Morgan gets ‘relatively polite’ NASUWT reception – but also mirth and a few jeers

Janet Downs's picture

The speech by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to the NASUWT conference had a ‘relatively polite reception’, Schools Week writes.  But a few jeers were heard and laughter erupted when Morgan urged unions to ‘step up’ and help the Government with its education policies.

Morgan trotted out the same tired data:

  • ‘…compared with 2012 we now have 120,000 more 6-year-olds on track to become confident readers’.  But it doesn’t follow that being able to decode words in a phonics screening test means pupils become confident readers or  Key Stage 1 reading results will rise in proportion (they didn't in 2015).  If they do it might be because teachers are supplementing phonics with other methods.
  • ‘…we have 29,000 more 11-year-olds entering secondary school able to read, write and add up properly’.   That imprecise word ‘properly’ again.
  • ‘… compared with 2010 we have 1.4 million more children in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools’.  But as FullFact found this was ‘partly due to Ofsted's changing inspection practice’.  And it must have slipped Morgan’s mind that improved Ofsted ratings have been in the primary sector where few schools are academies and not in the heavily-academized secondary sector.

She described points of supposed agreement.  She hoped delegates would ‘agree we should strengthen the teaching profession by supporting it to become vibrantly diverse.’  I’m unsure what ‘vibrantly diverse’ means.  Is it diversity which oscillates rapidly?  Quite possibly, if measured by teacher turnover.   And the proposal to dumb-down teacher training so teachers can be accredited by a single head after a few months is not the way towards strengthening the teaching profession.

‘None of us can – or should want to – deny that the education system is in much better shape than it was 5 years ago,’ she claimed.  Except it isn’t.  Teachers are punch drunk with changes: exam reform introduced too quickly; confusion with Key Stage 2 tests; creative subjects being squeezed out; the need for extra school places poorly addressed; teacher recruitment in chaos; millions upon millions wasted on changing school structures resulting in a fragmented education system.

Morgan wanted to debunk myths.  While marking, planning and data collection were vital, they had ‘become an end in of themselves’.  That’s true – particularly inputting numbers.  But it’s a blunt tool like RaiseOnline which screams for data not just school leaders who, in case Morgan's forgotten, have to provide data to governing bodies so they can hold schools accountable for results.  And the reason ‘lesson plans are reinvented every year’ isn’t ‘because school leaders think that’s what they should ask for’.  It’s because curricula, exam syllabuses, test specifications and assessment criteria keep changing.  This is worsened by the Government requiring more of schools: extend school time, engage with Prevent, promote British Values, teach ‘character’ (that’s ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’ enlivened by a dose of military discipline).

Just in case there’s any doubt where English education is headed, Morgan made it clear.  The proposed Ofsted reforms will ‘focus on outcomes and pupil achievement.’  That means test results – nothing more.  The excessive emphasis on exam results in England which the OECD warned about nearly five years ago has now become the sole focus of education.  So why bother with Ofsted?   Just judge schools by looking at a spreadsheet.


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Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 26/03/2016 - 16:26

It does make me laugh when I hear Nicky Morgan talking about a teaching profession that is diverse. Go back and listen to the interview with Nick Gibb yesterday morning on the Today programme. He referred throughout to his mythical headteacher, who would relish being forcibly academised, as "he". I was shouting at the radio by the end!

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