Here’s a novel idea: how about some trust?

The College of Teaching has been given boost with the recent appointment of a new CEO and I admit I am very worried. Perhaps my fears are unfounded, but given the progressive leaning of the people in charge and the history of the GTC I worry that The Blob has just been given even more power over all things State Education. I can’t really understand why the DfE decided that it was a good idea? Primary schools are already progressive enough! Anyway, I’d like to put forward a personal view of an ordinary classroom teacher regarding the CoT proposals and the inherent lack of trust that is afforded of teachers as individuals.

I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet a teacher who is lazy or shirking of their responsibilities. All teachers, regardless of whether they are of the progressive or traditional leanings, care very much about the children they teach and they all work very, very hard for little reward be it financial or otherwise. Some teachers give up their whole lives for The Cause and I am horrified that so many young teachers willingly eschew personal relationships and the chance to found their own family or even just pursue hobbies in order to do their jobs well, knowing full well that at some point and just like all the older colleagues they have said goodbye to, they too will be ‘encouraged’ to leave teaching in order to make way for younger, more vibrant versions of themselves.  I have never in my colourful and varied life seen such contempt for experience and worldly wisdom as I have in teaching, and for a profession that bangs on about being ‘caring’ I find this contempt for older colleagues somewhat hypocritical, almost cruel. Anyway, experienced or not, we should assume that all teachers work hard, yet why do we need to have a CoT ensuring that teachers work even harder when they’re already busting a gut? What do these people want? Blood?

It’s taken me a long while too to get over the SCITT and NQT year and I never quite got used to the stress of those constant observations and relentless flapping over collecting evidence to ‘prove’ I was ticking off each and every item on the enormously long list of teacher standards. Hand on heart I don’t think I could repeat that process because I could not take the mental battering of being told over and over that whatever I was doing was not quite right, could do with improvement, or was downright wrong. It’s only now, a few years in, that I am starting to feel confident and trusted. I will still be observed regularly and have my books and walls monitored, but this is balanced against my reputation and results. Looking at the CoT FAQs it seems yet more monitoring is coming my way, as well as a requirement for me to be taking part in approved CPD. Using CoT parlance, do we really need to ‘drive’ teachers to be better in order to improve the education of children given that they already work so very hard? You know what would help me improve the education of the children I teach? Not being so bloody tired, that’s what. I think a simple way to improve teaching and learning would be for children to work harder and behave better, frankly, rather than have them sit back and expect a whizz-bang lesson that is ‘entertaining’ and easy (and lovingly prepared by a Chartered Teacher).

I’m not against CPD either; in fact, I really like it. My problem is with the assumption that I need to be strong-armed into doing it. First off, I have my own damn life to lead and teaching, with all its peripheral bureaucracy, bleeds heavily into it, threatening to snuff out all relationships, even the bond I have with my children. What I don’t need is for some pompous quangocrat to mandate that I take CPD on an iteration of ‘Differentiation via Learning Styles’ when I am just about managing to keep my wits about me as a parent, friend, family member, and of course a teacher. What if I get cancer and just need to spend what PRECIOUS little spare time I have at the hospital? Will I lose my status? Of course, you could simply tell me that I don’t need to join in the first place, but both you and I know deep down that I will have to join. To not join would be folly, an indication that I do not care enough about children’s education to overtly prove that I am improving myself, driving myself to do more and be better for the children I teach.

What will happen is that everybody will eventually join, except for the teachers at the end of their career who have built up enough financial security to potentially throw in the towel when they can no longer take any more lip from young upstarts, or because they have had quite enough of ‘Learning Styles’ CPD for one lifetime. The difference between now and the GTC days is that the technology is there to rigorously monitor and enforce teacher compliance and I reckon many school leaders would happily offload the burden of sourcing and suggesting CPD. Then of course membership will become a prerequisite for job applications; both LAs and MATs could easily do this, especially if a database can be referred to in order to check up on the kind of CPD a potential candidate has done. You know, I also love to read. What are the odds that simple reading research does not count as CoT approved CPD? I would say quite high because of course reading research is difficult to monitor, and it also doesn’t involve a big payout for a consultant either. Because I am more likely to want to read a bit of Siegfried Engelmen, or research some equally contentious subject of my own choosing, I am likely to lose out in career terms to someone who prefers to go to a Learning Styles Drama Workshop organised by a group of consultants approved by the CoT.

