After attending the BETT conference in the UK, I experienced Michael Gove for the first time. For those of you who don’t know who he is, this is the education secretary in the UK who seems intent in driving everyone out of the teaching profession. Last week he announced that headteachers could now fire teachers in 9 weeks and give them a “competence letter” thus ensuring they never get a job again. He also decided he was going to make teachers teach ridiculous hours. Here is part one of a letter I have written to Ruairi Quinn, giving my thoughts of where I hope he isn’t going.
Dear Mr Quinn
I care deeply about the teaching profession, learning and children. I have worked as a teacher for 8 years and principal for 3 in Ireland. I qualified as a teacher with my husband in the UK. We received excellent training there and spent teaching practices in some very good schools. We observed what the teachers were doing over there, what their day job was and the stresses they were under. A typical working day back then (this was in the year 2002) for a teacher in the UK was 8-6. This was the basic. All Teachers were responsible for a subject area (equivalent to our B post system here). The schools worked from a tight curriculum, targets and assessment Criteria. They were required to enable their children (starting at age 7) to achieve certain, predicted test scores in their SATS exams. These SAT exams were sent back to the DfES and published in local media, creating a system where schools competed over results of their children.
These SAT exams have caused a huge amount of hothousing in schools. They have caused classes to be organised around streaming of abilities. They have put untold stress and pressure on head teachers and this impacts on teachers and their ability to teach and enjoy a creative profession. It has created an inspectorate that issues targets and reprimands. If a school is not up the standards based on these results, they close them down. Parents start enrolling their children in the school that has the best results. This causes an education system based on class. It causes teachers to teach to the test and even forge or change results. Their job depends on these results.
The scenario I have outlined above hardly constitutes what learning should be about.
It’s not surprising that we returned to Ireland after we qualified. It’s not surprising that the unions in the UK issued a report last year there there were wide spread stress related sickness amongst teachers. The average amount of time a teacher is sick is much higher than the Irish average.
Since then, things have became worse in the UK. I attended a BETT conference in the UK last week, I am sure you are aware of it. It is the world’s biggest Educational technology conference. The conference is full of excitement, motivation and innovation for education and the learning of children. It is attended by over 30,000 teachers who want to make a difference but can’t. They are constricted by a standardised, life sucking series of targets and exams at primary level. In Irish schools, we have the freedom to use the curriculum a a two year cycle, adapt this in the school plan and ensure that the objectives are differentiated depending on the child’s interests, background and learning style. I would hate to lose the elements of imagination and passion that teachers bring to their classroom. Principals have the ability to mentor the teaching staff, teach alongside them as teaching colleagues and support them throughout the day. Most, of all, Irish principals can encourage risk taking and creativity within the curriculum. A teacher can use their own interests to bring their lessons to life.
In the second part of the article, I’ll be continuing my letter. Please feel free to add your comments.