Back to school – a few thoughts

After 8 years training teachers in a university, I am returning to work in a school as a deputy headteacher. In the post I am leaving, I have been blessed to work with some excellent lecturers who combine evidence-based pedagogical understanding with a passion for subjects. In both the OfSTED inspections during my time at the university,  training was observed and found to be of the highest quality. I therefore return a better teacher than I left. I have also worked alongside course leaders and administrators who supported me in improving professionally and who showed patience when I made mistakes.  Thanks to them I return a better leader.

I joined the university as a result of a localised recruitment crisis because the area of Birmingham in which I used to work had an unfair reputation and the only way to find new staff was amongst final year students. My work with students in school led to my interest in teacher training. I return to a national recruitment crisis where it is hard to find even NQTs to employ. This crisis has been deliberately engineered as part of a strategic policy to replace university training with apprenticeship schemes. My own course has been cut from 163 students two years ago to 40 next year despite being successful against any given criteria. This is replicated across the country. A postgraduate system that provided high quality primary teachers on a large scale and was found by OfSTED to be very effective has been dismantled and replaced by relative chaos at the same time that increasing numbers of experienced teachers have left the classroom. The Teaching School Alliances with whom I have worked are offering excellent School Direct routes into teaching to lessen the impact of the crisis. Teaching School Alliances where schools work closely to invest in teacher training by building on the success of the PGCE for the long-term benefit of their children are creating excellent programmes.  Not surprisingly, it is these alliances that also invest and value their existing staff and are great places to work. Sadly I also know of Teaching School Alliances where headteachers do not collaborate and where School Direct is used to train an individual known to the school with no view beyond the short-term. In those cases, no programme is developed and there is a lack of transparency that benefits nobody but the person being trained (in some cases about which I have heard the person selected for training is a relation of an existing member of staff – an example of business practices coming into teaching).

I return to a school system in financial crisis where reform is focussed on governance and the commodification of learning as means of attracting private funding.  In 2008, when I left my last school, the full implications for education of the global crash had yet to be seen. Eight years on all notions of early intervention to widen life chances have been replaced by a focus on reforming exams for 16 year olds and 18 year olds. The purpose of early years and primary education has been reduced to making children “ready” for secondary school. The purpose of secondary education is, it appears, to compete in world league tables of education. The most strident voices supporting reforms are from male secondary teachers. The gap of understanding between primary and secondary teachers has never been greater at a national level. 

Despite the upheaval of the last eight years, I remain optimistic. Academisation, profiteering, increased corruption, punitive inspections based on misuse of data cannot change the fundamental processes that ensure children feel valued and safe in classrooms that develop them as individuals in relationship with each other through access to a broad and balanced curriculum.  I look forward to getting to know children and their families and to play a small part working alongside expert staff to deliver the highest quality education we can. 

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