Category Archives: Education Policy

Academies are not the bloody answer!


In 2011 the government saw fit to introduce the ‘Academy/Free School Presumption’ to the Education Act whereby if a Local Authority felt there was the need to create a new school in its area, it must seek proposals to establish an academy/free school. Schools must then find a sponsor and agree on a location for the school. Therefore, in effect, in time all schools will eventually be taken from the control of Local Authorities. Currently over 60% of secondary schools, and roughly 13% of primary schools are already being run as an academy or free school. So what, I hear you ask, is the problem?

From the outset, let it be known that I have no problem with schools who choose to be academies. There are highly effective Academies out there providing an exceptional provision to education for the pupils that attend their schools. They do a fine job and such schools should be congratulated and celebrated. What I do however oppose is the assumption that the Academy model, as a whole, is a winning formula that should be forced upon all schools up and down the country. The current government’s belief that converting every school in the country to an academy will instantly shoot the UK to the top of the International League Tables is as absurd as it is insulting to all of those who work tirelessly to provide an excellent education in schools outside of Academy run chains.

In November 2012, despite having no legal authority to do so, the government announced its intention to turn 400 under-performing primary schools into academies. Governing bodies were warned that failure to comply with the government’s wishes would result in their dismissal, being replaced by those who would force through the conversion. In cases where the pupils, staff and parents voiced strong opposition to such a measure, the government sped ahead with their plans regardless. They have, in the time since, maintained the supposition that academies improve standards. The more sceptical of you may also wonder what would motivate ministers to deviate away from Local Authority intervention.

Academies, as independent state-funded schools, receive their funding directly from central government rather than through a Local Authority. This gives them more freedom over their finances, curriculum, term dates and pay and conditions for staff. Upon conversion to an Academy, a school will be awarded £25,000 and can receive access of up to 10% more funding which would previously have been allocated to the school through the Local Authority (This is money that would have been used to provide services for the school, and so isn’t extra funding per se). Should the Academy acquire the services it acquires more cheaply, it can benefit financially from becoming an academy. As such, large academy chains are now emerging being run by companies. Although they have the freedom to employ teachers without Qualified Teacher Status and pay teachers less, it is often the case that they follow the pay structure implemented in state run schools. They do, however, often differ in terms of conditions and expectations from their staff. Therefore academies can expect teachers to work longer contractual hours and alter their sickness and maternity arrangements should they wish to do so.

‘So what if academies have the potential to offer a slightly rougher deal to teachers; it will provide my child with a better education!’ I hear you say. Not quite. Yes, the government have been quick to point to academies that have rapidly improved following their transition from state schools, but careful interpretation of the data available suggests that there is a general upward trend in under-performing schools throughout the country. Many cases have been brough to public attention whereby schools that have already begun to see rapid improvement have been forced through the conversion process irregardless and then can be held up as examples of the process working. Despite countless soundbites by the current government, few of their claims stand up to any form of serious analysis. On the whole, progress markers as well as school improvement figures suggest that state schools and academies are working at strikingly similar levels. However, removing a school from Local Authority control removes their access to:

  • specialist help for pupils with special educational needs as well as monitoring of this provision
  • support for governors
  • CPD for staff
  • legal advice and guidance to make sure schools comply with the law to keep children safe.

Crucially, the Local Authority also has the ability to liaise between schools to co-ordinate admissions. With more than half of secondary schools now working independent of this body, organising schools admissions has become increasingly unclear. Gaps are appearing in accountability, admissions monitoring, school support services and school place planning. By 2023, it is estimated that there will be a surplus of 880,000 pupils in England alone and schools are already beginning to run out of places. The current government have spent £5bn in an effort to tackle this. Unfortunately, due to the amendment to the Education Act, sponsors of new academies haven’t always sought to place these new schools in areas of need. According to the National Audit Office, there have been no applications to open mainstream primary schools in half of the districts with a high or severe forecast need of new school places by 2015-1016.