I think many teachers prefer to read up about all things education according to their own curiosity, or even attend events at the weekend that appeal and they do this for fun, in their spare time; they enjoy meeting like-minded people and debating controversial subjects away from their employer’s scrutiny. I find it slightly creepy that a huge organisation threatens to not only interfere with what teachers do during working time (that may well extend into weekends and evenings) but also with what teachers do during their down time, their thinking and fellowship time. Actually, ‘creepy’ doesn’t even get to the root of why I am so dead set against the CoT. I actually have a fear that I will be expected to give up even more of my life, my humanity, even my spare thoughts, to Teaching. This job may be taking my health, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let it own my thoughts. I won’t feel safe until the CoT is stopped in its tracks and I and my fellow compadres can have a bit of trust to do our jobs well.

Who’s with me?

 

 

Throwing all the hot potatoes at the class teacher

I read a great article this morning recommending extra compensation for teachers who work in schools in deprived areas because these teachers are required to step in where social workers/society/parents have failed, therefore they have a bigger and more stressful workload than teachers in less deprived areas. I’m 100% behind the author on this one and I certainly do not subscribe to this trite view that teachers should somehow find the ‘fulfillment’ and ‘worthiness’ of their job to be the only reward they need.

However, there’s another aspect to this whole debate that annoys me and it’s the assumption that any extra issue manifesting in the classroom is de facto my job. I’m not just talking about the big things like behavioural problems that result from being exposed to inappropriate images on TV, online and in video games, I’m also talking about the little things. In fact, it is the little things that infuriate me the most because of what they represent: I’m being passed a small hot potato, there’s no one else to pass it on to and I’m expected to enjoy and feel grateful for this hot potato too. Well I don’t. So, 11 year old so-and-so can’t tie his shoelaces because he hasn’t been taught or because he has always got his mum to do it for him? ‘Oh yes, you’ll have to tie his shoelaces for him; that’s your job now.’ Then the same child comes in having not done his homework and what’s the response? ‘Oh yes, he never does his homework at home; you’ll need to offer a little lunchtime homework ‘club’ so that you can do his homework with him because that’s your job now.

To be fair, what I experience in terms of extra social workload is far less than other teachers and this is partly due to the fact that my headteacher is actually quite proactive in trying to limit what is foisted upon her staff by Uncle Tom Cobley and his dog. However, her protection is not enough to prevent the general rhetoric of primary teaching, which is that we attend to all the needs of the individual child, from adding more and more to a class teacher’s remit. The fact is, I’m still having to check whether certain children have had breakfast, I’m still having to check children’s heads for nits, I’m still having to tell children to go and wash their hands/necks/faces and I’m still having to diplomatically advise children that going to bed at midnight is not a good idea. It doesn’t take up much time because I teach older children who can quickly scoff a banana before assembly, but it still adds an additional stress, worry and administrative burden to my day. Who else is going to do it? Further, with all this talk of mental health crises I’m worried about having to set up yet another folder in order to collect evidence and monitor my planning for children’s happiness, so then children don’t even need to bother trying to make their own fun; they can just rely on me to entertain them.

The root of my anger is feeling that, as a parent, the whole situation is rather unfair. Like many parents, I do my job of good but slightly imperfect parenting and then I send my children to school to learn. Whenever I have to dedicate 10 minutes to helping older children dress and tie their shoelaces during a PE lesson, I think about how angry another parent like me might be when he finds out his daughter has had her education put on hold because the class teacher had to spend time dressing children and doing their shoelaces. I am also uneasy about the fact that this situation seems eerily close to experiences of mothers and wives up and down the land who are forced to do all the housework drudgery and all the harder aspects of parenting (like enforcing bedtime, the eating of vegetables and regular toothbrushing) because no one else will help them or even acknowledge what they do; it’s also expected that they must love it, that they should willingly do all the shitty things because they’re naturally good at it and that their payment of feeling ‘worthy’ is all they need or want. Do you see the similarity here?

