“Coasting, my arse!”- Part 2
A week has passed since Nicky Morgan’s emotive proclamation that she would be the standard bearer for educational progress and she cared about our vulnerable students. This announcement about hundreds of unnamed ‘coasting schools’ was backed by sections of the gluttonous press as we had a week of teacher bashing led predictably by the headlines from the Daily Mail 29th June, “Hundreds of coasting schools force being turned into academies to shine a spotlight on complacency”, and The Daily Telegraph “Morgan takes on teachers’ unions with crackdown on coasting schools”, to even the normally rational Guardian aligning itself to the hysterical rhetoric with “Education Secretary raises the bar with the new coasting criteria”. The result is that I continue to become more frustrated and angry at this new educational language that we as a profession seem to have blithely accepted; ‘coasting’ and ‘raising the bar’ are ill-defined phrases that have little to do with the seven schools I worked in or the many leaders I meet and admire. Why do we accept and allow the use of this language? This is typical methodology of the school playground bully; sound bites, assumptions and stereotypes that they will struggle to quantify. These spurious, unsubstantiated claims are simply to appease the masses; ‘lazy teachers’, ‘kids who haven’t the work skills’, etc. As we are using playground rules where petty ‘tit for tat’ name calling abounds, I am fed-up of ‘workshy’, ‘dishonest’, ‘fraudulent’, ‘untrustworthy’ politicians. This is no more a fair representation of politicians than the simple stereotype of ‘coasting, complacent schools’ and the ill-informed judgement of schools simply by their latest GCSE results or a brief inspection often undertaken by an inspectorate that has never run a school.
I am sure I am not the only one who is disappointed with the teaching profession’s gentle response. I do recognise that individual headteachers such as John Tomsett ‘This much I know about… how truly great schools are not grown overnight’, @johntomsett, and Tom Sherrington ‘Nicky Morgan v The Bell Curve’, @headteacherguru, have eloquently dissected the difficulties of developing a British 21st century school and the absurdity of Morgan’s poor maths where good is always judged as children above average. Their robust defence of running schools is appreciated but as a profession have we been too busy to respond with a united front?
My concern is how we have allowed this rhetoric to creep and seep into the profession. Already, educational companies are badgering beleaguered headteachers with quick fix CPD to avoid the stigma of being labelled a coasting school. The following email title typifies the incessant message of ‘coasting’ as a new educational verb and that the national average of 60% 5 A* – C including English and maths is now not good enough: ‘National Conference on How to Improve Coasting Schools’. All this for the reduced bargain price of £149, a day conference with national educational speakers soon to be confirmed! As a headteacher this concern with coasting is now suddenly a key ‘hoop’ to respond to, a national debate, a concern that is politically activated.
As Charlie Chaplin wryly observed, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close up, but a comedy in long shot”. Like Chaplin, I am trying to see the longer, bigger humorous picture, after all the Isle of Wight beckons; but I want my union ASCL to do more. Their published strapline to attract new members is ‘Individually we are a drop, together we are an ocean’. I would argue that currently a lot of their members are not waving but are drowning. Their message to headteachers on page 6 in the July edition of their magazine proudly entitled ‘ASCL Influence’, the lowly fifth action point, is that they are going to the DfE to discuss/define ‘coasting’. This is a timid response that does not appease this headteacher and I hope their claim to be able to directly influence policy is one they will be able to substantiate.
The next email in my inbox was from a new neighbouring headteacher who is struggling to fill science, business studies and art vacancies! He has two weeks to avoid these classes being staffed by cover/supply teachers and I would suggest student progress will be limited unless he can fill these vacancies. Therefore, my wish list for Nicky Morgan to raise standards is not ‘sexy’ and will not grab the headline makers as future vote winners but contains real issues that the current government could and should easily fix; after all they have a five year mandate to make a real educational difference.
- Tackle the ridiculous underfunding situation that is unequal and causing major hardship that means educational development is simply unable to occur.
- Stop the annual meddling with courses and their assessment.
- Tackle the teacher shortage that is now becoming a national crisis.
Finally, my weekly advice given in each blog is “stop bashing teachers”. Now that could be a good headline for ASCL to deliver.