That confirms it; I am definitely living in a parallel universe. As most ordinary schools went about their business of starting the new school term in the usual orderly way a newspaper headline shouted ‘schools failing on safety’. This was their interpretation of an Ofsted report which had stated that ‘almost all schools now take a careful and responsible approach to their safeguarding arrangements’ and that only 2% were inadequate in this respect. And let's not make the mistake of blaming it entirely on the media. Ofsted caused the problem in the first place by turning the dictionary definition of satisfactory on its head by stating that ‘safeguarding arrangements in 21% of schools were only satisfactory overall, indicating the need for considerable improvement’
At the same time Michael Gove's speech at the Durand Academy was widely reported. One paper gleefully stated: ‘At last teacher is back in charge! Tories pledge to end classroom chaos....’ The opportunity for rational discussion about the points he had made was drowned out by the noise.
All of this had come at the end of a week which had been dominated by ill-informed party political posturing about the relative merits or otherwise of the so-called ‘academic’ subjects as defined in the English Baccalaureate. Once again any reasoned discussion about the kind of curriculum young people in 21st century need was shouted down.
These and an almost constant barrage of similar examples highlight the real challenge our profession faces at the moment.
I have been warning ministers and their advisers for some considerable time about the messages they are repeatedly sending out about our education service which not only plays into tabloid headlines but most significantly sends out a deeply damaging message to young people that they are not being served by their schools. Messages such as these:
· behaviour is extremely poor and needs to be sorted out by government, army officers or male teachers.
· truancy is rife
· the curriculum is not fit for purpose
· exams have been dumbed down
· the quality of teachers being recruited into the profession is not good enough
· teacher training is based on ‘outdated theory’ rather than best practice
· almost every other country has a better education system than ours.
I wonder whether those who make such statements somehow think that young people do not hear these messages. Having taught in and led schools for more than 30 years I know exactly how acutely tuned the antennae of young people are. They know exactly what is being said and these kinds of messages make the work of teachers and school leaders unnecessarily difficult.
And critically these messages also prevent us from having the level of debate we really need in our quest to improve the education service which is the bread and butter of our professional territory. No school leader I have ever met believes that our education service is perfect. In fact they are one of the most self-critical groups of professionals I have ever come across whose confidence is constantly being undermined by these utterances. Talk of a high status profession sounds deeply hollow in the context of the barrage of denigration we face.
And the even greater danger is therefore that the real ‘dumbing down’ is of the professional debate that needs to take place.
During the last few weeks significant numbers of young people have had the opportunity to explain their perspective on these issues in the media in the aftermath of the riots. The message they have been giving us is that they need hope. They hear about the economic context, they know that jobs are few and far between , they know that University places are under great demand and that the new fee regime which they perceive as a deterrent is being introduced, they see the reductions in services that affect their lives including youth facilities, careers advice and EMA as schools and colleges try harder than ever to motivate them to aspire towards greater things. In addition many are being told that the curriculum that interests them is the wrong one and that the only ones that matter are those that are irrelevant to their specific needs and led them to being disengaged in the first place.
We ignore these messages at our peril. English society faces some unprecedented challenges which can only be addressed together. Any school or college leader will tell you how important the establishment of a positive ethos is to the success of their institution. We need an ethos in our society which gives our young people the confidence to complete their education with hope, aspiration and self-belief.
Without that our profession will have to get used to remaining in a parallel universe.