I’m not here to argue that state schools are better than academies or vice versa. There are fantastic and terrible academies much in the same that there are fantastic and terrible state schools. My objection is to the rational that all schools must be academies; that academies are the savour of our school system and must be implemented all over the country. They do not raise standards any more dramatically than state schools already do. They are no more viable. They are the result of dwindling coffers for our local councils and efforts to break the unions. This policy of conversion at all costs bears the potential to be the onset of privatising the education system and is opening the door of our children’s education to businessmen with ulterier motives. The current government have raised many questions within education; academies are not the bloody answer!

Secret Teacher

An Independent Education Standards Authority: Is David Laws Onto Something?

David Laws’ warning on Sunday of the ‘corrosive impact of self-interested political meddling in schools’ was greeted with the incredulous nonchalance of a teaching community up to its neck in change, implemented by a self-indulging egomaniac who caused chaos while being propped up by none other than David Laws himself. The irony, it seems, was entirely lost on him.

laws and gove


After perhaps the greatest period of change implemented in the shortest period of time in well over a generation, politicians are beginning to change their tune in an effort to sound more melancholic to the education sector prior to next year’s general election. With teachers up and down the country crying out for more effective leadership and support, the official opposition have impressively conjured up the perfect solution, waving their magic wand and watching all of our troubles disappear once we have uttered a few words swearing allegiance to our kids and our workload. The gimmick reeks of desperation emanating from a Shadow Secretary clutching at more straws than a masturbating scarecrow. There is a real dilemma facing us next summer when we vote: who is the least idiotic of this group of self-styled Etonian éclat of educational elite? (Uttered without the slightest inclination of sarcasm)


Between now and next May we will no doubt be inundated with gimmick and nonsense in equal measure as the all-too-similar political parties battle to secure our ‘X’ next to their names. As a general rule, most of us will read, ridicule and reposit to the deepest edges of our memory these empty promises and nonsensical ramblings, only to be recanted in the staffroom whilst bemoaning the state of this nations governance. Indeed that was the initial reaction of most this morning, ‘David Laws; warning of the whims of ‘here today,gone tomorrow’ politicians? The Lib Dem who clung to the shadow cast by Gove? Ring Alanis Morissette up there and tell her to add a verse to that song of hers!’


But what if what he said was actually, dare I say it, a good idea? Surely removing education from the hands of politicians, most of whom themselves haven’t even had experience of the state school system, can only be a positive thing. No politician should ever again be able to rewrite the curriculum to suit their own ideology and personal interests in the manner Gove did. An independent body could ensure continuity and cease (or at least ease) the constant to-and-fro nature of the education system in this country. It would also prevent goal posts being moved and politicians manipulating the system to present the image of huge improvements when in reality very little has changed. There would be a sense of accountability, a word that has been rammed down our throats in recent years while public servants and politicians wreak havoc and run.


Of course, like many of these announcements, there are more questions than answers. Would the government choose the ‘independent’ body members to match their agenda? Would the body add fuel to the debate raging between traditional and progressive teachers? Would new school builds be allowed to choose whether to belong to the Local Authority or become Free Schools automatically? Would all schools (state, free or otherwise) be compelled to work within the remit of such an authority? Would school funding be distributed evenly? Where do Ofsted fit into a new picture?


David Laws’ announcement this morning may have more to do with attacking Gove than it does any real passion for systematic change, but it nonetheless presents the idea of removing education from the cusp of political games and point scoring. I, for once, will pass on the chance to read and ridicule and call for this one to be investigated further.


Secret Teacher

The Unions are Defeating Themselves

I suppose you would have to have lived under a rock for the past few years to be unaware of Michael Gove and his mission to shake up the education system. Indeed, few Secretaries of State for education have managed to be just as controversial as this one which, if we look back at those figures who have previously held the office, is a statement in itself. As I’ve stated before, the education system here seems to be perpetually floating on a sea of change. However, this statement seems to have renewed vigour since Gove took office and began to impliment his vision.


