Friday, 14 October 2016

EPI Workload Report - the evidence is clear, it's time to act on it

“Many teachers in England work long hours. The analysis in this report highlights that this should be a cause for concern for professional development and teaching quality as well as for the wellbeing of teachers themselves”. ( EPI Report 2016) 

The latest report from the Education Policy Institute has provided yet more headlines – and further statistics - about the long working hours of England’s teachers, particularly the amount of time spent on non-teaching tasks. The Report provides useful confirmation of the now established fact that workload is driving teachers out of the profession. However, I do not believe that some of the conclusions that have been mooted in the press following its release – notably that multi-academy trusts or larger class sizes might provide a solution to teacher workload – are justified by the statistical evidence reported.

The evidence has been taken from the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), which gathered responses from over 100,000 secondary school teachers in 36 different jurisdictions internationally. That’s a sizeable sample, although it’s worth noting that the results for England are based on a relatively small sample of 2,496 Key Stage 3 classroom teachers “from 154 schools, academies and maintained schools of the various types, and a small number of independent schools”.

As the Report’s Appendix on Methodology itself states “the noise inherent in a snapshot of one week's hours, some small clusters of teachers, and a low number of schools sampled relative to the heterogeneity in secondary school teachers” means that some of the Report’s attempts to draw correlations between working hours and various school and teacher types cannot be entirely reliable. In some cases, for example when looking at the link between workload and the experience of their headteacher, then the Report itself agrees there is no clear correlation. There are also some significant differences between the figures given for the total hours worked and the sum of the times listed for the different activities separately – a “measurement error” acknowledged in the report.

Even with that statistical caution noted, the analysis carried out by Peter Sullen, a former Head of the Teachers and Teaching Analysis Team at the DfE, nevertheless clearly confirms the poor pay and working conditions of teachers in England compared to most other developed countries.
Here are some key findings:

Overall Working Hours – England has some of the longest hours in the world

Full time teachers in England reported working, on average, 48.2 hours a week, compared to the average elsewhere of 40.6 hours. A fifth of teachers reported working 60 hours or more.

Only teachers in Japan and Alberta reported longer average working hours than England. That puts England ranked third highest out of the 36 jurisdictions. 

A footnote to the Report points out the weakness in the current Conditions Document that avoids a proper limit on overall hours: “England’s statutory work time for teachers (at least applying to teachers in maintained schools) is to be available for 1265 hours across 195 days, which works out at just six and a half hours per day, to be augmented with additional hours “as necessary”. Doesn’t that open-ended wording need replacing with a specific legal limit on overall working hours?

Over half of teachers think their workload is ‘unmanageable’

13% ‘strongly agreed’ and 38% ‘agreed’ with the statement “My workload is unmanageable”. Only 3 per cent strongly disagreed.

The low morale of those who strongly agreed that their workload is unmanageable is shown by the 42% who disagreed that “the advantages of being a teacher clearly outweigh the disadvantages” and over 50% who agreed that “I would like to change to another school if that were possible”.

The Report rightly points to other recent research by the National Foundation for Education Research (2016) which found workload to be “at the centre” of why some interviewed teachers were considering leaving teaching and that in a recent survey for the Guardian one in five teachers claimed they intended to leave the profession because they felt overworked.

It also shows that workload is a significant barrier to accessing professional development. 60 per cent of teachers in England agreed with that statement, the seventh highest ranking in the international comparison.

The Report’s finding that “other jurisdictions, including some which perform consistently highly in international rankings, appear able to avoid [long working hours], and in England teachers do not work much longer hours in outstanding schools” is also worth noting. Long working hours are driving down morale but not improving education! 

It’s not only workload, pay levels are poor as well

As well as providing data on workload, the Report also confirms that England’s teachers receive lower pay than similarly educated workers in the wider economy. It does, however, point out that this is generally repeated internationally.

Teachers know this is the case. As many as 73 per cent of teachers in England surveyed in TALIS agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “teachers are underpaid compared to other qualified professionals with similar levels of responsibility”. The Report adds that the School Teachers’ Review Body 2016 pointed out that the relative pay of classroom teachers compared to other graduate professionals has worsened since “so it is unlikely that the situation has improved”.

