Why I believe Mary Bousted’s article’s concluding point is wrong; and, if you think she is right, then that is concerning?
Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of ATL, published an article on TES this week which, in my part, caused utter fury. I read it and immediately expressed my disagreement on twitter. I then emailed her article with all my comments to my Headmistress. I saw the article and thought that what she said reflected her poor understanding of how the New Blob has helped the poorest children in the country to get a better education in which they are able to use their education to escape their poverty-stricken circumstances.
I am writing as to why Mary’s article is written in a similar manner to how a politician would write a speech to gain the votes of the ill-informed, change-reluctant (status quo) masses. Her article reflects a lack of appreciation and understanding over what has been accomplished over the last 10 years in education. It also lacks discussion of how the work of the New Blob of educational commentators has effectively empowered many teachers across the country by openly speaking out about the impact teachers across the country can have for the poorest children in the country, going against the status quo.
Mary starts off by writing about “what a career as a teacher has become”. Teachers have an excessive workload which is leading to a high turnover of teachers within the profession. The marking load, excessive level of bureaucracy and ridiculous administrative tasks, seemingly only serving the purpose of pleasing Ofsted, are some of the countless reasons why teachers are overworked and leaving the profession. I agreed with the first few paragraphs because Mary was just stating the reality of teacher workload. This is nothing new, the awareness of teacher workload has increased through the work of the New Blob, which I shall go into later.
She wrote in a manner politically strategic as to getting readers to agree with her from the get go; as politicians begin their speeches, where they try to win over the audience, with agreeable premises in order to make the audience more likely to agree with their ridiculous conclusion.
She then takes a direct 90 degree turn toward the crux of her argument: that the New Blob of educational commentators are ignoring the reality of teacher workload and are expecting teachers to compensate more for the poorest children to have the better life chances.
She describes educational commentators who are in the ‘exclusive’ New Blob as “experts” with limited training or teaching experience, naïve, dogmatic, idealistic, accusatory and, most importantly, preachers from the “heights of their [own] ignorance about the complexities of classroom practice”. She then audaciously goes on to conclude on the following threatening note:
First, the article ignores that the New Blob of educational commentators consist of a group of people who have had the greatest impact on education in the last ten years. Teach First believes that we can tackle educational disadvantage in this country. Through their vision, it has encouraged young, intelligent and resilient graduates to join the teaching profession. I believe that it has raised the standards in what qualifications a young graduate needs to enter the profession in the first place. It has also made teaching become an even more important profession by speaking about the Teach First vision that teachers do have the capacity to change the life of the children they teach. I believe that I can change the life of some of the poorest children in this country by providing them with the best education I can possibly give. Now, I work proudly at a school where all teachers, teaching fellows and its Headmistress believe that this is possible.
I am going to start by pointing out a few of the amazing new free schools which have been set up as a result of the idealistic vision to provide the best academic education and opportunities for the poorest children in the country.
King Solomon Academy (KSA), a free school started in September 2007, based on the KIPP program in the US, is now the best non-selective secondary school in England according to the Department of Education GCSE League tables. It was started by Max Haimendorf and a selection of teachers who trained via the Teach First programme. It is a school which serves an area where 75% of their pupils are eligible for the pupil premium, and the school is situated in the ward with the highest deprivation affecting children in London. This school values academic excellence and has built a curriculum which resulted in their first cohort of pupils leaving school with 93% of pupils achieving 5 GCSE A* – C grades including English and Maths, and where 75% achieved the English Baccalaureate.
If it were not for the high aspirations and expectations of young people, KSA wouldn’t have had the impact it has had on some of the poorest children in the borough which it serves.
Education empowers people. It provides young people with the knowledge and skills to enter the working world as capable, independent and competent members of society. This is something that Mary would not disagree with. However, we would disagree with her thoughts that teachers cannot compensate for the lost life chances of the poorest children. We absolutely can and what King Solomon academy has done sets a precedent for existing upcoming free schools to achieve. If anything, it has catalysed other teachers and SLT members in schools around the country to stop and think: teachers can have an impact, mobilising the poorest children to have the best life chances, if we change the current priorities of teachers and SLT members insofar as they are merely Ofsted-pleasing.
Here, in my placement school, there were layers of bureaucracy, triple marking, duplicative data entries and many other ridiculous tasks which made me an ineffective teacher. My CPD, subject knowledge development and ability to behaviour-manage a room of children with low aspirations and expectations of themselves were not priority number 1, and frankly they were never going to be because I did not have the time or the energy to make this a priority. How could it have been, when I was told to prioritise elements of my workload by SLT members of my placement school driven by the desire to get an Outstanding by Ofsted? It didn’t matter that children were running riot, or that our expectations of children were so low that they could be taken out of the classroom to have a breather because they had ‘anger issues’ when actually they had no self-control because pupils’ bad behaviour was appeased.
I now work at Michaela Community School. Teachers have the following priorities:
- Have high expectations of pupils and as a result have excellent and consistent behaviour management;
- Excellent subject knowledge as a result create high quality resources and develop explicit and concise language when delivering worked examples; and
- Strong warm-strict relationships with pupils.
How is this possible? It is because we have a visionary Headmistress with an incredible SLT who explicitly state what the teacher priorities are at Michaela Community School. We do not mark or even triple mark. We do not do multiply data entries. Every single decision made by Katharine, Barry and Joe considers the impact it will have on teacher workload. Why? Because teachers are important: they need to be taken care of rather than driven into the ground with ridiculous Ofsted-pleasing administrative and bureaucratic tasks.
Michaela Community School is a revolution and a product of the education beliefs of the New Blob. Teachers write blogs sharing good teaching practice, evidencing the impact of different efforts taken to improve the teaching and learning of children of all socio-economic backgrounds.
It is the vision and belief that education can improve the life chances of the poorest children in the country that is changing the priorities of schools today. Is your curriculum tailored to provide children with the best education possible? Is your behaviour management consistent and, as a result, does it mould your pupils to be good, well behaved, respectable, self-controlled and responsible young people with good character? Is this task that you are asking teachers to do helping the pupil that is ultimately being taught?
The New Blob of educational commentators has empowered teachers around the country to change a status quo in existence for decades. It is now ever more important for the New Blob to be shouting from the rooftops about the ludicrous expectations of teachers to be triple marking and writing three-page lesson plans. What the difference between Mary Bousted and people within the New Blob is that the latter group of people are actually changing the status quo. It is all well and good talking about how absurd the current situation is for teachers. However, if it were not for the New Blob ‘spouting nonsense’ from the DfE then Michaela Community School wouldn’t even exist, National Mathematics Conference wouldn’t exist, King Solomon Academy wouldn’t exist etc.
It is the New Blob of educational commentators that have changed the lives of the poorest children in this country, and they shall continue to do so. It is the New Blob of teachers who have introduced and set up some of the incredible free schools which are now leading the way. The New Blob is a change to the existing status quo. I am not going to stop ‘spouting nonsense’ when what I am saying is having an impact. We can change the lives of the poorest; we just need to get on with the job – which is, as it always was, to teach.
So, I believe that Mary’s article incorrectly points fingers at a large group of people who have, for the last ten years, had a significant positive impact on education. Credit should be given where credit is due, rather than passively-aggressively threatening a group of people that you are watching them. Times are changing. Teacher workload doesn’t have to be the norm. Children from the poorest communities need to be held to an even higher standard of expectations in terms of their academic study and attitude to learning. Education is the window of opportunity to change a child’s life chances. I believe that the New Blob are increasing the chances of the poorest succeeding, and that the leaders of education in this country need to be learning from people such as Max Haimendorf, Katharine Birbalsingh and many more.