So now what?

That was quite a week! In fact it was quite a month. At the end of last term, I penned a letter of resignation. Tired and frustrated, I’d decided enough was enough. I walked past it every day for a week, feeling sad and defeated, and then I ripped it up. I decided to write another letter instead. Many people are still signing that letter. It ended, exactly a week to the day that it was posted, in a trip to the House of Commons and an unexpected appearance on Channel 4. But what now?

I went back into school this morning – business as usual. No-one’s that impressed up here with folk from the telly, so there was no fuss and I was able to carry on as usual. But I had a spring in my step. We talked a lot about power and democracy today – 11 year olds have some pretty good ideas that I’ll be passing on to government, but for now, this post is about how we use the momentum we have gained to effect change.

1. We need to think about the image of our profession. I believe that there is a direct link from the language and rhetoric of government, passed through the mouthpiece of the media, down into the primal fears of parents, into the ears of their children and out into our classrooms. It’s no good talking tough on behaviour, if the root of the problem is social and cultural. I’ve written more on this complex issue in another post, but making political capital out of attacks on teachers is the fastest way to disrupt learning. We need to start thinking about how we describe those we have entrusted (or not) with the care of our children and the impact that this can have on their attitudes in class.

2. We need to think about how the profession is represented. I am a firm believer that trade unions are a precious and democratic part of our society. I have a fondness for history and to remember Peterloo and the Chartist movement is to recognise the importance of the right to representation and protest. I sometimes get confused though, whether the unions are representing me or children. I’m sure they would say both, but I’m not sure that that is always possible. Is it not time for a separate professional body for teachers? Not the sop of the GTC, but, as Mick Waters suggests in his brilliant new book, a kind of NICE for the teaching profession which would oversee the dissemination of evidence based research and who would implement pedagogical and curriculum guidance based on consensus, not party political ideology.

3. At the meeting in Parliament yesterday, the members of the select committee in attendance (all Labour MPs) were keen to engage and we need to ensure that we, as a profession, keep the channels of communication open with that body. They are, to date, the only organisation that has forced a change in policy – remarkable considering the cross party make up of the committee. We should embrace their capacity to question.

4. We need to consider how, now we are back in school – and in that ‘no time to pee’ mode, that someone is contactable at all times to put our views across. Maybe a committee on rota? I’ve no idea, but it’s not a one woman job, that’s for sure and there are many of you out there with strong and articulate points of view to express.

To begin, I would like to suggest a meeting. It should consist of representatives from the main teacher’s unions, from the select committee, from the Heads’ Round Table, from the Cambridge Primary Review and the Primary Charter, from whatever this ‘unprecedented grass roots’ movement turns out to be – the blob? And finally, of course, government. I was heartened in some ways by meeting Nick Gibb last night. The television interview was short, but our conversation much longer. I believed him when he said it was important to keep the channels of communication open, and I hope his colleagues will agree.

I would welcome comments and suggestions – please add them below. Remember they take time to filter through.

Finally, there are not the words to express my gratitude for the support that many of you offered in this ‘holiday project’. I will always be in your debt. Thank you.

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19 thoughts on “So now what?

  1. I would caution against meetings that focus on the “experts” – I am heartily sick of top down meetings where a few so called experts lecture us. I am bitterly disappointed by labour and my own union (the NUT) to come up with any sort of strategy to defend comprehensive education. I think the strength of our holiday project was its grassroots nature.

    We need to think about how we get parents on board. In the absence of any opposition from labour and extremely favourable coverage in the press it is not surprising if some parents agree with Gove. However the minute we expose the nonsense behind his arguments and expose the reality for their own kids it is easy to change their opinions. It is absolutely criminal that Labour aren’t using their position to do this. I think that winning hearts and minds of parents is extremely important. I think we should learn from Owen Jones. He does his research and wins over many with his reasoned arguments.

    I think we should use some hashtags to stay in touch via twitter. We should encourage 1000 governors to write their own letter, 1000 parents, 1000 mid day supervisors etc. I am convinced that the strength of feelings make this possible.