However, as well as relatively lower pay, “in England the ratio between teachers’ working hours and the average for the whole economy is 17 per cent greater than the ratio in the other countries assessed”. So, overall, England has perhaps the worst overall combination of long hours and low pay compared to similar graduate professionals.

Gender Inequality

There is evidence in the Report that long hours are particularly discriminating against women teachers. The Report includes tables showing that, in general, more women reported their workload as being unmanageable than men.

The Report observes that “female teachers with children tend to work fewer hours; where that is incompatible with the teaching jobs available, some may simply be unable to teach. Part-time working is not as widespread as might be expected for a disproportionately female workforce. This might explain why, according to TALIS data, only 2.9 per cent of teachers in England are living with children but not as a couple, whereas 4.1 per cent of all people in employment aged 16 to 64 were lone parents in 2013 according to the Office for National Statistics” and that “some potentially outstanding teachers will be unable to join or remain in the profession because of family circumstances”

It’s non-teaching activities that take up the time

The Report confirms what teachers in England have long complained about themselves. The time that teachers in England spend teaching lessons is exactly the 20 hour a week average. It is time spent on other tasks which add up to such a high overall workload.

Interestingly, there’s no one particular activity that stands out particularly starkly. Out of the 36 areas, England’s teachers recorded 6th longest time on marking, 11th on planning, 8th on general administration. It’s the combination of these additional hours that adds up to the third highest ranking overall. 

There’s just one area where England ranked particularly low down the international league table of hours - student counselling. Teachers don’t have time for themselves and their families but neither do students get the individual support they need.

The Report concludes that therefore the “DfE are right to focus on planning, marking, and administrative issues” in their advice on workload issues.

Contradictory conclusions – don’t cut planning time, increase class sizes?

DfE advice alone won’t tackle the workload crisis. It needs backing up with concrete agreements to limit workload, and resources to recruit additional teaching staff. Unfortunately, when it comes to concrete actions, the Report starts to draw contradictory conclusions.

It’s keen to point out that the 24 minutes spent by England’s teachers on planning per one hour lesson time is in line with the average of 22 (compared with 35 minutes in Shanghai but just 14 minutes in Finland) and that “the focus should be on making better use of lesson planning time rather than reducing the overall amount”.

The Report suggests further research is needed into the use of ICT to improve on planning and other workload issues. However, in practice, teachers know that ICT can also increase workload demands if used to generate additional teacher tasks.

Particularly worrying is a Schools Week report which leads with the claim that the Report shows that “teachers will struggle to reduce their workload unless schools increase their class sizes”. I haven’t found any such firm conclusion in the Report, nor the evidence to back up this claim. What it does say is that “With pupil numbers in secondary schools set to increase, it is unlikely that teaching timetables can be reduced without an increase in class sizes should teacher numbers not keep pace”. That’s self-evidently true – the solution is to recruit and retain more staff.

There is an inconclusive discussion about pupil teacher ratios in Shanghai which nevertheless does suggest that its model of higher class sizes could be followed in order to “create smaller teaching timetables for each teacher”. However, the Report tempers this with the observation that “replicating greatly increased classes in England might be a particular challenge given the diversity in the mainstream pupil population discussed above” but does add that “this may be an area for further consideration. This is particularly the case if overall teacher supply proves difficult to maintain”.

Any such discussion needs to remember a few key points:

  • Yes, alongside cutting back on the volume of non-teaching tasks, reducing teacher loadings to provide increased planning, preparation and assessment time could significantly address workload. But more PPA is best delivered by recruiting more teachers. That means more funding for schools – not less as under this Government.
  • Larger class sizes mean more marking and preparation and so higher workload. They also mean less time for each child in that class and a poorer education.
  • Lastly, the Report fails to include the statistics which shows that class sizes in England are already some of the highest in the developed world

Most teachers blame “the accountability system” of Ofsted and league tables  

The Report displays data suggesting that there is limited correlation between longer working hours and the likelihood of performance dismissal or blocking pay progression. However, it also acknowledges that 43% of those surveyed agreed that consistent underperformance would lead either to dismissal or material sanctions in their school.

It also acknowledges that “teachers in England associate external accountability with work pressures”. In fact as many as 37% ‘disagreed’ with the statement “The accountability system does not add significantly to the pressure of the job”. Another 48% ‘strongly disagreed’. That’s 85% of all of the respondents! Similarly, 50% ‘disagreed’ and 27% ‘strongly disagreed’ that “the accountability system does not add significantly to my workload”.