It’s like the venn diagram of life in our society consists of more and more groups of people abdicating personal responsibility to fewer and fewer groups of other people: some parents abdicate to teachers, some depressives expect everyone else to make them happy, some disabled expect everyone else to look after them, some unhealthy expect the NHS to give them a second chance and some young people expect The Good Life to be delivered to them on a plate. I also wonder how secondary school leaders and teachers feel about taking on a great avalanche of hot potatoes because the local primary school has done so much to let both the children and the parents bumble along without any sense of personal responsibility that they are dependent upon the state to provide the gumption and work ethic that they so sorely lack.

It’s all to easy to blame the parents though isn’t it? Maybe the blame should be placed upon educational professionals who seek to increase the remit of primary education such that it encompasses all the parenting duties as well as huge dollops of impossible, hippy idealism. This is why I continue to campaign to have the spotlight of education improvement to be shone directly on the overtly progressive, child-centred education of primary schools (and EYFS in particular) that is inherently anti-academic and does the opposite of teaching children self-control and discipline (responding to children’s needs/wants means that teachers follow rather than lead). This reminds me of the big meeting we had at my school, governors included, to refresh the school ethos and mission statement and not one reference was made to teaching children to read, write and add up. Instead, the collaborative exercise led to a long list of social aims such as ‘Instilling creativity’, ‘Attending to wellbeing and happiness’, ‘Encouraging friendships and collaboration’ and ‘Providing interesting, diverse and cultural experiences’. The academic aims did not feature at all (except inside my head) and it was as if ‘Wanting children to be good at reading, writing and mathematics’ was wrong somehow, something to feel guilty about or not even that important because we had better things to do, like building a better society.

The thing is, if we sell primary education (which, in the UK, is overwhelmingly progressive) as being all things to everyone including doing the job of parenting, then inevitably parents will take a step back, lulled into a false sense of security because the school has told them that it will develop their child’s character, teach them about cultural diversity, micromanage friendships and help children learn to tie their shoelaces. We education professionals cannot be good at everything though (Jack of all trades, master of none) and any resources, time and energy devoted to what would traditionally be considered basic parenting is resources, time and energy taken away from teaching.

What would turn this around is if parents were galvanised or even incentivised into ramping up the parenting (one of the  reasons I advocate yearly testing) and if educators stopped being so pompous as to assume they can take on a myriad of roles and do them all well. I guess I’m advocating for the state to have less of a dominant role in our lives. In the meantime, I’ll be in the classroom coping with burned hands and holes in the carpet.

Who’s with me?

Oh God! Not more SLT!

While I am enjoying doing nothing of any productive value, I also have niggling thoughts about the start of this new academic year. Firstly, the tyranical dictator known as Planning continuously whispers, “Maybe you should go into work now. Think about all those Guided Reading carousels you need to conjure up……..” and secondly, I seem to be developing an irrational fear of new management.

Our school, like many primary schools, is scaling back spending on teaching assistants and increasing spending on management. This means more clipboard wielding SLT ‘just popping into’ lessons, surreptitiously asking children what they think of The Learning and their teacher, more bureaucracy, more diktats and more ‘ideas’ sold to staff with a dollop of emotional blackmail (‘we need to put the needs of the children first’) that involve a big energy-sapping increase in workload on the teacher’s part but, funnily enough, no effort on the part of the SL who suggests it.

It’s not just the workload thing. I also fear being judged as a person. I am uncomfortable with unannounced observations and I am uncomfortable with receiving feedback that is less to do with what the children have learned but more of a personal swipe, the main emphasis being on whether I can dial down the strictness and if I could possibly stop forgetting some of the items on the very long list of What Must Be Done in every lesson. Every manager has their own version of how wrong I am as a person and, of course, I should try to be more like them in order to be ‘Oustanding’.

I oscillate between casual nonchalance and nail biting fear of being driven out of my workplace for being an ordinary human being. As you can gather, I am currently in Fear Mode.

Of course, I have nothing to hide, therefore I should have nothing to fear, right? All of my worries are purely inside my head and the fact that I can look forward to formal and informal observations by the Head, DH, AHs, Ed-Psych, SENDCo, governors as well as being regularly on show to waves of parents being shown round the school should have absolutely no bearing on my ability to just get on with the job. The constant churn of senior staff (actually it’s a churn of everyone) though adds an additional soupcon of fear because I do not yet know how to act (or teach) around these new people in order to gain their trust and approval.