    You did a brilliant job Debra. I am so pleased that you wrote your letter. It was brilliantly written and articulated how many of us are feeling. I think though that without social networking it would have stayed small. @ThatIanGilbert is absolutely right to credit social networking.

    Roll on #EducationSpring – it will be down to you and the grassroots and NOT Stephen Twigg, education gurus or union officials

    1. What a great response Jackie. I think that’s kind of what I mean about the ‘blob’ – the rest of us who don’t neatly fit into a single organisation – how we gather I don’t really know, but I still wonder if some strategy is needed. I love the idea of the 1000 parents and so on and maybe now is the time to launch that one too. I was talking to my son about launching a 1000 students too – he’s at Oxford. Half jokingly, but now I wonder. Absolutely concur as well that this is all down to twitter – it’s a route for grass roots democracy, cutting through the ideological filters of some of the media. We need to use it more, but we also need to remember that fewer than 10% of teachers use twitter, so need other routes too. I guess I was just wondering how we might bring these groups together to plan some kind of coherent strategy. Yesterday, I met a labour MP who I thought was absolutely committed to us and to education – Ian Mearn and he’s been a tour de force on the education select committee. I discussed our concerns about the deafening silence from Labour with Kevin Brennan who said that they are fighting tooth and nail in parliament but struggling to get their message across in the media. Well if we can be heard through twitter, maybe they should get their message out here too. He’s pretty good on twitter, but all this coverage this week and not one single attempt to engage from Stephen Twigg.

  2. I agree, I agree, I agree! You have caught the zeitgeist – love your name for it yesterday; “Education Spring”. I will support you every step – if I can do more than re-tweet and forward your blogs, then let me know.

  3. I nicked the Education Spring line from Mick Waters Camilla and I think his new book is a good place for us all to start a new great debate about education.

  4. I missed your interview on live TV and picked it up today. It was clear you were speaking from the heart. The response to your original letter is testimony to this.

    Clearly, this is just a beginning and I too, would caution a focus on the experts, as Jackie says. My own ideas are, I feel close to what you are articulating. If you have the time to check this out, I would be pleased to hear from you. The grass roots is a refreshing place to start!
    http://ordinaryvoices1.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/the-creativity-squeeze.html

  5. I’m a teacher who whole heartedly agrees but also a parent who wants to protest. My daughter was phonics tested in year 1 and then I’ve just been told they are timetabling two weeks for new year 2 SATs? She’s 7. I also have a son awaiting a year 6 SPAG test then in year 8 more SATs as they do them early at his school (middle school). I’m sick of this testing culture both as a teacher and a parent – I would like to start a parent group to boycott the tests alongside the teachers who argue so articulately how pointless and damaging these changes are for our children. Michael Rosen writes a great blog and column for The Guardian – could he be part of this? Also maybe #educationspring could be how we follow on twitter?

  6. Hi Debra,
    There will be no shortage of ideas.

    Could I propose a simple solution. Evolution, not revolution. Let’s explore what is working. It must be, or children wouldn’t leave schools at appropriate levels, in reasonably significant numbers. So we then look at where there are mismatches and identify remedies. It’s a more evolutionary approach and doesn’t throw away what works.

    I’d worry about rejecting “experts”. We are all influenced by someone or other and make teaching our own over time. Experts can be part of the solution, but they haven’t solved all the problems to date, maybe because they have taken polarised positions.

    I work freelance with Inclusion Quality Mark, does that make me an expert and therefore to be avoided?
    We are all in this together. Good luck.
    Chris

  7. I think it’s a matter of having all interested parties on board and that includes a wide cross range of people. I’m a very impatient person – perhaps driven by concerns for my own children, I don’t know, but I want to get things moving. Let’s all keep adding to this conversation and talking.

  8. I am with Jules on this one, I am both year 6 teacher and parent of a year 6 child. I have 11 year old children, in my class, who are beginning to panic. My own son is reacting badly to the pressure, the level of homework he has been expected to complete has been rather frightening. By that I mean the level of the material not the volume. Although he is quite gifted mathematically he was asked to complete a GCSE paper that contained material he had not yet had teaching for. I cannot blame the staff, I know only too well what pressure they are under to fulfil the statistics imposed upon them..

