The annual Easter teaching conference created a stream of claims, concerns, demands and a vote of no confidence in the Secretary of State for Education. Hardly the news to allow the rest of us can relax and not worry about the fate of teaching in the UK whilst the professionals play educational games with the future of our schoolchildren.
Michael Gove kicked off, or was rather kicked around with his new stiffer curriculum. Designed to stop the continuing decline in educational standards, as measured against overseas achievements, the new educational regime has been viewed by the teaching profession as being substantially flawed. Human nature abhors change but the reaction from our teaching resources is so deep rooted it begs the question why the Secretary of State for Education failed in advance to consult those whose will implement the changes. Suffering a vote of no confidence at the conference is a stark wake up to somebody upon whose shoulders rides the future of millions of school children. Getting it so wrong begs the question whether this was arrogance, incompetence or an intense desire to bring UK schooling standards in line with achievements in the Far East. Could be it is all three.
The teachers unions, notably the NUT, want a modification to their working week. They believe that 20 hours teaching in class and 10 hours preparation time would improve the quality of teaching. A brave move especially as the French government is proposing to increase the teaching hours in school for primary schoolchildren. A difficult call in the present economic climate where the desire to improve quality may be overwhelmed by negative press. Certainly the educational conflict in Denmark, where all schools have been closed in a battle with the Danish Government, if emulated in the UK will create a huge negative public backlash.
If the curriculum plan goes ahead there is a enormous risk, ironically to the weakest party. School children have suffered hugely over the years. They are the ones who have been processed through a system that has decayed to now lie the mid 20’s position in the OECD world educational league table. It is they who will compete for employment in a global market with indifferent qualifications. If the new system fails the blame effect will be in reverse order. Firstly, the students who didn’t work hard enough, then teachers who wasted time and energy on a lost cause, then the Secretary of State for education who will inevitably have moved on by then to a new position.
Clearly something needs to happen to resolve the educational deficit. Targets have been missed, educational initiatives have failed. Yet we are in the 21st century. In the time frame where we have seen phenomenal rates of technological developments the overall quality of schooling has become stuck. The number of good schools available has remained static, oversubscribed, and causing frustration to parents anxious to do well by their children. But there are a number of own goals, changes in society have significantly influenced children’s behaviour in the classroom and impaired their ability to learn. The historic unquestioned authority of the teacher has been challenged by the unruly and many a good academic teacher has fallen by the wayside.
The new curriculum takes the issue by the horns. Designed to set a steeper learning curve it aims to increase the level of attainment in content and understanding in primary and secondary school. But reaction from teachers say the level set is too high and the gap with the current standards too wide. If we are to succeed there needs to be a steady ramp upwards towards the new standard. This would avoid the possibility of too many teachers, schools and children falling by the wayside. It would also overcome the dreadful consequence that if in 10 years time no improvement had been seen it will prove once again the changes to the curriculum are yet another failed initiative.