Before work this morning, I did something I’ve only done once before and read a party political manifesto. Trying to come to terms with the unexpected result inevitably meant wondering what the implications might be for my profession.
The next education secretary will need to address the shortage of teachers. There will be a debate within the government as to how to put bodies in front of children. For those on the Thatcherite, libertarian right such as Nick Gibb, the problem will be the requirement for teachers in some schools to be qualified. The Carter Review has already suggested that the Postgraduate Certificate in Education should be viewed as an option rather than a requirement. This statement leaves the way open for universities to be blamed for the teacher shortage and removed from training. The era of society valuing the reflective practitioner may be over. The importance of linking pedagogical expertise, experience and relationship is to be replaced by an acceptance of inexperience and a technical skill set. With a larger number of MPs, more moderate voices may emerge among Conservative ranks that will add a check on educational policy in the way the Liberal Democrats did before last night. The battle will be decided by putting the power of individuals in a government with a small minority against the majority of the party who will see the unexpected electoral success as giving them an opportunity to be grabbed. The prospect of a young, low paid workforce drilled in techniques and teaching from textbooks is very attractive to some, not least because it reduces the pension liability.
One of the stranger policy statements in the manifesto is that schools would not be run for profit. Strange because no one from outside the Conservative Party has suggested in the election run-up that schools should be. The statement is there partly because schools are already being used to generate profit for 1) businesses linked to academy sponsors 2) publishers of textbooks 3) service providers. The next 5 years will see an increase of the profits of companies fulfilling these roles. For some that will be appalling whilst others are genuinely convinced that education is better run by markets than the state.
How should I respond as a teacher?
Whilst holding on to what I believe to be true about teaching, I need to acknowledge that the neoliberal agenda has taken a step further forward. My passion for a profession that changes children’s life chances through expert skill and deep understanding is undiminished but I cannot avoid the impact of the election. I need to be as open minded to imposed change as I can be whilst finding any means possible to drive the agenda away from short-term, quick fix, profit orientated interventions that have no theoretical or evidential basis and offer nothing in relation to a child’s need for care, rounded development, and the opportunity to thrive and feel valued as an individual in positive relationships with others. Where policy is damaging pupils, I will shout loud but, for now, I will re-read the Carter Review’s recommendations and begin to consider my response in the context of a government unexpectedly handed the opportunity to implement them in full.