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My manifesto for Education Secretary (or what ever it’ll be called in May 2015)

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I remember rocking up at my first school as a trainee teacher.  It was the start of my diagnostic practice (so called as it was short enough not to do any lasting damage to the school and would also identify what I was rubbish at – a long list) at High Tunstall School in Hartlepool.  I’d heard all about the monkey story and vowed never to mention it, although I wasn’t expecting one of my fellow trainees to identify me a a future Secretary of State for Education and Skills, as it was known at the time.  Now, those that know me well understand that I don’t really do modesty, but this was a step too far.  I’ve no idea to this day what I said at the time to warrant this comment, and I’ve far too many bony things in the wardrobe to become a politician.  Anyway, as I’m about to enter my twelfth year of teaching, I thought it would be fun to set out what I’d do as Education Boss (as I would call it) after May 2015.  It’s just a bit of fun really and an opportunity to vent, if you want to read some real stuff look over at the Head’s Roundtable Manifesto

Now, this isn’t an attack on politicians.  The ones that I have had direct contact with have been hard working, claimed modest expenses and are public servants.  There are of course, the Muppets. But, and this is the thing, although education is a political football, I don’t pretend that it’s a major election issue.  It just isn’t going to decide the outcome of the general election.  Part of that problem is the political class themselves – slaves to public opinion and too afraid to make decisions based upon their passion and beliefs. The only certainty with the faces above is that there will be more change.  Just look at the list of Education Bosses during my time as a teacher:

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So, the title has changed three times and there are been six of them so that’s around 1.8 years each during my time as a teacher.  And we wonder why the change is a mission?  What this does bring home is the importance of school leadership.  Yes, we have to keep the wolf from the door, but most of the headteachers I’ve worked with have been in post for longer than education secretaries.  School leadership teams need to be brave enough to carry on with their mission.  In all my time as a teacher, I’ve never been inspired by a Secretary of State – I have been by Heads, Teachers, Students – on a weekly basis.  That’s why I do this.

Education really isn’t a major issue for most voters and, this close to an election, I doubt that the education secretary isn’t really looking for votes from people who aren’t teachers.  Here is what the Tories think are the key issues:

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At least Labour have it identified as a key issue, after the others:

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Not striking me as an upcoming period of stability.  The fact is that without a stable system of accountability (I’m not anti-Ofsted) and external examinations (GCSE and A’Level) it’s impossible for teachers and therefore schools to do our jobs, let alone be creative.  The problem is the media, including blogs.  News travels so fast these days that politicians (the main ones anyway) need to be on their top game always.  And, let’s face it, do we really care what someone looks like or their mannerisms? Or do we care about solid policies and decisive leadership of the country?

So, what would I do?  Please bear in mind that I would have no idea how to fund any of this and it’s mainly off the top of my head.  I’m a teacher, not a politician.  Not all of these may be serious . Many of them may totally contradict my actual thoughts.  Thinking though is the aim.

1. Get rid of the Department for Education and rename the post as ‘Teacher’s Champion.’

Not for the new website and stationary, but centralised control of all schools is simply bonkers.  Let’s have more money and more responsive decision making going into schools.  As Teacher’s Champion, I’d point out that schools have always prepared children for jobs that we didn’t yet know about and that if business and universities want to complain about the quality of young people coming out of schools, they should cough up some cash to pay for the training.  Schools aren’t a place to create workers of the future, they exist to develop well rounded human beings.  I’d explain to companies the concept of training, after all the Air Force didn’t just chuck me behind a plane and ask me to fly it. 

I’d also point out that schools aren’t the answer to every single one of societies ails.  The only smidge of good about UKIP is that they don’t blame schools.  Let’s not vote for them though.

While I’m at it, I’d point out to the general public and others that we may not actually like a schooling system that reflects the characteristics of some of those higher than us on the PISA rankings.

Oftsed would continue to hold schools to account, but work with schools in order to improve them, and ensure that this mission is clear through the media. 

2. Develop a cross party moratorium on curriculum and exam change for a decade.

I’ve got no problem with change at all, but I think the constant change is damaging. (I’ve been in for 11 years and have gone through four changes of GCSE, three KS3 national curriculums….)  This isn’t about being able to teach to the test – there should be rigorous, high stakes tests at age 16 and 18.

3. Develop one voice for the teaching profession

This should be the body that decides on what to teach and how and have people leading it that are unelected experts – answerable and accountable to Parliament.  I’m not sure whether this should be a college or whatever (I’ll be going along to some shindig in January so may be able to make up my mind then)

I’d sort out the unions. Now before you start, I grew up within the crucible of the South Wales Coal Fields during the Miner Strike.  Flying Pickets had riots at the end of my road.  I learned many things during that time. 

Teachers need one unified voice.

4. Insist on Teaching being a Masters Profession

We constantly learn and should model that.  Teachers or schools shouldn't pay though, and time should be created for teachers to do this from their third year onward.  Plus, higher academic qualifications should attract extra money, especially if they decide to stay within the classroom.  CPD is important, but tackled through better school leadership.  Not all teachers should be school leaders so I’d ensure that the AST type thing re-entered the profession – a huge loss.

Teachers should have a year off to work in industry, or get a masters in something cool like Geographical Information Systems (I am a Geek) or go work for Google.

5. Sort the workload thing

I’d start by reviewing the teachers’ contract.  Mine says I have 32.5 hours a week to work.  That’s just simply embarrassing.  Teachers would be able to smash the workload debate apart if we tweaked this a little.  Then I’d insist on teachers having fewer classes – which means having to tackle the recruitment issue.  Despite the anti Teach First stuff (something that I think is mad – I was a FastTrack teacher myself and I think I’m not really that evil), there is a problem in getting the best teachers to work in the places where they are needed the most.  This stems from workload and teacher bashing. The job is supposed to be difficult – we work with young people and it’s a bloody important job.

6. Remind the world, including teachers that we serve at the pleasure of the young people we teach

It’s not about simply making our life easier.  I’d take a long hard look at school data systems and then ditch them.  It’s not about being student led.  It’s ensuring that every decision that teachers make has the best interests of the child at heart.

 

Anyway – all quite bonkers but I enjoyed writing this.  The way forward is to become engaged in the political process.  I was embarrassed during the recent slanging match that was #sltchat.  The one about workload and wellbeing.  From my experience with working behind the scenes in Geography curriculum changes, it’s about working with.  It’s also about adapting and making the best of it and keeping our focus on the young people.  Sometimes I wake up after the nightmare of a teacher telling a class that it’s all the fault of the Tories or Gove.  Shocking.

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