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Primary Education News
News Secret Teacher: are you teaching in a climate of fear?
Pressure of Ofsted inspections and a data-driven culture is destroying staff morale at Secret Teacher's school
My colleagues and I work in a climate of fear. We see people crying in their cars; not able to come in for fear of the day ahead. People crying in corridors after years of successful teaching, demoralised and mystified by bad observation feedback. People crying over their loss of confidence and joy of teaching. People sad remembering that children used to be valued individuals not just analysed as statistics. Misery at the injustice of the system we're currently victims of.
We have the pleasure of working at a fantastic primary school which just happens to be in one of the most deprived parts of the Midlands. Our children are a delight, despite having many social and financial hardships. As caring professionals we have always tried to compensate for this; spending considerable extra time and, at our own choosing, our personal money to ensure that our pupils have the best. Nobody in an office needed to tell us to do this. For a long time we have quietly been 'narrowing the gap.'
Staff spend large amounts of time liaising with outside agencies, filling in special educational needs (SEN) and welfare-related paperwork, dealing with English as an additional language (EAL) new entrants and low level language skills generally. On top of this we are expected to stretch the tops, accelerate the 'slow movers' and deliver high quality first teaching in all lessons. Our children are often complex individuals and our unrecognised and undervalued strength as a staff has been to nurture and include these complexities into a happy, cohesive school. However, these skills seem to count for little in the current climate.
Now it is all about academic progress. Isn't progress more than just academic knowledge and going through the sub-levels? Don't get me wrong, we want our children to make great steps forward academically, we have always strived for this and more often than not achieved it. But in a school like ours progress is also about building confidence, helping to mend broken hearts and ensuring that a child's emotional, physical and social security is safeguarded. How is this measured? Should teachers stop calling children by their names and instead call them 2c, 3a or 5c? Sadly, this trend is already well established. Children are not individuals, they are data.
Some people at our school think our most recent Ofsted judgement was already sealed before the inspectors even stepped foot across the door. A casualty perhaps, to ensure the delivery of a hidden quota? The 'evidence' to support a pre-determined judgement can be found by any fool. The seemingly unfettered power and ego of Ofsted and its flawed criteria for delivering judgements should be challenged by all of us. Where has common sense gone?
The big difference is that these days judgements are accompanied by dangerous consequences for individuals. Since September we come to work every day with fear in our bellies. We jump through every hoop we are given. We are taken on humiliating visits to 'outstanding' schools to meet lovely teachers, watch great lessons and look through their books. Often this leaves us puzzled, as our children's books show as good or better quality work and marking and our teaching is usually just as good, often better. Yet, whatever we do, it never seems to be enough and sadly I am starting to see some of my colleagues begin to give up, lose confidence and go on Prozac.
It is time for honesty in education. How is it that less than a year ago, many of us were judged by a range of professionals to be 'good' or 'good with outstanding elements,' yet suddenly we require improvement or even worse are inadequate. Do outstanding teachers really teach outstanding lessons, according to the new framework, day in, day out? If this is possible then it can't be physically sustainable for a long period of time. It seems to us that skilled teachers with the intelligence and experience to freely use their professional judgement are no longer required. Welcome to the rise of the factory production-line teacher.
Of course schools need to be inspected and teachers observed. Of course schools and teachers need to strive for constant progress. But a good teacher is their own worse critic, constantly striving for improvement. A good teacher welcomes constructive criticism from fellow professionals and experts. Now in schools like mine we feel like we are being hunted. The shadowy executioner waits in the corridor, rubbing his hands with glee at each contrivance of an inadequate lesson.
It is up to all of us in education to stand together and put right these wrongs; before experienced, passionate and excellent teachers are lost to our profession forever. The goalposts will move again and next time it could be you teaching in fear.
This week's Secret Teacher works at a primary school in the Midlands.