Nicky Morgan’s Education Reforms: Unneeded and Unwanted

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Education Secretary Nicky Morgan could be facing resignations by up to half of the UK’s teachers within two years, according to the National Union of Teachers. In late April, in the shadow of another Junior Doctors’ strike, the NUT will ballot members over walkouts protesting Morgan’s latest proposals. The biggest issue at stake is ‘academisation’ – top down conversion of all state schools into academies, which are outside the control of the local authority. Supposedly, this is based on the belief that schools should be governed by ‘professionals on the frontline, not politicians and bureaucrats in Whitehall’. But Nicky Morgan has repeatedly refused to accept the expertise of these professionals. Their testament points overwhelmingly to the belligerence and utter incoherence of the newest proposals from the DfE. The NUT say that Morgan’s reforms are ‘indifferent to the needs of students and teachers’, and the realities of the classroom.

Every sixteen year-old in the UK must now complete the English Baccalaureate, including mandatory exams in two sciences and a language. In the climate of competition actively promoted by our government, the success of secondary schools is judged on how many students pass these strictly academic qualifications. An NUT survey revealed that 77% of teachers think this does not provide for students with talents in the arts or with technical skills; six in ten teachers believe that Nicky Morgan’s changes have already taken opportunities from children. Ironically, the Education Secretary wants to shame schools who ignore their most able students because they ‘are sure to bank that grade C.’ Yet to teachers it is clear that the league table culture Morgan has triumphed is the root cause of this neglect.

At primary level, Morgan’s demands are petty, groundless and only effective inasmuch as they rile the disaffected teachers who bore the brunt of meddling by her predecessor Michael Gove. Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, condemns legislation which asks teachers to hand back children’s work ‘if it does not include a fronted adverbial’ or use joined up handwriting. Morgan might be ‘intolerant of failure’, but in defining failure she casts a very wide net. Again, the NUT reports that 97% of teachers fear that Morgan’s new standards will brand previously on target children as failures. An overwhelming majority – 92% – think the DfE’s reforms have reduced the quality of classroom teaching.

So, why has Morgan now decided to convert all state schools into academies? Supposedly, by moving outside the control of the local authority, schools will have more autonomy. Schools must now decide how they divide up their own budget, but teaching unions have very serious concerns about teachers’ pay and working conditions, which could be undermined in academies where this is no local accountability. Moreover, IPSEA, the special needs advice service, reports that 30 children have already been refused their nearest academy places on the basis of special educational needs, due to a legal loophole in the academy status.

We’ve been promised a collaborative academy system, where the weakest schools can learn from the best in ‘teaching school alliances’, but this has failed children too. Schools lower down the league tables are being left behind by well performing academies, who ally with each other to exclude the weaker schools. Then, when successful headteachers get lumped with the task of dragging up poorer schools, they promptly move on to greener, less stressful pastures. Academies just aren’t working, they’re wasteful and exclusionary, so forcing all schools to convert is nonsensical.

Now Nicky Morgan accuses teachers who oppose the changes of playing politics ‘with our children’s future’. But teaching professionals are united and the message is clear; Morgan’s mission ‘to free teachers and schools from the shackles of government diktats’ is actually an ideological crusade against public sector workers. Bousted, the ATL General Secretary, says that ‘it’s about breaking the public service ethos of teachers and school leaders’. The NUT reports that teachers devote 70 hours per week to the education of their students, so they know what constitutes good teaching and progress. The Education Secretary chooses to ignore their expertise however, in favour of an attack on the integrity of the profession. In doing so, she jeopardises the education of children today and casts the future of teaching into doubt.

 

Photography by Policy Exchange via Flickr

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