Once again, the Report throws in a contradictory conclusion that: “the DfE should monitor the implementation of new pay freedoms, which offer an opportunity to achieve a better balance in relative pay across a teacher’s career”. This is an assertion based on a belief in performance-pay systems which is not backed up by evidence. Performance-pay ‘freedoms’, particularly in the context of a budget squeeze, will mean worse, not better, pay. It will also risk more inequality and an increasing fear of the “accountability” regime.

However, that conclusion is balanced by a warning that “it is plausible that a ‘high-stakes’ approach to raising performance has created a long-hours culture in a highly competitive school system. If the focus of that competition is on short-term outcomes, what is individually rational for teachers, department heads and head teachers may ultimately not be constructive for pupil outcomes in the long term. That is not to say that accountability-driven improvement is inappropriate, but that the risks for long-term teacher development should be understood and acted upon by policy makers, even in a school-led system. This report highlights that more needs to be done in order to sustain the teaching workforce and enable it to flourish”.

Ofsted, league tables and performance pay are all adding to workload pressures and low morale. They must be tackled as part of tackling the teacher workload scandal.

The consequences – Teacher turnover and a lack of experienced colleagues

The Report correctly spells out the consequence of high workload, relatively low pay and poor morale. Here are just a few key quotes:

  • “We have one of the youngest and least experienced teaching workforces in the developed world”
  • “England had one of the fastest reductions in the proportion of teachers aged over 50 in secondary education between 2005 and 2014”
  • “England has one of the highest proportions of teachers under 30, and only 48 per cent of its teachers have more than ten years’ experience compared with an average of 64 per cent across jurisdictions”
  • “The relatively young teaching workforce in England may therefore be a signal that teachers are experiencing ‘burn-out’, before they even step in to leadership roles”.
  • “An obvious implication of high rates of turnover, and short teaching careers, is that the substantial resources invested in initial teaching training will involve significant amounts of waste. If those resources could be allocated better to the teachers who stay for longer, through raising the levels of effective CPD undertaken later in careers, overall teaching quality might be raised and more might stay”.

Encouraging MATs – another ideological conclusion not based on evidence

For a body that states it prides itself on evidence, it is disappointing to see yet another ideologically driven conclusion in the Report which is not backed up by the data.

It states that “We find some evidence to suggest teachers in larger schools tend to work slightly fewer hours. Creating economies of scale through multi-academy trust arrangements or school capital policy may help to ease teacher workload”

First of all, the evidence is statistically unclear. As the Report admits “further work is needed to identify accurately the magnitude of the school size effect and its causes given the modest number of schools included in the survey”. Secondly, school size does not necessarily relate to an ‘economy of scale’ created by a multi academy trust. Of course, the greatest ‘economies of scale’ could be made by having all schools in a locality being accountable to democratically run Local Authorities.

To make such claims about MATs, evidence would need to be provided of lower working hours within academies compared to maintained schools. Anecdotally at least, NUT experience is often that both teacher workload and turnover are higher in academies. After all, even the limited workload guarantees of the Schoolteachers’ Pay and Conditions Document do not automatically apply in the non-maintained sector.

Of course, what is true is that individual employers, whether MATs or Local Authorities, can help act to address the workload crisis by applying clear policies and collective agreements across their schools limiting working hours and non-teaching activities. The NUT wants to reach such agreements with employers in order to address the dangers highlighted in the EPI Report. If its facts and figures can help encourage employers to apply policies that genuinely limit workload, then it will have played a useful role.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

London's teachers and families need genuinely affordable homes

In preparation for speaking at the Policy Forum for London Seminar on 'Policy Priorities for Housing in London' this week, I have produced a short presentation setting out why urgent action is needed to tackle London's housing crisis.