I wonder if many teachers feel as I do right now? I also wonder whether this fear is more common in primary schools, where there are fewer staff and a higher ratio of management types? With a smaller overall staff numbers it all gets a bit too intense I think.

Maybe what would help is if we were all given a half term to settle into our new classes and work on getting ourselves familiar with new procedures and protocols, as well as just getting the teaching rolling along nicely without this immediate, ‘Right, could you all go and see so-and-so to book a time slot for your observations and feedback sessions.’ Even better, why not turn the whole thing round and let me go and observe these allegedly fantastic people and their ‘Outstanding’ teaching?

Who’s with me?

 

How not to balls-up an important working relationship

I am continuously surprised by the level of animosity that can exist between teachers and teaching assistants, with the latter quite often feeling aggrieved and unappreciated, and teachers unaware of the basics of people management, sometimes displaying an attitude that is flippant, contemptuous or a bit aloof when it comes to working with a TA. General surprise then turns to concern when teachers who have the worst working relationships with their TAs are then promoted into senior leadership. It’s as if these teachers can only cope with managing children because children don’t answer back or have their own strong opinions, but when it comes to the other adult in the room there is a big problem and sometimes I wonder whether it’s down to the teacher viewing other professionals as a threat somehow. If you are a new, young teacher, I recommend you read this. Why? Because a good rapport with the TA means a good reputation for you; the TA will be talking about you to other TAs, the head honcho and the wider community. The TA has power. What do you want her to say? That you’re an pompous know-it-all who couldn’t give a toss about her feelings? Here’s how to instantly get a good reputation for free……

Possible Balls-up To Be Avoided #1: Having contempt for life experience and another person’s opinion

So, you have a situation whereby the young, new teacher fresh out of University/PGCE/SCITT/whatever has many, many ideas about how things should go down in a classroom. It’s great that she’s brimming with idealism, but should also be prepared for the subtle roll of the eyeballs from the TA because the TA knows what it is like to raise children (and the typical primary teacher doesn’t). For example, the new teacher might be a massive advocate of laying on a plethora of activities for children to choose from in order to encourage ‘active’ learning, but the TA knows, through experience, that too much choice leads to arguments, anxiety and less concentration in children, in addition to the fact that many children will choose whatever is easiest and fun rather than something that will challenge them sufficiently. If the TA raises her concerns, she will be given short, condescending shrift. If the TA stays silent, her worries will fester and grow, causing an awkward atmosphere in the staffroom and a reluctance on the TA’s part to go the extra mile.

What is the solution? Even if you don’t agree with the TA’s thoughts and opinions, it still pays to take the time to listen to her opinions and thank her for them too. Even better, be proactive and ask the TA what she thinks about your lesson plans for the week; many schools require a copy of plans to be given to the TA so that she knows who/which group she’s working with in lessons, so it makes sense to talk through these so that the TA is confident and will naturally have some opinions (even though she may not be the ‘expert’). How does this small gesture make the TA feel? Worthy, appreciated and needed. I know that a typical TA will have been at the school for donkeys years and will have seen many teachers, leaders, fads and initiatives come and go. The typical TA has also known the children in your class since they were in reception, so will have some insightful information on the child’s background, behaviour and previous achievements. The typical TA can also give the new teacher a lot of insider knowledge about other teachers and leaders; for example, who to trust and go to advice for, and who to avoid making any kind of joke around. Anyway, it pays off to take the time to talk to the TA and seek her opinion on lots of different subjects even if you don’t intend to go with the advice that comes with it. The TA will feel good if she is listened to.

Possible Balls-up To Be Avoided #2: Not saying ‘Thank you’.

Oh wow this is so common. Why do teachers not get this? Even though we teachers know that we will never get praise or gratitude for what we do from our senior leadership because the minimum requirement of practically selling your soul for The Cause is taken for granted, expected and written into our contracts, it still pays to regularly take the time and effort to say ‘Thank-you’ to the TA for her help and support. It just makes them feel good on the inside. Additionally, it’s important for the teacher to feedback to the TA that their help with closing gaps (for example, spending a lot of time with one child on their phonics knowledge) has helped that child immensely, possibly changing that child’s life forever. All success in the classroom is a shared success and always in part down to the effort of the TA; the TA deserves and needs a heartfelt, “Well done. We did it. I couldn’t have done this without you.”

