Saturday 3 November 2007


‘Improve – or see your school closed down or taken over’

Last week, the same old demoralising nonsense that we have heard over the years from Chris Woodhead to Tony Blair was trotted out by Gordon Brown in his first major speech on education.

But these sound-bite ‘solutions’ have done nothing but divide and demoralise in the past – and Brown’s proposals will only do the same in the future.

The underlying message is clear – teachers and schools are to blame. Yet anyone with any understanding of education knows that research consistently shows that the key factor affecting exam performance is a school’s pupil intake. Schools serving deprived communities with high levels of need, despite the best efforts of staff, will never be able to ‘compete’ (as that is the market-driven language of the DSCF) with selective schools teaching middle class areas.

What schools need are additional staffing and resources to meet their pupil needs – not threats which only lead to demoralisation and staff resignations. What schools also need is an end to selection to prevent some schools boosting their results at the expense of others. Yet the PM’s plans to allow Academies to take over schools will only increase selection and divisions between schools.

My own school in Lewisham is suffering from the effect of a local Academy improving its intake at the expense of ours. Not surprisingly, our exam results have suffered as teachers struggle to meet the needs of a heavily skewed pupil intake. We’ve been warned OFSTED may soon pay a visit. What a way to dispirit committed staff instead of giving them the support they and our youngsters need.

Gordon Brown also talked of the need to recruit the “brightest and best” to teaching. Well Gordon, there are plenty of excellent but angry teachers in our schools – angry that they are paid so much less than a graduate should expect to earn (see £7 an hour posting below) and wondering whether the hard work is really worth it when we are treated so badly by Government. This is the same Gordon who insists on cutting our pay in real terms! How is that going to help recruit and retain staff?

The NUT needs to respond to these threats by pulling together the discontent of teachers to build bold campaigns and firm national action. I hope that I can be a President that can help organise the action we need and help expose failing Governments as those who should really be held accountable for undermining our young people’s life chances.

Martin Powell-Davies

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