The key points are:
  • London's housing crisis is putting our school success at risk - teachers are being priced out of London
  • 30% of Outer London's secondary schools already have temporary vacancies - when more teachers are needed
  • Median house prices in Inner London are EIGHTEEN times higher than a teacher's starting salary
  • More of London's young teachers are living with their parents than are buying a property
  • An Outer London teacher's starting salary only leaves them £63 a week to live on after paying a median rent
  • Most young teachers live in the private rented sector - but many face cramped, stressful and insecure conditions
  • Long working days mean teachers can't move too far away from their workplaces to find cheaper housing
  • So 60% of London's young teachers say they will be leaving the capital - most blame London's housing costs
  • In some London boroughs, two-thirds of teachers are now under 40 - older teachers are leaving London
  • London needs urgent action to provide genuinely affordable homes. The NUT calls for rent controls and investment for councils to build homes.
I have pasted the slides below and uploaded the presentation for discussions on housing in NUT Division and School meetings. The facts speak for themselves:

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Solving the workload crisis - winning an enforceable limit on teachers’ weekly working hours

There are many threats to teachers and education that need to be urgently combated – not least funding cuts and the educational damage being done by SATs, selection and academisation. However, if there’s one issue that most concerns teachers whenever I speak at school or Division meetings, it’s teacher workload.

I am posting this blog as a personal suggestion about what could be done to solve the teacher workload crisis, particularly drawing on the news that a Fair Workload Charter has been agreed in Nottingham that proposes a two-hour daily limit on teacher workload on top of directed time.

Teacher workload - the facts

Teacher workload is driving teachers out of the classroom. The current expectation that teachers work long hours, at the end of the school day and at weekends, is damaging the lives of teachers and their families.  Its consequences - turnover, stress and demoralisation - are also damaging education.

The statistics are undeniable but here are a few key facts – all taken from non-NUT sources:

  • The latest DfE workload survey (2013) reported that primary teachers work, on average, 59 hours a week, 55 in secondary schools. The average teacher reported that they worked 12-14 hours in the evenings and at weekends, mostly on marking and planning.
  • A more recent March 2016 Guardian survey of teachers recorded 82% as saying their workload was “unmanageable”. More than three-quarters said they worked between 49 and 65 hours a week. 75% said their workload was having a serious impact on their mental health. In turn, 79% of schools said they were struggling to recruit or retain teachers.
  • The latest DfE teacher workforce analysis (2015) shows that the annual 'wastage' rate - the numbers of teachers no longer teaching anywhere within the state sector from one year to the next – has now risen to over 1 in 10 in both the primary and secondary sectors for the first time.
  • The UK also has the greatest pupil-teacher ratios in Europe, with rising class sizes adding to the workload burden of marking, planning for individual needs and data management.

The solution – a limit on working hours

In response to rising concerns about the unsustainability of current teacher workload, the DfE’s Independent Teacher Workload Review Groups issued a series of recommendations to reduce the workload associated with marking, planning and data management. However, given the same DfE is applying relentless pressure on schools to constantly ‘improve’ or face outside intervention – and pressure is similarly applied to teachers through the threat of denial of pay progression – I fear that the recommendations alone may only have limited effect. While the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document continues to state that a teacher has to work ‘such additional hours as may be necessary to discharge  effectively your professional duties’, then teachers have no clear legal protection against excessive working hours that may be demanded of them by their managers.

Over years of debating this issue with colleagues, I have concluded that the solution has to be to introduce an enforceable weekly limit that would allow teachers to insist that whatever marking, planning, data management and other demands were placed on them, the overall workload must be able to be completed within that weekly limit.

Significantly, the need to impose a weekly limit on working hours is exactly the conclusion that has been arrived at by Nottingham’s Education Improvement Board (EIB), as highlighted in the Guardian. In conjunction with school staff unions, they have issued a Fair Workload Charter that includes, amongst other useful recommendations, this key expectation:

“the workload requirements of all policies should be reasonably  deliverable within an additional maximum two hour period, unless other contractual arrangements apply. For those with additional leadership responsibilities, a further one hour a day may be required”

I take that as meaning that, for a classroom teacher, no teacher could be asked to carry out tasks that take more than two hours on top of the school day and, presumably, none at the weekends. The precise definition of ‘additional leadership responsibilities’ might need unpicking but the extra ‘leadership’ hour would still help limit the particular pressures falling on school ‘middle managers’.

There are, of course, other ways of calculating a weekly limit which could be considered. The Nottingham Charter appears to set down approximately a 42 hour working week for a classroom teacher. This still works out at roughly an 8am – 5pm working day. That’s long but, especially if it came with a clear guarantee of no weekend work, would be considerably less than most teachers are working now.

