Education white paper: an assault on schools

21 November 2010
The Guardian
link to original

This week’s education white paper will seriously undermine standards of teaching in our schools

On the surface the new education white paper, due to be published next week but widely leaked in the press today, appears to be all about promoting good teachers. Having a good degree and two decades of experience in the classroom, I might benefit from the reforms.

Apparently, if I perform well, I’ll might receive get a big pay rise. But I’m not holding my breath: there’s very little money around.

For my fellow professionals at the coalface, it’s now clear that this white paper together with cuts to school budgets and the decimation of university funding will very seriously undermine the standards of teaching in our classrooms.

First, cuts to specialist schools funding will affect the quality of teaching in many subjects in our schools. At the moment, many schools are bolstered by high quality teaching in many specialist areas. I know some fantastic specialist teachers who have enthused and motivated thousands of children at local schools to take part in sports and theatre, learn languages, use maths and conduct scientific investigations. In particular, the decision to cut the funding for sports seems inexplicable when the government has spoken so much about bringing competitive sports back into schools and supporting the Olympic ethos.

Second, the ending of individual one-to-one tuition for maths and English will hamper poor children’s progress significantly.

Headteachers will apparently be given the money, but I’ve seen the programme vanish in every school I know about. Michael Gove, the education secretary, has spoken at length about raising the attainment of poor children, but has terminated the one programme that we know will improve the results for socially disadvantaged pupils.

Third, the axing of teacher training in universities will massively impinge on the quality of new entrants into the profession. “On the job” training in schools will not be as good. Moreover, putting all teacher-training into schools will be very expensive: even a large school like mine cannot offer the range of experts in one place that a university can, while I wonder if small schools will have any resources to deliver any training whatsoever. It’s particularly disturbing that this should happen now because I have noticed in recent years that the calibre of university-trained teachers entering the profession has significantly improved.

Fourth, the ending of Teachers’ TV will erode teaching standards.

This channel was a very cheap way of delivering expert training to all the nation’s teachers in a highly approachable and often entertaining style. The termination of its contract is particularly puzzling since Gove has spoken about how teachers should be watching great lessons on the internet. What does he think Teachers’ TV has been doing for the past few years?

Less well known is the jettisoning of advanced-skills teachers, who were expert professionals passing on best practice throughout many schools. They were relatively inexpensive because they would work with a cluster of schools, but I’ve seen myself how they have really helped failing teachers become great ones.

It isn’t as if the money isn’t around to keep these vital programmes going: Gove has put aside millions to fund his “free schools” experiment. He’s been exhorting special interest groups to set up their own independent, state-funded schools. So far those doing this have either been ailing private schools, religious groups or wealthy parents wanting to segregate their offspring from the poor children in their localities. Furthermore, untrained staff can teach in these schools.

Other bright ideas in the White Paper like not funding teacher training for anyone with less than a lower second degree are once again very misguided. I know some fantastic teachers who have no degrees whatsoever but have become great ones because of the training they’ve received.

Overall, this white paper amounts to a serious assault on good teaching in our state schools.

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