When a TA feels good, she is less likely to bitch about you and she is more likely to go the extra mile by staying after school to help you with the wall display that SLT have told you isn’t ‘child-centred’ enough or whatever. I also recommend, as you walk through the school early in the morning, taking the time to poke your head into other classrooms and asking the TA in their how they’re doing, maybe mentioning how fantastic they are for getting in early and so carefully laying out the early morning activities on the tables, because the odds are that the class teacher has forgotten to do this and is off at a meeting or talking to other teachers about some idea they read about on Edu-Twitter.

Possible Balls-up To Be Avoided #3: Forgetting that the TA is a human being with outside interests and concerns. 

Again, perhaps because young teachers don’t have much going on their lives apart from teaching, they forget that the TA would like to talk about themselves a bit rather than the world of education constantly. Most TAs have long sinced left home, set up their own homes, had children and pursued some interesting hobbies by the time a newb teacher rocks up to the classroom. Remembering and taking the time to ask a TA how their children are getting on at university or how that loft conversion is coming along is akin to saying, ‘I care about you as a person’ and this is a massively powerful message because TAs quite often feel like they don’t matter. If you were a fly on the wall among the gossiping groups of TAs you will quite often find an undercurrent of resentment and low-esteem that really can be avoided with a few tweaks to teachers’ behaviour. It’s too tempting for young teachers to assume that because their job is so important and time consuming and that the ‘Needs of the children must come first’ that this means that it doesn’t matter if they don’t expend some energy making sure the TA has had a chance to air some personal stuff and get some sympathy. So, spend 5 minutes asking the TA about themselves. You won’t regret it.

As I’m writing this I’m thinking about how close this advice is to the kind of advice given to couples who are going through a rocky patch in their marriage. It basically all boils down to the fact that a relationship, like a flower, must be constantly watered and tended to otherwise it withers and dies. Only in the case of the TA-teacher relationship, not only can the relationship wither and die, but also the young teacher’s reputation and chances of career success.

It makes sense to treat your people well and I recommend that when you plan the next academic year, naturally thinking about how to be a better teacher, you also make a conscious decision to work at being a better colleague.

Who’s with me?

 

Do school leaders have low expectations of parents?

In this blog post I would like to ask you to put your ideological opposition to grammars to one side and consider what it is about them that many parents like so much. Is our refusal to acknowledge the basic biological drive of a parent to promote his own offspring such a good thing? I also think many schools scale back an academic ethos that would otherwise be associated with a grammar school not just because they think the children can’t handle it, but because they think the parents can’t handle it either. What are they so afraid of? Parents being a bit miffed that their child is made to work hard? Maybe the fact that school leaders have to spend a disproportionate amount of time dealing with certain parents, they forget about the silent majority who would be very much in support of a more academic focus and stricter ‘regime’ as it were?

As a primary teacher and a parent I have had many conversations with parents of children in year 5 and 6 and without a doubt the vast majority of both working class and middle class parents suddenly find their inner Tiger Parent come to the fore as soon as they start thinking about which secondary school to send their child to. Away from the eyes and ears of educators, networks of parents are passing on anecdotal information about the local secondary schools and this consists of thoughts on what the school leaders are like, which school is to be avoided, which school has the best results and which school is the strictest (the latter being very important to the parents of boys). Regardless of whether the ‘better’ school is a grammar or not, parents will do their utmost to try and get their child in. I have rarely heard a parent say, “Most importantly, I really want my child to just be happy and mingle with lots of different people.”

Actually, at the risk of being contentious I do believe that where there is a difference between what Dads and Mums want, the Dads are more likely to be in favour of very strict, academic schools which almost force children to take academic subjects and play team sports (a bit of contempt for ‘floppy’ subjects too). I used to work in mostly male workplaces and men are much more candid about what they want for their children when their wives aren’t in earshot. Mums seem more likely to go for the whole social engineering spiel about children being ‘happy’ and ‘choosing’ subjects based on instant enjoyment factor rather than long term benefits. Here’s a great quote from a Dad I once spoke to,

“It’s like she believes in Educational Narnia. She wants the kids to just do what makes them happy and then miraculously get amazing grades out the other side.”