The formulation reached by the Nottingham IEB is certainly one solution that could be applied by other employers. It could also be applied by the Secretary of State through a new Schoolteachers Pay and Conditions Document that finally gives real legislative limits to teacher working hours.

How could such a weekly limit be won – and enforced?

Nottingham IEB’s approach is to encourage schools to sign-up to the Charter so that they can then attract staff by using the ‘EIB fair workload’ logo in their advertisements and publicity. Against a background of increasing recruitment and retention difficulties, unions offering to endorse good employers to their members could certainly encourage both individual schools and wider employers – whether Academy Chains or Local Authorities – to follow the Nottingham model. Organising with members in schools to develop a collective bargaining approach to win similar agreements with other employers could certainly be a productive strategy for teaching unions.

However, the counteracting pressures on schools - Ofsted, league tables and spending cuts – means that too few employers will be as far-sighted as Nottingham. Therefore, alongside negotiations, unions will have to also prepare an industrial action strategy. This might require preparing members to take action in individual schools or across a whole employer.  This might require significant resources – but could win significant victories for overworked teachers – and for education overall.

Of course, winning an agreement through organising and collective bargaining will be only just a start – there will need to be an ongoing campaign to make sure the agreement applies in practice. For example, although the EiS union won a 35-hour contractual working week for Scottish teachers, in practice EiS members report having to work an average 46.5 hours a week. Clearly, any agreement on hours must be matched with school policies that explain how an hourly limit can be met. Above all, they must be backed up by union organisation in the workplace, with a confident union group and rep ready to step-in to make sure agreements are adhered to by both staff and management.

One advantage of the ‘additional two-hour’ limit adopted in Nottingham is it might be possible for many teachers to work those two hours before and after school – and therefore a culture built, and enforced, that teachers should not be taking marking and planning home with them when they leave. (although, as it is ‘non-directed time’ teachers should have  flexibility that allows them to meet individual commitments when they need to leave earlier). That would be a huge step forward.

But how will the work get done?

Winning support from members for such an hourly workload limit will require unions being able to answer some key questions that will inevitably be raised by staff:

Q) If I cut down on my workload, what if I don’t meet my performance management targets?

To address those understandable fears, I believe that, as part of the collective bargaining negotiations, unions would need to insist that an agreed Charter includes a guarantee that:

(i) no teacher will be set performance management targets – nor indeed ‘capability’ targets - that require them to work beyond the weekly limit on working hours
(ii) all teachers will automatically progress along union-endorsed salary scales

Q) What work can I get rid of to cut my existing workload in order to meet the new hourly limit?

First of all, we have to win teachers, not least middle managers, to the understanding that something HAS to be cut – continuing as we are at present is simply unsustainable.

Schools will need to arrive at policies that make clear how the limit can be achieved. The conclusions in the DfE Workload Reports provide some starting-points to how this could be done. How often does formal marking really need to be done?  What level of detail in planning is really needed – and how can shared planning and use of existing schemes of work and resources cut down on that planning time? What data really needs to be ‘captured’ and what systems can cut working time?

Of course, a workload crisis of the seriousness facing us may require radical solutions. While possibly controversial with some parents - and schools would need to explain that a Workload Charter was being introduced precisely because it is educationally essential -  one Essex school has recently concluded that the solution is to scrap homework altogether.

Of course, the other ‘radical’ but obvious solution, as explained below, is to increase PPA time so that every teacher has time to plan, prepare and assess during the working day. That could mean early closures to allow planning and meeting time – as some schools still operate.

More fundamentally it means having more qualified teachers (and not underpaid, unqualified cover) to increase teacher non-contact time - but that requires funding. This means our dispute over funding (see below) is inextricably linked to our campaign over workload and, indeed, workload was the issue that brought so many young teachers onto the strike rallies and demonstrations last July.

The reality as budget cuts start to bite, is that PPA is getting worse, not better. Some primary teachers report that the supposedly statutory minimum 10% non-contact time is being eaten into. Secondary teachers, who once could generally expect to have at least 20% non-contact time (‘free periods’) in their timetables, are seeing loadings increase every year – rising to match the inadequate 10% minimum in primary schools. Instead, we need a minimum 20% PPA for all teachers.

