and inevitable pastoral issues.
     Teacher workload is yet another problem the government chooses to ignore, despite its obvious causal relationship with the recruitment crisis. Has there ever been a government education initiative which resulted in reduced work for teachers? It has to be wrong to expect every piece of work done by a pupil to be read, marked and have a written comment suggesting ways to improve; not only is it unnecessary, it`s unproductive, and Ofsted and parents need to be told by government not to expect it.
    Cameron is sending his son to an £18000 a year private school, because of the lack, apparently, of good comprehensives close to Downing Street; his hypocrisy knows no bounds. With pay frozen and rents in London allowed to rise year after year, it`s surprising there are any teachers in the capital at all. The government`s refusal to pay teachers a salary which reflects their importance to society is typical of Tory administrations, but ideas from Clegg and others to pay some teachers more for working in deprived areas are divisive, and should be rejected. It is clear Labour should not only support pay awards for most workers in the public sector whose real wages have declined since 2010, but explain how they would afford it - by raising taxes on the wealthy. It always seems ridiculous to me that those earning £40K+ pay income tax at the same rate as those earning £149K. New tax bands at 45% for those earning over £100K, 50% over £150K, 55% over £200K, and 60% over £250K would provide the necessary funds, with the NHS benefiting also.

    How can the inevitable crisis in education not benefit Labour? The only problem is that most MPs seem more determined to embarrass Corbyn than the Tory Prime Minister!

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