Yet, despite the fact that the vast majority of those working within education are united in their opposition to Gove and his policies, the unions’ apathy towards each other is seriously impeding their ability to resist policy change in any meaningful way. Instead of embracing the anger and frustration of the workforce in order to channel this energy into a significant strategy to oppose the Secretary of State and show him that we will not accept such demeaning and damaging alterations to our education system, the unions are playing a political power game against each other to promote their own interests and make personal professional progressions. Gove can’t believe his luck. We can read a great deal into how seriously he takes the unions through the fact that neither he, nor David Laws, sees fit to sit down with them personally.



When the National Union of Teachers went on strike in March, they did so on their own. Their allies from the previous strike had chosen to withdraw their threat of walking out as they felt Michael Gove had made reasonable concessions towards them (that is to say he agreed to meet with them to discuss the implementation of his changes and not to discuss whether the changes should actually be implemented). Many of their members supported not only the right of NUT members to strike, but also their decision to do so. Many (although admittedly not all) of those who I spoke to had iterated their desire to take strike action which was obviously impeded by Christine Keates’ (NASUWT General Secretary) decision not to allow them. I have been informed, for example, that the North West division of NASUWT unanimously voted to take strike action only to be overruled by Keates.


Now, Christine Keates is within her rights to act in such a way and withdraw from this round of industrial action if she feels that that is what she needs to do. However, her statements which were leaked to the media the evening before the strike were not only damaging, but also very revealing. It was no surprise that ministers such as David Laws were speaking out against the action, but to hear what Keates had sent her members greatly shocked me. She spoke of an NUT campaign of aggressive accusations, intimidation and suggested that the NASUWT need not feel obliged in any way to ensure that the strike action is a success. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, strongly denied any wrongdoing and accused NASUWT of game playing by announcing a free membership campaign as the NUT announced strike action. This pathetic, point-scoring immaturity goes on and on.


The unions that were once united, representing 85% of teachers in the country, now seem bitterly divided (although they would be at pains to deny this). As a result, it undermines everything they seek to achieve. People stood on the side of the road and applauded those on strike action marching through cities. On the television, the general public supported teacher’s right to take strike action. There was a general feeling that the public may just be on the teacher’s side in this dispute. Yet, as the NUT were on strike, all other unions were in the classroom delivering lessons. This completely breaks the back of any action that was taken, and the responsibility for this should be laid squarely on those in charge of ALL unions. Until they are united, their members will be divided.

Initially, there was a bitterness within me towards those who opposed the strike action, those who were members of others unions or those who were generally unable to actively support it. I spoke with colleagues and couldn’t understand their rationale. Luckily I took a moment to reflect and remembered that we actually agree on the fundamentals of what we oppose, and more importantly, what we want for education. However so long as the unions are at each other’s throats or floating along anonymously outside the main dispute, teachers will never be taken seriously and any action taken will be redundant.


In a dream world we would have only one teaching union but realistically that will never happen; so how do we win? The two Christines need to put personal rivalries and delusions of grandeur behind them. They need to find a way to sit down with all of the unions and find a way to present a united front to oppose Michael Gove and his policies. They need to find a way to show the public that their children’s education system is under serious threat. Until they do this, the unions are defeating themselves.


Secret Teacher


The Secret Parent: How I realised that I’m part of the problem

I was recently contacted anonymously by a parent who asked if I would host a blog post for them. When this piece came through to me I felt obliged to post it. I suspect a lot of parents out there will be familiar with this scenario, as will countless teachers. The following entry has been supplied by the Secret Parent.


Let me introduce myself – I’m one of the “nice” parents. I support and trust teachers, and there are teachers in my family, one of the reasons why I know I could never do the job myself. I’m involved with the school, and do what I can to support it. So how could I possibly be part of the problem? Well, it’s like this.

A while back, our school had a big Ofsted inspection. The report said lots encouraging things, and we were very pleased with it in general. One passage in particular immediately jumped out at me when I read it – a glowing report of one specific lesson. Knowing that class as I do, my instant reaction was to laugh – it was abundantly clear that the ridiculously bright child in that class had “just happened” to be participating a lot under the inspector’s nose, and impressing him with his advanced development.

