Pulling the rug from under

Last week an LSE report  -http://schoolsweek.co.uk/london-effect-due-to-improving-primary-schools-new-report-finds/ -crediting gradual improvement in primary education with the transformation in London’s schools was followed by the claim from the outgoing director of the Institute of Education, Chris Husbands, that primary education in England is the best in the world. 

Whatever anecdotes say, there is growing evidence from a range of sources that primary schools and by implication their staff have achieved remarkable success. This is view is not just supported by data relating to narrow curriculum assessment. Primary schools continue to contribute significantly to attempts to tackle a wide range of social issues including obesity and radicalisation.  Primary and early years education have played key roles in transforming inner-city communities. Despite the remarkable and heroic achievements of schools in very challenging circumstances, there is little evidence of celebration or even acknowledgement in the media and among politicians. It is politically important to praise nurses and other vocational professions and at the same time criticise teachers. The negativity aimed at the profession is considered to appeal to parents.  Social issues linked to the negative impact of consumerism on parenting skills can blamed on teachers. As parents hold many times more votes than teachers,  it is an obvious tactic for political parties. The language applied to primary education policy by politicians is that of “crackdown”, “zero tolerance” “raising crossbars”. The success story under politicians noses is an inconvenient truth. If primary education is as good as the evidence suggests, it will be harder to scapegoat poor teaching if the success is acknowledged. 

In the last five years, the focus on secondary exam reform has given the impression that primary and early years education are both deficient and unimportant other than to provide childcare. By refusing to acknowledge the success of the sector, politicians are in danger or throwing it all away by not acting on warnings of a looming crisis in recruitment.  The choreographed negativity about the profession needed to appeal politically to parents has led to fewer young people applying to teacher training courses https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/acceptances-increase-to-meet-recruitment-challenge/ -fewer NQTs and more unfilled vacancies.

This week, the announcement of bursaries for 2016/17 teacher training students was dominated by the £30,000 for secondary shortage subjects. Virtually no comment was made on the cut from £9,000 or £6,000 to £3,000 for postgraduate primary courses. Just as the shortage of primary teachers begins to impact negatively on successful schools, the government has made it harder to recruit students to primary teacher training courses.

The short-term economic benefit of unqualified, low income staff delivering lessons from text books is putting at risk the gradual, sustainable improvement provided by qualified, well-trained, experienced primary teachers. The rug is being pulled from under the system and it appears that the success of hard working professionals in primary schools and early years settings will only be recognised when it has ceased. 

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