UPDATE (10.10.16): I should add - although it will seem obvious to teachers but not perhaps to politicians - that funding PPA by increasing class sizes is no solution either. The latest Education Policy Institute report again confirms the shocking levels of teacher workload in England using TALIS data. However, according to a Schools Week report, it concludes that it is “unlikely that teachers can cut down on workload unless classes are expanded so they have more time to prepare for fewer lessons". However, increasing class sizes are already one of the drivers of rising workload with teachers having to spend longer on marking and preparation for larger numbers of pupils. It is also an educationally damaging proposal that would leave children with less individual support. The real solution to teacher workload, alongside enforcing a limit on the demands made on staff, is to invest in more teachers.

Winning a Workload Charter nationally -  the NUT’s dispute with the Secretary of State

July’s day of national strike action by NUT members in England was part of our national dispute with the Secretary of State over the need for the funding and legislative changes to allow:

  • National collective bargaining on pay and conditions in all schools and academies
  • Pending a new collective bargaining structure, for pay and all other terms and conditions to be no worse than those in the STPCD and Burgundy Book
  • A significant improvement in the conditions of employment under which teachers work, in particular a limitation on class sizes to no more than 30 in the first instance
  • Reduction in teachers workloads, in particular through limitation on marking, data handling and planning
  • Reintroduction of pay portability, the pay spine points, fixed pay scales and removal of the requirement for all pay progression to be performance related
  • A significant improvement in measures to ensure teacher retention, including security of employment.

The discussion above over winning a Workload Charter can be seen as part of this ongoing dispute  –with the aim not just to win battles locally but to win:
1) a nationally collectively bargained Workload Charter that applies to all schools, maintained and academies that sets an enforceable statutory limit on overall working hours

2) funding to allow a limit on class sizes of no more than 30 in the first instance plus a minimum 20% non-contact time for all teachers to reduce workload requirements
3) fixed pay scales and removal of the requirement for all pay progression to be performance related so that teachers won’t be bullied into taking on workload over statutory limits

I would welcome any feedback on these suggestions but I hope it can encourage a discussion about how we can finally – and urgently – solve the teacher workload crisis.

Monday, 19 September 2016

It's Only Teacher Wasteland

At the same time as Justine Greening was trying to grab cheap headlines (but little backing) for her plans for selection and the expansion of grammar schools, the Department for Education were releasing shocking statistics, data which again exposed the real issues which politicians should be talking about if they really cared for children's education.

The data came from the DfE's annual 'Local analysis of teacher workforce', now updated with the latest 2015 statistics on a range of different factors. Above all, the research confirms the ever-rising numbers of teachers leaving the teaching profession (or, to use the DfE's chosen, if blunt, description, the 'wastage' rates) .

As the notes explain, the data shows the annual 'wastage' rate - the numbers of teachers no longer teaching anywhere within the state sector from one year to the next - as being over 1 in 10. In Inner London, it is as high as 1 in 8 teachers. This is a shocking waste of talented, trained teachers who have entered the profession to try and support young people, yet feel that they cannot stay in the profession any longer.

It's also clear from the DfE data that the overwhelming majority of this 'wastage' is now by teachers who have left teaching to look for other jobs, not those who have retired. This trend is clear from the figures:

Some of the other revealing data is in the tables that have been produced giving the number of schools saying that they had at least one temporarily filled or vacant post on the November 2015 census day:

These figures give a lie to the official Government line that there is a negligible vacancy rate in our schools. The real facts are clear - nearly 1 in 4 secondary schools in England are carrying a post which they cannot fill permanently, rising to not far short of a third of secondaries in Outer London.

These statistics reveal the stark reality of the effect of years of demoralising, damaging Government attacks on teachers, not least the relentless workload which has never been addressed despite the various promises that have been made. Further funding cuts will only make matters worse.

Teacher wastage is damaging for schools and the individual teachers who feel unable to continue as state-school teachers. It is especially damaging for pupils who need a stable environment to support their development.

Instead of looking backwards at outdated selective models of education, the Government should be acting as a matter of urgency to prevent this continued haemorrhage from the teaching profession.

