Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Back to school - and Gove's moving goalposts

Most youth in my borough are enjoying the last hours or days of their summer break and there's still a long last-minute queue at the school uniform shop around the corner. 

For their teachers, term has already begun with the usual INSET sessions of reflections, reports and routines. School management teams have been trying to encourage or cajole staff into meeting the latest set of targets. Of course, teachers in some schools will also be fearing that, under Gove's divisive new performance-pay legislation, 'failure' could mean their pay progression being denied.

One of the sessions I attended today should have carried a health warning. A member of the SMT decided it would be a good idea to show us all a video of Gove discussing his education policies ! 

The aim, to be fair, was to get teachers to question what Gove was aiming for with his curriculum changes. I resisted the urge to shout out 'privatisation' and 'failure'. However, one teacher concluded, accurately enough, that the outcome would certainly be 'confusion'.

Once again, school managers, staff and students  are all left to work out how to cope with ever-moving goalposts. For a secondary school like mine, what combination of exams now counts towards 5 A*-Cs? What counts towards the EBacc? What further curriculum changes are in the pipeline?

The changes might be more acceptable if teachers felt they were in the best interests of all our students. But Gove has a ideological agenda which is aimed at failing many of them.

The demand by Gove that post-16 students will have to keep studying English and Maths until they get a grade C will put further pressures on overstretched schools and staff. As the support and resources won't be provided to give students the individualised support that many will need to achieve that standard, Gove's plans will just enforce a feeling of failure on many of the youth being told that they have to remain in education.

No matter how critical they may be of Gove's regime in private, too many school managements seem prepared to just take their place in the chain of bullying and pass on the imposed demands - and divisive pay policies - on to staff and pupils. Yet, with grade boundaries and pass-rates also coming under political influence, Gove is making it harder to meet those demands. After all, half of the school population will still continue to be below national averages!

Meanwhile, Gove is ideologically insisting that privatised 'free schools' are the answer to the shortage in pupil places in areas like London, instead of providing the significant capital investment in Local Authority schooling that is the obvious and urgently-required solution.

Gove needs to be answered with action. When the dates for this term's strikes are finally announced later this week, NUT and NASUWT members can start to finalise plans for the action needed to defend teachers and education.

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