Sunday 23 September 2012

Wilshaw - using Ofsted as Gove's political weapon

" Let's break this chain of Ofsted-driven bullying, and stand up to Gove, Wilshaw and the rest of the educational vandals, by taking firm collective action ".

Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, has outraged teachers with his insulting comments printed in yesterday's Times suggesting that teachers should 'work more or get paid less'. Angry replies have streamed in from teachers on social media, some of which are just too angry to copy onto this blog!
The message from Chicago

These two comments, posted on my facebook wall overnight, are typical of how most teachers will have reacted: "How many times does he do a full day's work then take work home until 10.30-11.00 and work weekends and holidays?"  and "Apparently 50-60 hours a week and having every weekend spoiled for months doesn't count as working hard ... Teachers are very dedicated, too dedicated for their own good at times, and this blatant attempt to denigrate us in order to reduce public support for our dispute is despicable!"

Wilshaw's attacks are indeed a deliberate attempt to denigrate teachers and to use Ofsted as a political weapon to scapegoat teachers so that Government can pursue its agenda of cuts and privatisation.

It is not only teachers in England that face these attacks from neo-liberal politicians and their apologists like Wilshaw. It is an international phenomenon. As the article posted below (!/2012/09/chicago-teachers-win-important.html ) explains, Chicago teachers also face - but are fighting off - the relentless arguments from Republicans and Democrats alike that "education alone is the key to fighting poverty and that, therefore, if poverty continues and grows, it must be the fault of bad teachers and their unions ... and that 'change' – any change – must be good".

Like the Chicago Teachers Union, the National Union of Teachers needs to go out to the public and expose the real agenda behind Wilshaw's and Gove's attacks - to break-up locally accountable, comprehensive education and to steal back the educational gains won during Britain's post-war boom. Far from teachers letting down working-class children, it is Gove and his ilk that are pursuing policies - like tuition fees, spending cuts and the abandonment of GCSEs - that will condemn many of our students to poverty and unemployment.

Teachers don't need to make any excuses or apologies. If it wasn't for the hard-work and dedication of teachers, papering over the huge cracks left over years when real funding has failed to match the rising needs of poverty-hit pupils, schools and students would already fail to make the tremendous achievements that they are producing. This is, of course, particularly the case in those schools in challenging areas that are most often in the firing-line for forced academisation under Wilshaw's oppressive Ofsted regime and Gove's imposed 40% GCSE 'floor target'.

Does anyone still remember Gordon Brown's broken promise to match spending in state schools with those in the fee-paying sector? The fact is that chronic underspending means that class sizes are too large and staffing levels too low - contributing to the excessive workload and the insufficient amount of paid preparation time during working hours.

If Wilshaw was really interested in working-class students, he would be demanding that schools are given the resources to recruit and retain more teachers - not making attacks that will demoralise and drive away even more teachers from the classroom.

In contrast to Wilshaw's insulting comments, very few teachers leave work as the final bell goes - many, too many, stay there for hours afterwards, neglecting their own well-being and their families too. Exhausted teachers also don't make good teachers either!

Schools aren't sweatshops. Why should it be the norm for any employee to have to put in hours of unpaid overtime - and then be threatened with a pay-cut if they stick to their contractual hours? Of course, the problem is that teachers' contracts in England don't sufficiently define our hours. That's why the NUT is campaigning for a model contract that sets down a clear 35-hour working week, including a minimum 20% non-contact time for planning, preparation and assessment during our working day - not on Sunday mornings!

Wilshaw's insults are answered by official publications that have to concede that, for years,  teachers have been consistently working over 50 hours a week and that workload is "by far the most important" reason for teachers to leave the profession. See for example: 

As the NUT's latest powerpoint to support our 'action short of strike action' points out, half of all newly qualified teachers leave the profession in the first five years of their career. What a waste of talent and training. What disruption this causes to youngsters' education. What a condemnation of the current system it is that, even in a recession, the working conditions facing teachers are so oppressive that so many young graduates can't face carrying on under the intolerable pressures we face !