The blatant nature of this event encouraged me to share the anecdote, both for humour and because it supported my long-standing belief that flying inspections don’t tell you the full story about a school, and are open to manipulation and prejudicial distortion. My epiphany came when my amusing Ofsted anecdote bombed with a couple of friends. Um yeah, they said, everyone does that. It’s just playing the system.

I had no idea! I know teachers are under a stupid amount of pressure, and inspected to within an inch of their life, but I naively assumed that inspections wouldn’t be easily swayed just by a single child’s precocity. I certainly hadn’t expected that something like this would be any more than a desperate measure in extremis. To discover that anyone would consider it routine was more than a little unsettling.

Following that uncomfortable taste of the red pill, I started to look deeper – what else could I do? I read accounts by teachers explaining how the treadmill of inspection and evaluation was dragging them, their teaching and their whole class down. I became more aware of pressures to produce “acceptable” data and discovered the concept of “up levelling” children in order to meet arbitrary performance targets. I was horrified. And then I started to think about it.

When my eldest was starting school, I was a little worried by his first report. Once I’d got my head around the strange alphabet soup of letters and numbers which looked as if it had been deliberately encrypted to ensure that no one of school age would be able to understand it, I read that he was around average for his age, maybe slightly below. I was surprised and slightly concerned – he’d always seemed very bright. Was something going wrong? Why was he “only” average? I raised it with his teacher the next day.

Fast forward a year or two, and he was doing much better. Clearly bright and ahead of the curve, I was happy to see this improvement and made no effort to discuss it with anyone. His teacher remained unmolested, but what had objectively changed? Nothing to do with the quality of teaching – my inclination to ask difficult questions was entirely dependent on a subjective assessment of his abilities, and whether it was higher or lower than my own finger-in-the-air judgement.

Looking back from a distance, it seems blindingly obvious – his teachers are in the best position to know how he’s doing, but the lower their assessment, the more queries, hassle and even outright hostility they’re likely to get from parents. I’ve even heard parents talk about moving to another school, purely based on a teacher’s evaluation of their child’s progress. We want the best for our kids, so we obsess over every data point. In that context, who wouldn’t bump the odd child up where there’s any doubt?

The uncomfortable truth is that the overbearing and unsustainable inspection regime being inflicted on teachers and schools is giving parents what we want. We want data – we love data. All parents, supportive of teachers or not, want to know that our children are doing well. We even choose schools based on their previous exam results, as if that magically makes our children brighter. We are all part of the problem.

Let me be clear – I despise everything Gove and countless generations of education secretaries before him have done to education in this country, but I’m afraid that as parents, voraciously devouring every last scrap of data, we’ve got the regime we deserve. By questioning teachers who don’t share our belief in our children’s brilliance, choosing schools by their results, or even constantly demanding better performance, we are feeding the monster.

So I’m trying to fight back – the least I can do for all those hassled, frazzled teachers. My only question is, how? I want to be involved, and I want to help if my children aren’t meeting their apparent potential. Does it help to be pushing just as hard when they’re doing well? Do I really want to become “that pushy parent” always making demands on teachers’ already overstretched time? Do teachers want that? And if I don’t, doesn’t it continue to reward that pernicious “up levelling” approach?

Please, tell me what I can do. I’m heartbroken at what’s happened to our education system, but I don’t know how to break the cycle and make life easier for those hardy souls who continue to stick at it. What can be done so that parents can be interested and involved in their children’s education without supporting this destructive obsession with holding teachers responsible for children’s performance?

Any suggestions are very welcome.

The Demoralising Nature of Accountability

Sometimes I need to remind myself that I am a good teacher. I think of the discussions I have had with my head-teacher where she has sung my praises and spoke of my potential, the cards I have received from thankful pupils and parents for my hard work and dedication to their children, overhearing colleagues speaking positively of me in school, the feedback Ofsted gave me, the steady progress that I am making in my career, and the progression that is evident in the books.  I go through this list in my mind regularly as, all too often, the nature of accountability in school makes me seriously question my ability to teach.