Click here for a downloadable copy of some of the main charts and graphs

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

"Three secondary moderns in every town"

If anyone was in any doubt about the backward reactionary ideas at the top of the Tory Party, then today's unintended confirmation that they plan to go back to 11-plus selection confirms it. Even Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has called it 'tosh and nonsense', correctly pointing out that a “grammar school in every town” would also mean "three secondary moderns in every town". 

It would mean writing off most young people as failures at the age of 11. Of course, if you are planning for a future where most youth have no future, and an austerity Britain where budgets are slashed so that decent schooling is provided only for a select few, then the policy makes perfect sense. 

It's worth looking back to what was said back in the 1960s when society was looking forward to a better future, instead of backwards like today's Conservatives:

"If we are to help all children effectively, we certainly must assess their various qualities, measure and appraise them. Tests of various kinds are valuable and necessary for this purpose. Indeed, we need more guidance which is scientifically informed. But such information must be used to advance the progress of all children on a broad and varied front: the open road to personal fulfilment. Instead, we are today using it  as a regulator, a turnstile through which people are allowed to pass only in single file on production of standardized credentials".
Robin Pedley, the Comprehensive School 1963
It's also worth reminding everyone that comprehensive education was an undoubted success in widening educational achievement for all:

As Terry Wrigley summarises: "Those who believe that standards of education were higher in some previous Golden Age should look at the examination statistics. In 1972, 43% left school with no qualifications at all. Now it is less than 1%. Some argue that this means that the exams have become easier to pass; but it is hard to deny that the education of the 42%, who under the old system achieved no qualifications and now get some, has improved. In 1960, in a divided system, only 20% went to grammar school. The rest were more or less written off. In fact only 16% of sixteen year olds achieved five O-level passes. In 2011 53% of pupils in the state sector achieved five or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and maths. Including ‘equivalents’ to GCSE (see below) it was 59%".

Here's today's National NUT press release:

Commenting on the Department for Education’s advice note which was photographed today outside Number 10, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“Theresa May said on the steps of Downing Street that she wanted ‘a country that works for everyone’. Yet now we hear of proposals to take education back to the 1950s, when children were segregated at age 11 and their life chances determined by the type of school they attended.

“Opening new grammar schools would not only be a backward step but is also a complete distraction from the real problems facing schools and education. For every grammar school there are three or four ‘secondary modern’ schools. All the evidence makes clear that segregating children in this way leads to lower academic standards. The argument that grammar schools create ‘social mobility’ are, in the words of the Ofsted Chief Inspector, ‘tosh and nonsense’. Evidence shows that in areas which retain grammar schools, disadvantaged students – who are eligible for FSM or who live in poor neighbourhoods – are much less likely to be enrolled, even if they score highly on Key Stage 2 tests.

“There is an opportunity with a new Prime Minister and a new Secretary of State to put education back on the right track. This means addressing the real challenges facing schools such as the funding crisis, teacher recruitment and retention problems, the chaos surrounding primary assessment and the fragmentation in the schools system. We need more coherence, not yet another layer of education provision in England.”

Thanks to @pollydonnison for the cartoon:

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Workload and testing - is that 'just the way it is' - or can unions make a difference?

GCSE results day has been and gone and so teachers, in all sectors, know their summer break is coming to an end. 

Of course, many teachers will have been working hard even while schools have officially been closed. A YouGov poll for the TES confirmed that "a third of those in their first year of teaching expect to work for at least three weeks this summer" in an effort to keep up with the ceaseless demands placed on them. As new NUT General Secretary, Kevin Courtney, commented, "It’s no wonder that there are so many that leave the profession so early". 
Hopefully most teachers will still feel they have at least had something of a summer break - but many will be resigned to the fact that the tsunami of workload - 60 hours a week even by official figures - is soon going to wash over them once again. 

The fact that teachers are having to work weekly hours  well over the European Working Time Directive is, regrettably, no longer 'news'. In fact, it has become such an accepted fact that teachers who question their workload are too often told by managers, even by their own colleagues, "that's just the way it is".

These working hours not only damage teachers' health, they damage education too. Overwork means teachers lack the time and energy to give youngsters the individual support they need. It's also a key factor contributing to a teacher retention crisis that will see many schoolchildren starting a new academic year with yet another set of new staff to get to know and, increasingly, some classes without a permanent qualified teacher at all.