I could be wrong though about the difference between Mums and Dads because I only have the experience that I have, but I’ve talked to enough people to notice the difference.

Anyway, most parents want their child to go to the school with the best reputation and in the absence of entrance exams that might make everybody take more of an interest in their child’s academic progress throughout the primary years, they will then do what they can to make sure they have rented that property in the catchment area, or gone to Church for a whole year etc. Those who opt out of the scramble do so because they have no choice and they are people like me. Trust me, if there were an entrance exam my children could’ve taken (they’re very academic), I would have jumped at the chance to get them into a grammar. All lofty ideals fly out the window when it comes to the education of my own children; I am not happy to have to submit them to a social experiment that would suppress their academic success especially as I cannot afford to underwrite that extended, responsibility-free kidulthood that most middle class parents encourage their offspring to enjoy.

You see, many parents want to send their child to an overtly academic secondary school that has a zero tolerance behaviour policy. Whereas the school leader is thinking about being seen to be inclusive (sometimes at all costs) because this makes them look good in the eyes of Ofsted, fellow educationalists and school leaders, maybe giving them the ego-boost of a public platform to speak and preach all things social engineering to the mainstream media, the parent is thinking about their one child, what grades they’re going to get and whether they’re going to be learning some self-control and focus that would help them get ahead in life. The ideals of the parent and the school leader are poles apart aren’t they? Both sets of people are well-meaning and care very much, but in such different ways. Given that most schools shy away from the old-fashioned values of traditional education just goes to show the power that school leaders have because it seems they can assume that parents are happy to comply. I also think there is a small contingent of school leaders who think most parents are too stupid or common to want their children to do well academically.

What Theresa May has done is tap into the hopes and fears of the inner Tiger Parent that exists, hitherto suppressed, in most parents. Everyone will want their child to go to the local grammar school; everyone’s inner Tiger Parent will be awakened, stoked and hungry for their child’s success. So what are school leaders going to do? Are they going to rise to the challenge and maybe serve the needs of the awakened Tiger Parents, or are they going to persist with their low expectations?

So, while I disagree with the whole grammar school thing, mainly because I wouldn’t want children who just missed the grade cut-off at 11 to have their hopes and dreams thwarted, I also think that maybe schools should do more in terms of creating a grammar school ethos so that parents feel they are sending their child to a better school. If you look at the mission statements/ values of many secondary schools you will be hard pressed to find overtly academic aims and if there are any, then they will be diluted in a sea of values associated with socially engineering a world where everyone is equal (and equally educated). This school doesn’t even mention academic success in its mission statement and it is certainly not alone.

For me, this also comes down to behaviour. Instead of assuming a right to use the academic, well-behaved and hard working children as some kind of behaviour-modifier in comprehensive schools, like their main purpose (thanks to being well-parented) is to socialise and guide children who otherwise have poor attitudes to learning, maybe schools should adopt a strict grammar school approach to behaviour and learning rather than having low expectations of parents, assuming that they all prefer a more forgiving, less academic ethos. What if some parents object to schools upping their educational game? So what? Let them send their child to a different school.

Who’s with me?

 

Playing Devil’s advocate: grammar schools (and untapped PR opportunities for the DfE).

OK hear me out. There was this yesterday which got me thinking about the effects of re-introducing grammars. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I think it’s a good idea, or a bad idea; in fact, I’d rather that there were different kinds of schools to choose from that weren’t selective and then of course I would choose a school with a traditional ethos (like MCS) for my children if I could. I think everyone should have a chance to choose a traditional school because I believe that traditional education enables all children the opportunity to achieve well academically as well as a chance to form those crucial habits of hard work, perseverance and respect for authority (which aren’t exactly encouraged via prog-ed) that help you to get ahead in life.

Anyway, I think it’s worth playing Devil’s advocate and considering the positive points of grammars because it may something to think about for school leaders of non-selective schools as well. Is there a way that these positive points could be incorporated somehow?