I don’t wish to speak ill of my SLT. I can genuinely say that I am working under one of the most professional and competent heads in my region of the country. She is fantastic at her job and has proven time and again that she knows how to improve outcomes for pupils and help schools work to their maximum potential. The deputies and other members of the SLT are approachable, supportive and hard-working. However, the process of accountability repeatedly makes me question my ability as a practitioner.


At the beginning of this year we knew that Performance Related Pay (PRP) was going to be introduced. We were all new to the process, and so when the time came I read my targets and signed the document. One of my targets was to ensure that 96% of my pupils make at least two sub-levels progress in reading, writing and maths. I now know that to set a percentage target is against the rules and I suppose I can bring this up at the end of the year, but the fact will remain that I need the vast majority of my pupils to make this progress. In fact, it means that I can only afford to have one pupil from each set fail to make two sub-levels progress this year if I wish to meet my PRP targets.

The worrying thing is that this model is unsustainable. If every pupil made two sub-levels of progress each year, I fear we would run out of levels. Pupils do not learn in this linear fashion. The fact is that during their time in school there will be times of progressional stagnation and other times when they will flourish in the most remarkable of ways. The national expectation is that a pupil should make two full levels of progress between KS1 and KS2. As such, that is 3 sub-levels every two years. As a Year 4 teacher I am going to be working in a system where pupils are on track to meet their expectations, and yet I will be held to account in a way that suggests I am failing.

At the beginning of each half term, we hold our pupil progress meetings. We go through the same usual routine. I sit down with a member of the SLT with a list of names, numbers and letters. We skip through those numbers and letters to highlight those who haven’t made ‘sufficient’ progress. We discuss what I have done to support these pupils. We discuss what I could do to further support these pupils. We agree that these pupils are my target group.  Each session I become increasingly frustrated. The pupils, an overwhelming majority of whom have already made at least ‘good’ progress in Year 3, often need a lot of consolidation when they reach me in Year 4. Sometimes I wonder where the scores for the pupils coming to me have come from, as they have such potential to create a rod for my back. What really annoys me though is the thought that I am not already doing everything I possibly can to support these pupils. I have put in place every intervention and strategy at my disposal to try to ensure they are making progress, and they ARE making progress. Maybe it isn’t enough to change a C to a B, a B to an A, or an A into the next level, but they are working incredibly hard and making progress.

This week we sat down again and the data wasn’t great. By that I mean I am struggling to get two sub-levels from my kids this year, not that they are failing to meet national expectations. However national expectations are no longer good enough, we need to be exceeding that. I found myself deeply concerned prior to the progress meeting. I knew my data wasn’t going to be seen in the most positive light. I had a restless night or two and found myself worried and agitated. My work life suffered for this, as did my relationships with those at home. Following the meeting, I felt pretty crap mentally and physically. I have been ill, though this may merely be coincidence. The fact remains, however, that I am doing all I can. The pupils are not moving and I don’t know what more I can do. I can’t invest more time or effort than I currently do, I already work a ten hour day and then take more home with me. The simple fact is that 96% of my pupils are not going to make at least two sub-levels progress this academic year. This may mean I won’t progress on the pay scale, but I am more worried about how the SLT will view this in regards to my ability as a practitioner.

I try to remind myself that the SLT have the school’s best interests at heart, but I wonder if they realise just how demoralising and detrimental the process is. Each half term I am served a reminder that my best efforts are not good enough, and that my pupils are not making sufficient progress despite the fact that they are on track to meet their individual targets. I have recently seriously questioned my ability as a practitioner. Luckily for me, I have had the right people around me who can point me towards evidence that I am a good teacher. I go back through the list in my head: head-teacher, pupils, parents, colleagues, Ofsted, books.

Maybe I am just a little too quick to beat myself up, but I wonder how many others there are out there who feel the same. I wonder if there are teachers far better than I am who question whether the classroom is the right place for them. I wonder if I opened up in the staffroom, would I be on my own in how I feel or would this be the elephant in the room. If I am to work until 68 I have over 40 years left, and though I have no plans to leave the profession, I’m not sure I can stick this for another four decades. The system has to change. I don’t really know what the answer is, but I do know we don’t get the best out of our pupils by demoralising or devaluing their teachers.

