On the whole, my beliefs about education are fairly traditional. I actually like the direction the curriculum appears to be taking under the current government, with renewed focus on knowledge and abolition of the ghastly bureaucracy of GCSE controlled assessments. I applaud the way that, under this government, Ofsted is no longer steered towards being the child centred inquisition. Faddish ideas such as learning styles and brain gym have been debunked. The levels were abolished and I smiled when I read about NAHT and ASCL representatives getting in a flap at the loss of their beloved progress data, though it did worry me that they seemed unconcerned about the unreliability of it. Moreover, other “sacred cows” of the education world are starting to be challenged thanks to books like Daisy Christodoulou’s “7 myths of education” and David Didau’s “What if everything you knew about education was wrong?” Even previously unchallenged ideas such as assessment for learning and inclusion have now been questioned.
So on the face of it, you would expect me to be a Tory. And yet………………….
The issue I have with the Conservatives is that they seem to think that the world’s problems can be solved by giving managers greater powers. They seem to believe that schools should be run like businesses. The business world is awash with data, therefore data is a good thing. Businesses operate performance management systems in which data plays a large part, therefore school performance management systems should be like this. No one seems to appreciate the fact that data in the business world is much more concrete and reliable (sales figures, profit and loss) than educational progress data, which seeks to measure pupil progress against dubious targets. The phrase “cargo cult data” is heard repeatedly in the education world. What astounds me is that so few leaders in education seem to want to challenge this culture, which does not give them the opportunity to pay good teachers more, but is likely to force them to pay more to a teacher who is able and willing to manipulate the data to make themselves look good. Who would want to take on an examination class under such a system, where they risk inheriting pupils with dubious progress indicators? Under the levels system, in both primary and secondary, teachers repeatedly complained that pupils they inherited had often been given inflated levels. And now, just at the moment when schools have been given the opportunity to develop more meaningful and rigorous assessment systems, the government introduces performance related pay – an incentive for any teacher moving up the scale to manipulate the data. And who could blame them if they did?
So I have a dilemma. When Labour were in power, I liked the fact that they listened to ordinary teachers and we got an agreement that, for the first time, meant that teachers were not required to use most of their non contact time covering for absent colleagues. I liked the fact that ordinary teachers got reasonable pay rises. I liked the fact that Labour introduced an upper pay scale which teachers could choose to apply for or not, as they wished. I had no problem with teachers who wished to cross the “threshold”, as it was known, being asked to provide evidence of extra contributions they had made to the life of the school. What I didn’t like was Labour’s attitude to the curriculum, examinations and teaching methods.
So, how should I vote next time? Vote Conservative for cargo cult progress data? Or vote Labour for progressive teaching? Or should I found a new political party which combines Conservative attitudes to the curriculum with Labour attitudes to the workforce?!!!