My argument hinges entirely on how the presence and possibility of being able to send your child to a grammar school is a very powerful extrinsic motivator for parents and causes them to up their parenting game by encouraging them to take more of an interest in their child’s education. At the moment, I do believe that modern parents rest on their laurels far too much when it comes to their primary-age children’s academic education, particularly if they’ve been sucked into supporting the dominant, middle class and progressive ethos of primary education which is that children should be protected from any kind of mental exertion or worry that may come with testing, or being taught grammar or long division, for example. I was hoping that the DfE would actively try and promote the new SATs tests through the language of ‘This is the minimum standard your child needs to access their secondary school education (and LIFE)’, and it’s a shame that the opportunity to engage directly with parents in this way has been missed.

Those of us educators who are familiar with DfE publications will/should have already got that very clear and accurate message and I am concerned that many primary teachers have yet to fully understand the incredibly important concept of ‘Secondary ready’ or even acknowledge it really. The constant battle cry of the progressive teacher, backed up by unions, famous authors and anyone else who has some ed-tech to sell, that children should just play and discover their way (preferably in a forest) through primary education is far too loud, mainstream and completely dwarfs any message about the benefits of being able to fluently read, write and add up: transforming lives not just in terms of escaping poverty but also enriching the mind through being able to access the best of what has been thought and said. Like I said, a massive PR opportunity has been missed and I hope that the DfE remedies that before next year’s SATs tests by engaging directly with parents (TV adverts or something?) and harnessing their support with a bit of, “Have you asked your child’s teacher if your child is Secondary Ready yet?” and maybe sending them all an example of what a child should be able to do in terms of reading, writing and arithmetic by the time they get to the end of Year 6.

This is my main point: parents need a wake up call.

Perhaps this is another example of the contempt or ignorance that politicians have for the electorate in that they assume that there is no point in bothering to try and engage with literally hundreds of thousands of parents. In the example I cite above, I know for a fact that, armed with an writing example, many parents would go to a Parents’ Evening, take one flick through their child’s writing book and be utterly horrified at how far behind their child is. They would ask their child to read the example text sent to them (through the letterbox, not via the school because the school might attempt to ‘dilute’ the message) by the DfE and it would dawn on them that their child has no hope in hell of being able to access a basic textbook in year 7.

In the absence of all of the above, grammar schools provide that extrinsic motivation for parents to aim for something better or ‘elite’ for their child. If this kind of mindset didn’t exist, then why would Tesco, Sainsbury’s  and Asda bother with their ‘Something extra’ brands of prepared meals? I have always thought that one of the reasons why older generations seem to have achieved and were capable of so much more by the age of 11 was not just because schools had higher standards and more traditional teaching methods/ethos, it was because pretty much everyone wanted their child to get into the local grammar. Why? Because that was where the well-behaved and studious kids went and everyone wanted their child to benefit from that. So, the presence of a high ranking school was a very powerful extrinsic motivator for teachers, parents and the children. Sure, we have all read the heartfelt bleatings of those who failed the 11+ , were made to feel like ‘failures’, and who still did well in life, thus ‘proving’ that the 11+ and grammar schools were pointless. Yet, how do we know that these successful people with grudges actually benefited from a better education that prepared them for the higher standard of the 11+ or common entrance exam as well? Surely their incredible work ethic could be attributed at least in part to the focus, drive and commitment required to prepare for a state examination?

If we bring back grammar schools I reckon we would suddenly have many more parents take an active interest in their child’s education. The prospect of a child failing an 11+ would cause any parent to think twice before letting their child stay up all night playing computer games. Parents would also make more of an effort to hear their children read, monitor homework and handwriting and maybe test them on their times tables, if they knew that the price of not doing this was so much higher. The 11+ is the biggest nudge there is and why has no policy maker even acknowledged this?

What is my conclusion here? Firstly, that we should do more to directly engage parents. If we are to engage them, then let’s not dilute the very serious message of why it is important for their child to achieve a minimum standard by pussy footing around, fearing that we might upset them somehow. I think many parents would rather hear the truth anyway, even if that truth is ‘Your child is behind’. Secondly, we should either bring back the grammar system or we should seek to utilise the very powerful extrinsic motivation that an 11+ test brings. Finally, and this is more of a personal ideal, we should also have a variety of primary schools to choose from in the way that there is a choice of secondary schools. Parents should be able to choose a state primary school with a traditional ethos, so that at least some parents who do currently want an ‘elite’ (ie highly academic and instilling the better habits of perseverance, hard work and respect for authority) education for their child, can actually choose without having to fork out thousands of pounds in fees.

Who’s with me?