Secret Teacher

Scrapping Observation Gradings?

On Tuesday this week I was delighted to see that Mike Cladingbowl of Ofsted engage in face-to-face discussion with educational bloggers. I was even more delighted to see that the bloggers chosen to attend included David Didau, Tom Bennett and Ross McGill who so often post insightful and useful posts onto their individual blogs. The above three teachers have blogged about the meeting and you can read those posts here:

David Didau: What I learned from my visit to Ofsted

Tom Bennett: Meet the Fockers: Ofsted talks to the bloggers

Ross McGill: An edu-blogger mandate for @ofstednews by @teachertoolkit

The reaction on Twitter from most teachers was extremely positive. Most were delighted to see Ofsted enter into genuine dialogue with the profession to address some of the deep concerns that many practitioners have in relation to the inspectorate. Since the meeting, however, one point has overshadowed all others: Lesson observation grades are over.

This was, for me at least, the most positive piece of news I’d heard in relation to education in a long time. Observations can be an incredibly productive tool in a teacher’s individual professional development. However, the system in which lesson observations are currently utilised seriously impairs the possible positive outcomes of such a strategy. Observations are currently used as an accountability measure in schools. Headteachers and SLT use lesson observations to collect evidence to be used as a measure of the school’s quality of teaching as many in this position believe this will please, or at least appease, Ofsted. However, this current practice of observing individual lessons in isolation and then subsequently providing a grade for the teaching based on what has been observed is deeply flawed for many reasons, not least the following:

1) One swallow doesn’t make a summer. Nor does one good lesson make a good teacher or a bad lesson make a bad one. Each lesson is usually incredibly different, and to judge somebody on what they do once in a one hour window (or shorter) is invariably unreliable. A judgement on a teacher’s practice should surely be more heavily weighted on pupil’s progression over time and evidence through assessments and work in the books. A one-off snippet of a teacher’s practice is not enough on which to base a solid judgement.

2) As an evaluative measure of accountability, lesson observations are supposed to offer the person an insight into the teacher’s daily practice. What they usually see is the complete opposite. If a teacher knows that they are going to be judged on what they manage to produce in a lesson, and know in advance that they are going to be observed, they sensibly choose to plan and prepare an ‘all singing and all dancing’ lesson which ticks the boxes and enables them to hear the words ‘good’ or ‘outstanding features’ and then they move on. It is rarely an accurate picture of their daily practice. At best it is a staggeringly exaggerated example of what usually happens in their classroom. This is going to be even more so if lesson observations begin to tie in with PRP, as has already been the case for me. Lesson observations therefore become a hurdle to overcome rather than a method of professional reflection and development.

3) Due to many viewing the process as a box ticking exercise and a summative means of judging a practitioner’s capabilities, the progressive potential of lesson observations is lost somewhere amongst the bureaucracy.  If a lesson grade is removed, then a teacher’s perspective shifts from accountability to development and thus the picture changes dramatically. Observations change entirely so that they are supportive and are used to identify strengths and areas for development in a way which is supportive and unobtrusive without any elements of judgement. In this way Tom Sherrington is correct when he says that this is a potential‘game-changer’.

Unfortunately there has been a great deal of uncertainty since this was announced on Tuesday. Developments have come with such haste that by the time this blog is published it may very well be proved redundant. Although Ofsted have confirmed that individual lessons shouldn’t be graded, their official documentation remains unclear and Tom Bennett has been inundated with recent examples of this occuring. There are also musings of elements of a lesson still being able to be graded and the lesson observation form used by Ofsted does have space for a judgement to be made. It is clear that Ofsted still have work to do in clarifying their situation. What we do know however is that the Ofsted machine wields such influence over school’s decision makers that whatever they do, schools are likely to follow suit. School leaders could really bring education forward and modernise the system if only they are bold enough to remove judgements from the observation process.

