By Josh Smith
County Durham hosted an ‘Education Question Time’ last Friday where teachers expressed concerns about education in the North East and across the country.
A panel of seven education experts led the event, which took place at Durham Johnston Comprehensive School. This included Ofsted’s National Director for Schools, Sean Harford, and the Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), Kevin Courtney.
More than 100 local teachers, parents and governors attended the meeting to voice their concerns to the panel.
Most controversially, Courtney accused Ofsted of being “fundamentally flawed on reliability, validity and effectiveness.”
This accusation comes amid proposed plans for Ofsted to use two inspection teams in every school, despite calls for Ofsted to step down.
Sean Harford supported this argument, claiming “enough is never enough” with regard to school inspections.
Courtney went on to criticise the lack of trust between organisations like Ofsted and teachers, saying: “Teachers are not trusted anymore.
“When they give verbal feedback, they have to write it down for an Ofsted inspector. This is infantilising professional teachers.
“Ofsted is also creating a culture of compliance for some schools, and that’s very bad.”
Courtney also proposed that inspections should be abolished and ‘bottom-up’ reviews introduced.
Emma Ann Hardy, a teacher from Hull and education blogger, gave a passionate speech in defence of teachers in the audience: “Teachers are tired of hearing things Ofsted is going to do to them. Why not just ask schools?”
Ofsted’s entire structure has recently come under attack from the NUT. Inspections have been accused of being too grade-orientated, and of not giving improving schools the recognition they deserve.
Another hot topic was the escalating workload many teachers have to face across the UK as research has found that 25% of newly qualified teachers leave the profession within five years.
There has also been a 10-20% increase in workload since 2010.
Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) Children’s Board, also shot down claims that the government is not providing local authorities with enough money for education.
Simmonds questioned: “Will extra money bring results that children will actually see?”
Pat Glass, Labour MP for North West Durham rebuked Simmonds’ arguments: “There are greater needs in different schools, which must be reflected in the funding.”
Glass was met with applause from the audience: “Schools shouldn’t all have the same amount of money.”
The debate ended on the issue of free education, a proposal Durham Students’ Union rejected last term.
Simmonds argued: “Somebody always pays. Is education best bought by the person who uses it, or by society?”
Ann Hardy made the panel aware that many prospective undergraduates are put off by the high tuition fees, while an audience member noted added: “It’s not just fees, how do you pay your rent?”
Professor Robert Coe, Professor of Education at Durham, concluded the event by commending the panels’ efforts: “After all, what could be more important than education?”
Photograph: Josh Smith.