Five years ago we pondered what a new government would mean for education and though many expected change, few would have predicted the pace with which it arrived. Little did we know just how radical Mr Gove was going to be, or the extent to which education would become a battleground. After years of attacks on the profession, goalposts being moved, phonics screening, enemies of promise and strikes, Gove was taken away from us and in his stead we were given Nicky Morgan.
Ah, Nicky. Quiet little, butter wouldn’t melt, Nicky. Sure she had voted against gay marriage and supported all of Gove’s sweeping changes but we all knew she couldn’t possibly be as controversial or as divisive as her predecessor. For months, Nicky floated along without anything even close to controversy.
That is, of course, until today.
It should come as no surprise really; Nicky will no doubt have been keen to put down a marker. However, that makes it no less worrying. The message couldn’t be clearer- Nicky is going to war; not against mediocrity or bad practice in the way her rhetoric would suggest, nor even against teachers this time. Now it is the turn of SLTs and Headteachers to be dragged over the coals and demonised. Not only are schools which are deemed to be ‘underperforming’ coming under scrutiny, but also those deemed to be ‘coasting’.
There are two main reasons this causes me genuine panic. The first is that the body which will deem whether a school is underperforming or not, Ofsted, is so utterly inconsistent and subjective that any confidence in their judgements, credibility in the organisation or reliability in their findings is quickly wading. Many teachers simply find that Ofsted is no longer fit for purpose, and this is something that they really ought to seek to address as a matter of urgency. Secondly, Morgan has suggested that headteachers of coasting schools could be removed from their positions. This, from the Secretary of State for Education, simply floored me as it demonstrated the clear lack of understanding of the state of the workforce in this country. Headteachers are a rare breed, in that we don’t have enough of them. What we need is to train, support and guide headteachers and those aspiring to the position rather than seek to implement a football manager approach where we go through more headteachers than terms.
The motivation behind this move lies very close to the surface and will surprise nobody in education circles. “We will provide support. Of course we will look at the academy model too.” Nicky told Andrew Marr. The idea that academies improve the provision of a school, while unfounded in ANY form of research or evidence, is one that Morgan and her predecessor have flouted repeatedly over the past few years. My thoughts on schools being forced to adopt academy status can be found here, and I make no apologies for my viewpoint.
Nicky has had her time to settle in, and now she’s lining up her arsenal. If you thought the education battlefield would have time to settle with Gove out of the way, you were very much mistaken. The fight to stand up for education shall continue for what could be a very long and battling five years. Nicky’s going to war; I hope she’s ready for the fight.