I really hope they do change the game, both Ofsted and school leaders, but for the time being and while confusion reigns it seems to me to be less of a ‘game-changer’ and more ‘new balls, please’.

Secret Teacher


Update: Michael Cladingbowl of Ofsted seeks to clarify their position.

Blame Britain

Earlier this week, Channel 4 held a live debate based around their programme ‘Benefits Street’ which had been shown in the weeks leading up to it. Initially, I had refused to watch the show as I saw it as propaganda; taking the ‘worst of the worst’ and portraying them as the norm. I felt uncomfortable taking the most vulnerable in our society and portraying them in such a way. Eventually though, I must admit, I uncomfortably watched a lot of the series as it aired. I felt uncomfortable, not because of the people on the show or what they were doing, but because of the reaction in newspapers and on twitter. Suddenly, these people who were down on their luck were seen as ‘scum’ and ‘degenerates’. The hatred shown was shocking. Many cried it was people such as this who were to blame for the state of Britain today. For me, the pointing of the finger epitomised a worrying trend.

Schools, on the whole, are microcosms of society. We get it all; we see it all; we deal with it all. In my primary school, we have people from all walks of life. Most, like me, feel fed up and disillusioned with those running the country. The entire nation has been in the depths of a recession for years now and, rather than find solutions to the problems, most would rather attribute blame. I’m not just talking about politicians, though this definitely applies to them and perhaps are the prime example, but also the press, news outlets, television programmes, magazines, websites and the discussions people have on a daily basis. And although everybody has an opinion, not everybody is heard.


In this country we are encouraged to throw blame around. Increasingly if something wrong happens in this country, no matter how miniscule, we must first find the person responsible and attribute blame. In short, we are increasingly looking for scapegoats and in this time of hardship for most in society, our scapegoats are the poor and helpless. There is a very common rhetoric out there that people on benefits are workshy and benefit cheats, and they are to blame for the mess we are in. Yet, if we look at facts, this simply isn’t true. Of the £209bn spent in 2012 on benefits, only £16.9bn was spent on Housing Benefit and 90% of new claimants were in work. Practically all of this money went straight into the pockets of wealthy landlords. Benefit fraud cost us around £2bn, but £3.4bn was paid out in error and £12.3bn was left unclaimed altogether by people eligible for it. If we break those numbers down, an average fraudulent claim would give the individual an additional £59. The average amount falsely claimed by an MP in the expenses scandal was £1,858. Indeed our own Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, had to repay £7,567 in the wake of the scandal. (You can be damn sure that if somebody at the bottom of society was guilty of this, they would be incarcerated. However those at the top are let off scot-free with a repayment and an apology.) Both of these scenarios involved people manipulating the system and both were morally wrong. Yet politicians are rich and powerful, and so they they emerge relatively unscathed, and those at the bottom of the heap are not, and so they are vilified and bullied.


It saddens me that we rush to kick those who are down, race to conclusions and jump on the bandwagon before first considering the full picture. This live debate showed the issue on a large scale but in schools, and indeed wider society, we deal with it on a much smaller scale daily. Blame is thrown at teachers, for example, quite often:

  • A student falls while playing; why wasn’t the yard safer?
  • An argument develops between students; why wasn’t an adult there immediately?
  • A child doesn’t bring home a letter or their homework; why didn’t you ensure they had it?
  • A child doesn’t apply themselves in lessons and obtains poor grades; why didn’t the teacher teach that child adequately?
  • A number and letter on a sheet of paper don’t match a target; why have you failed that child?
  • The pension pot is rising; why can’t teachers pay more?
  • Child costs are rising; why should teachers have lengthy holidays?

The culture of blame is all around us. If we sought to rectify problems and look at ways in which we can learn from what has happened, we would be in much stronger positions. If we first considered our impact on different scenarios, we may realise that three fingers are pointing to me when I point the finger of blame at you. If we put ourselves in other’s shoes, we may just be a little more humble and understanding.

I teach my kids that we should never judge anybody or any situation until we know the facts. If only the adults around them could do the same.

Secret Teacher

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