We can't let Wilshaw get away with the claim that he made that “In last year’s [Ofsted] report we said that 40pc of lessons overall were not good enough ... and yet everyone is getting a pay rise. Hey! Something is wrong with the system.”

Even the December 2011 report on Ofsted findings from school inspections that Wilshaw is, in part, using to justify his attack reveals a much more complex reality. (

For a start, the report shows that only 9% of schools were judged by Ofsted in 2010/11 as being 'inadequate'. The largest proportion of schools, 40%, were categorised as being 'satisfactory', not 'failing'. But, to the report's authors, 'satisafctory' was not good enough - and they recommended the change to a new description of 'performing inconsistently' !

Now, every teacher would like their schools to do as well as they could for their students (although, rightly, not at an unacceptable cost to their own health and working hours). But Wilshaw is, for his own purposes, deliberately using the inspection findings to present a distorted picture of educational 'failure'.

But, even where improvements need to be made, what does Wilshaw suggest could encourage those improvements? Simply bullying teachers to work even harder is not a solution. The RSA report itself has to acknowledge some of the key factors that Wilshaw would prefer to deny, such as:

* The effect of poverty on attainment:

" The quantitative data from Ofsted, and comments in the inspection reports, illuminate the point that contexts are not equal, and ... this point is essential to recognise ... There is no doubt that schools in areas of social disadvantage face a range of challenges that mean they have to work harder to secure these outcomes. Occasionally, this point that circumstances of schools impact on outcome was directly acknowledged by inspectors, e.g: 'The school works in a very demanding environment with high student mobility, exceptionally low student skills on entry and increasing numbers of students who are at the early stages of acquiring English. This challenging context has been exacerbated by some instability in staffing caused by the long-term absence of several teachers. In the face of these additional pressures the school is coping admirably and on balance, provides students with a satisfactory quality of education and delivers satisfactory value for money.' "

* The damaging effect of 'competition' between schools:

" It may be that an Ofsted judgement of ‘Satisfactory’ actually increases the likelihood of individual schools succumbing to such a cycle [of challenging circumstances] Indeed, this would be a logical outcome of the ‘choice agenda’. Both teachers and parents that have choices are likely to select ‘better quality’ schools at which to work or send their children, and hence these schools are likely to attract those teachers and families that have little choice "

* The importance of teacher morale and the damage caused by Government targets

" It is vital to facilitate enjoyment and passion in teacher professionalism and development, rather than simply focusing on summative performance measures which can lower morale and hence impede progress ... "

* The damage caused by cuts to Local Authority support services 

" It seems preposterous that we have such good inspectors [their words, not mine !], but no equivalent organised supply of expert advisors to support improvement. This absence is especially stark given the dismantling of prior initiatives intended to provide aspects of such support"

Many Headteachers would recognise these factors only too well and would agree with demands for more funding and support, especially to schools in 'challenging circumstances'. However, they are caught in a chain of bullying from Gove and Wilshaw downwards that threatens their school, and their career, if they fail to do what they are told from above.

Ofsted has become the blunt weapon used by these Government bullies. So, for example, if schools don't adopted harsh appraisal and observation policies, Heads fear that Ofsted will be told to report them as 'failing'. Now, as Wilshaw made clear yesterday, if schools allow too many teachers to progress up the pay scale, again they will fear being 'failed'.

That's why the key to breaking this chain, and standing up to Gove, Wilshaw and the rest of the bullies and educational vandals, is for teachers to take firm collective industrial action. The 'action short of strike action' being launched jointly by the NUT and NASUWT, and the collective strike action that needs to follow, aren't just about protecting teachers. They are about protecting education as a whole.

As the Chicago teachers successfully demonstrated, if we get out and explain our case to parents and the public, we should be confident that our action will gain support.

Wilshaw may yet learn to regret his comments. His insults are just what was needed to fire-up England and Wales' overworked and, at times, unconfident teachers, so that, together, we stand up for ourselves and for education - starting by firmly implementing the NUT and NASUWT 'Phase One' action guidelines.

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