Yet, as Anna-Christina Connelly explains in the Huffington Post this week, the idea that teachers are somehow 'failing' if they complain is even being reinforced by some teacher trainers (especially with so many teachers now being 'trained' on the job by overworked teaching colleagues): She writes: "From the moment I started my own PGCE, it began: “If you’re not crying, you’re not doing it right.” A tutor laughed. “NO COMPLAINTS“ read one of the several “motivational” posters which hung above the PC in the trainee room of my placement school. “Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.” But I was training to be a teacher, not a Marine"

The UK already has the greatest pupil-teacher ratios in Europe
Anna-Christina's article rightly concludes that, if the scandal of teacher workload is going to be addressed, we certainly can't rely on the Government to act. The now departed Nicky Morgan was at least forced to acknowledge that the problem existed but she, and her successor Justine Greening, support an austerity government determined to cut public spending - and so increase workload. Cuts already means fewer support staff, larger class sizes and cuts to the time teachers have to plan and prepare outside of class. It will also mean more teachers being denied performance-pay increases, further worsening morale and teacher retention. We also have to remember that austerity also means greater child poverty, the inescapable factor that most affects educational outcomes despite the best efforts of hard-working teachers and school staff.

Like a sweat-shop employer that demands yet more from its workforce instead of investing in the new machinery that would really raise productivity, this Government instead relies on league tables, Ofsted and the threat of academisation as a stick to maintain the pressure on schools and their staff. In turn, too many schools simply pass on that pressure by imposing individual exam targets and assessment policies that rarely take account of what it is reasonable to expect - from both teachers and their students.

The result has been not just excessive workload but an 'exam factory' system of schooling that doesn't just demoralise teachers, it makes many children unhappy too. It's one of the factors behind the Children's Society's finding that children in England are "among the unhappiest in the world".

As the Government moves the goalposts by imposing assessment changes on both primary and secondary schools, more young people - and their schools - find themselves unfairly labelled as 'failures'. This year's GCSE results showed a 2% decline in the proportion of A*-C grades. At Key Stage 2, the number of pupils deemed to have met the 'required standard' in maths, reading and writing collapsed from 80% in 2015 to 53% in 2016. In reality, those figures represent only the consequence of shambolic Government changes, not the efforts and abilities of children and schools. However, that won't have stopped many youngsters feeling like 'failures' - nor will it stop the Government using those figures as an excuse to achieve their stated aim of academising more primary schools.

The pressure from high stakes testing is also distorting the curriculum. Schools have sought to protect themselves by doing what's best to meet the latest Government targets - which may not be what's best for their students. For example, as a result of the 'EBacc' measurement excluding arts/creative subjects, last week's GCSE results revealed that entries in these areas were down 21% since 2010 and 8% since 2015, reported as being "the largest year on year decline for over a decade".
This long-term trend will have been accompanied by a decline in the number of teachers employed to teach these subjects. As teachers leave, posts may not have been replaced - perhaps helping secondary schools to 'balance their budgets' but certainly making the trend much harder to reverse.

The damage being inflicted on children, teachers and schools by excessive workload and high-stakes testing is clear to anyone who genuinely understands education. The question is, what can be done about it?

Anna-Christina Connelly has a point when she says that "It’s up to Schools, not the Government, to protect new teachers from workload". Certainly, if more school leaders had had the courage to stand firm instead of simply passing on the pressure from Government onto their staff, then workload would not have reached such intolerable levels. However, it's hard for a school to stand up alone - what's needed is for schools and their staff to stand firm together. The best way to ensure that happens is through trade union action.

July 5 saw another well-supported national strike by NUT members. Anger against workload was, as the NUT's surveying has confirmed, one of the main factors that mobilised teachers to join the action.

July's NUT National Executive agreed that the national campaign on funding and workload obviously has to continue this academic year but that the NUT will also develop a campaign on primary assessment alongside other unions, parents and other campaign organisations. The NAHT General Secretary has already been quoted in the TES confirming that "a boycott remains a possibility for 2017 if discussions with the government are not fruitful".

So it's soon going to be 'back to school' but it can't be back to 'business as usual'. NUT members need to build our campaign against funding cuts, excessive workload and the Government's damaging testing regime, locally and nationally.