    I knew a lovely (old school) teacher who referred to the testing regime as ‘weighing the pig’. You spend so much time weighing the pig to see how fat it has become you find you have forgotten to feed it.

    Can I add to this that my husband is part Finn. One of the most literate nations in Europe; they neither push knowledge acquisition until emotional and social maturity is established. Nor do they test often. What is more they understand the critical thinking has to go hand in hand with factual learning.

  9. Debra… First thanks for being our voice. I salute you. I share colleagues’ frustrations with the likes of Stephen Twigg. And while I enjoy Michael Rosen’s rants, I don’t think they are going to cut much ice. Our trade unions have so many issues to deal with that they don’t know which way to turn. As a primary head, I am very disappointed by the NAHT of late. The power of the message that we all signed up to was its authenticity. If we can gather enough momentum, government will have to listen. I do think its worth engaging with groups like the CPR and also with influential people like Mick Waters. I also feel strongly that we need to make alliances that go beyond the UK. Only last week, I was reading a piece in the Washington Post from a teacher who was resigning after 30 years, in large part because the curriculum had become a watered down, politically controlled trudge through facts and tests. Lets use social media and as many expert voices as we can muster to win this fight for our children.

  10. Wonderful stuff! I love the fact that your extremely eloquent letter, written during a school holiday, garnered so much support through social media forums occupied by by ‘off duty’ teachers and educational professionals. The #educationspring is fantastic, and let’s not forget the number of people who signed it, all this in just a week! Good work!

    I agree with everything that Jackie Shneider said whole heartedly! The grass roots movement through social media worked! I feel so ‘represented by others’ as a teacher, let the profession speak! – That for me includes academics, but I’d steer away from union and political involvement, education isn’t their passion, just their agenda.

    How that can be done, reaching a broader audience is a good question, and one to ponder tomorrow! I love questions…..

    Sleep well!

  11. Debra, don’t know if you’ve had sight of this article on Local Schools Network yet. It gives an interesting insight into your session at the House of Commons.

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/04/education-expert-calls-for-an-education-spring-in-this-blistering-attack-on-schools-policy-watch-the-video-here/

    I’m keeping up with developments via ‘Love Learning’ and hope that parents will be the next important group to support the drive to change the face of education for good.

    The campaign at Ordinary Voices is progressing slowly as it is more geared to making contact ‘at the school gate’. If any of your supporters want to get involved at their local school, I would be happy to help them get started with the paper petition. Many of the ideas you are getting through your appeal have the potential to involve more people in different ways and I feel this will fit in well with the different life-styles that make up modern life. If I can help, please keep in contact.

    1. Hi Michael,

      Good question! In direct response to the letter? I’d say no. But in terms of teachers beginning to mobilise and take professional matters into their own hands, I’d say yes. The success of ResearchEd, the enthusiasm for Northern Rocks on the 7th June 2014 and other events show that teachers are beginning to shape their own CPD based on evidence and not the whims of government. The success of Headsroundtable in securing meetings with the Secretary of State and Shadow cabinet are significant as are ongoing press articles raising objections to Gove’s policies, at least in some sections of the press. I do sense a tide turning, but it is turning slowly. And in the meantime, pupils are being left at risk by announcements made on a whim and announced in the press which affect their examinations with immediate effect. The battle still needs to be fought.

    2. Michael,
      The short answer to your question is ‘not enough’. Despite the incredible work of individuals like Debra, who have striven tirelessly to inform and encourage professionals to engage in constructive dialogue with those in power, it would be an exaggeration to consider that the strength of feeling felt by so many has convinced any politicians that fundamental change to the governance of education is necessary. For my part, I am confident that nothing short of a complete re-alignment of the national governance of the service will bring about the necessary de-politicisation of education. If you are interested in finding out more about this proposal, you might consider visiting ordinaryvoices.org.uk, where I set out a broad proposal to generate interest in changing the face of education for the sake of future generations of children and young people.

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