“Coasting, my arse!”- Paraphrase, Jim Royle , The Royle Family
So the latest edict from the ‘Ministry of Magic’ by the newest Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, is a predictable, provocative, pompous politician’s waffle. She is, she says, “unapologetic about shining a spotlight on complacency”. This lady would appear to want to promote herself as being all about pupil progress, her barbed implication being that schools have failed in the past to stretch ‘every pupil to unlock their potential’. She goes on to state that a number of “coasting schools, many in leafy areas, have fallen beneath the radar”. Her interesting definition of ‘coasting’ will be a school that fails to achieve the magical 60% 5 A*-C (the national average), including English and maths, in their 2016 GCSE results. The too gentle response from the headteacher union that this was a ‘muddled and unfair’ statement, I’d go for “bonkers and insane”, is yet another example of the bemusing, confrontational relationship numerous education secretaries continue to have with schools and school headteachers, always characterised by emotive, ill thought out statements that lead with tired, ridiculous rhetoric that politicians use to hide behind when they have not got a ‘cunning’ plan. Predictably, Morgan’s language was all about ‘progress, potential, challenge’, and that old chestnut: ‘standards’ with schools measured and judged by the o so reliable GCSE examination results. A system that has been annually changed and is regulated by examination boards that seek profits, struggles to find adequate reliable markers, and who have once again produced an examination timetable that after eleven years of education tests only the resilience of the students, not their learning.
As a headteacher of a so called ‘coasting school’ overlooking the leafy lovely Worcester cathedral, I do feel under immense pressure with the next set of GCSE results being crucial to the school, flawed judgements made purely on GCSE results will decide our future. Let’s remember, school funding comes with student numbers, therefore our reputation and types of student who attend and ultimately for some, results will cost headteachers their jobs. Stigmatising numerous schools as coasting is not just a simple politician being misguided, it is an attack on state education, by the Education Secretary! Who is also backed by the now non-independent inspectorate Ofsted. For the poor students, stressed under pressure, schools become unhappy places and the value of love of learning is at serious risk of being lost. Furthermore, the simplistic return to the view that a ‘C’ GCSE is good and a ‘D’ grade is bad is a contradiction of the previous twelve months where students making progress from their starting point was the key judgement. And let’s not forget that ‘B’ is about to become the new ‘C’. I am rather like my favourite character Edmund Black Adder, who, on being sent into battle by the idiotic World War 1 generals, sadly mused “I’ll be chopped to pieces”. My arms will end up in Essex, my torso in Norfolk, and my genitalia stuck up in a tree somewhere in Rutland.’ This is how headteachers must feel on receiving the latest GCSE results. August used to be such an optimistic month.
On getting her job Nicky Morgan had one positive; she was not her predecessor, the Dark Lord, the educational zealot, Michael Gove whose privatisation of academies and promotion of free schools and his use of Ofsted as his tool of mass destruction, robbed the profession of so many good people. Was he ‘coasting’ in the last five years as Education Secretary in allowing these hundreds of schools to drift? Morgan was already a controversial appointment, an equalities minister who voted against gay marriage, not (thankfully) because of her convictions! But she defensively argued because “a lot of constituents asked me to vote in this particular way”. Following on from this flawed logic, a politician who listens, I would hope that the Education Secretary would have consulted with headteachers; what they want I believe, is important. Therefore in this vain fantasy I have perhaps a foolish hope that Nicky Morgan would listen to a frustrated headteacher of twelve years, in a dreadfully underfunded authority, whose recruitment policy is in tatters due to recruits not wanting to join this beleaguered profession, (have you tried to get a maths or science teacher?). With the teaching staff morale at an all-time low and where the pressure of a headteacher is immense, where the laws of the game change annually, always with judgement on the GCSE results, I would humbly request that she:
- Produce a fair budget for all schools.
- Stop the pick and mix approach to national educational policies (44 in my last 12 years as headteacher).
- Uses statistics to inform, not to insult or score political points.
- Recognise vocational subjects as essential qualifications for some young people.
- Chooses her language carefully.
- Works with the teaching profession. She may find this a more rewarding relationship than the simplistic target practise that currently exists.
This is what I would write if I felt she would listen. But cynically, I fear these emotive statements were cowardly and were produced at a time when we were in shock at the Tunisian tragedy. It’s another politician hiding bad news so I will revert to the bard, the politicians’ playwright of choice:
“The fool doth think he is wise but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”. As You Like It.