Sunday 19 October 2014

Morgan and Ofsted try to placate teachers - but what effect will it have in schools?

The NUT block marching on yesterday's TUC demo in London
In another pre-election attempt to distance herself from her detested predecessor, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has written a letter drawing attention to a new 'myth-busting' document issued by Ofsted.

Morgan's letter states that "this document has emerged from the current programme of talks between the department for education and trade unions, and I welcome its publication as a positive step towards tackling unnecessary workload in schools". 

The Ofsted document (which can be read in full on certainly provides useful ammunition to school union groups seeking to limit the present levels of unmanageable workload.

In particular, the document makes clear that Ofsted:
  • are interested in the effectiveness of planning rather than the form it takes.
  • does not expect schools to use the Ofsted evaluation schedule to grade teaching or individual lessons.
  • does not require schools to undertake a specified amount of lesson observation.
  • does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders.
  • does not expect to see unnecessary or extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils in exercise books and folders
  • does not require schools to provide evidence for each teacher for each of the bulleted sub-headings in the Teachers’ Standards
These 'clarifications' back-up many of the points that the NUT has been making when opposing some of the more draconian school pay policies that link pay progression to Ofsted grading of lessons and/or Teacher Standards check-lists. The points making clear that extensive dialogue in books is not required, nor specific planning formats, can also help school groups battling against bureaucratic and excessively time-consuming marking and planning policies.

However, Ofsted and Nicky Morgan have chosen their words carefully. Morgan's commitments still fall far short of what is really required to really reduce teacher workload. That would be the introduction of a National Contract that legislates for an overall limit on teachers' working hours, and for a minimum 20% PPA time so that we have adequate time to mark and prepare lessons within the working day.

Of course, the NUT is absolutely right to point out that it is our campaign on excessive workload that has helped push Nicky Morgan into acknowledging that something has to be done to address it. The growing evidence of a crisis in teacher morale is also something that any Government has got to start paying some attention to. But the overriding aim to privatise and drive down the cost of public services remains sacrosanct. That's why it will still take a determined campaign of national and local action to achieve real concessions.

Ofsted's letter is still only a limited gain. The divisive performance-pay system introduced by Michael Gove remains in place. The pressure from Ofsted on schools to  make the grade - or be forced into becoming academies - is certainly still there as well.

Unfortunately, in her letter Nicky Morgan simply says that, rather than have to follow an Ofsted directive, "it is up to schools to decide how they monitor, evaluate and plan teaching and learning". In the same vein, the Ofsted document  says that "Ofsted will usually expect to see evidence of the monitoring of teaching and learning and its link to teachers’ performance management and the Teachers’ Standards, but this should be the information that the school uses routinely and not additional evidence generated for inspection". 

In reality, these letters are still saying that schools can pressurise teachers with the threat of having their pay progression withheld - but that they should make up their own rules rather than pointing to Ofsted directives!

So, on their own, these letters will change little in schools. However, used as arguments to support local and national action over workload, they could certainly prove useful.

Next week, the NUT Executive meets to review the outcome of the Union's consultative ballot. I hope that we will be able to announce that we will be taking further national strike action up to the General Election to press for the changes that would really guarantee change - like a National Contract limiting workload and the removal of performance-pay, certainly on the main pay spine. Of course, that action will also be required under the next Government too.

Alongside national action, the Union needs to give confidence and encouragement to union groups to demand schools adopt planning, marking and pay policies that protect teachers from excessive workload - turning Morgan's vague promises into meaningful reality.

If Nicky Morgan wants to issue helpful advice, perhaps she should remind Headteachers that they have a Professional Responsibility under the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (para 48.13) to "lead and manage the staff with a proper regard for their well-being and legitimate expectations, including the expectation of a healthy balance between work and other commitments"

If of course, Heads do not show such regard, then what better grounds for a Union group to organise action under the NUT's ongoing ballot to make sure that such a work-life balance is achieved!

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