27 Apr '13

News Secret Teacher: Michael Gove's guide to consistent inconsistency

The education secretary's messages are often at odds with the guidelines and standards that teachers must work by

If there's one thing teachers appreciate it's consistency. We like to know what's expected of us; what we're being judged by, what we can expect from all parties, students included. It makes up happy because we like to plan ahead. In fact, planning is part of our way of life. We appreciate it.

Then there's Mr Gove. He is an aberration in the education system's consistency. Why? Because he is consistently inconsistent. This is one of the myriad of reasons he makes us unhappy.

Let's look at the evidence. "The quality of teachers has a greater influence on children's achievement than any other aspect of their education." Mr Gove said that, he said exactly that in those words. But then he encourages free schools and academies to employ unqualified teachers. How does this great piece of thinking dovetail? It doesn't, Mr Gove. Consider this rehashed version, my version:

"The quality of pilots has a greater influence on aeroplane safety than any other aspect of their flight." Would you fly in a plane with an unqualified, not fully trained pilot? Thought not. I do accept one case is a risk to education and the other a risk to life and limb but I'm sure you get the point. If Gove means what he says, why on earth employ unqualified teachers? It's a nonsense.

Next up: the Teachers' Standards. Very nice, very proper. Who would argue against them? Not me, Michael. But you see, there's that problem of inconsistency again. Firstly, how do the unqualified teachers sit with these? Must they meet them without adequate training? It took me four years to train.

Secondly, let me run that quote by you again: "The quality of teachers has a greater influence on children's achievement than any other aspect of their education." Does Ofsted check on this? Not always. You see Michael, the great British public is under the impression that their children are being taught by teachers; qualified ones too, I'm guessing. But that's another inconsistency you aren't addressing. A vast number of foundation subject lessons in primary schools, except PE, are delivered by teaching assistants. That was the price of PPA (planning, preparation and assessment time) wasn't it Michael?

Schools can't afford supply cover or to have a non-class based group of teachers (that could "float" around school) can they? So to provide PPA and leadership time, the teaching assistants and cover supervisors move in and teach RE, geography, history, art, DT and so on. But here's the rub: when Ofsted calls, these teaching assistants are replaced by the teachers. Ofsted doesn't ask the pupils: "Who usually takes you for geography then?" They don't observe the teaching assistants do they? And those lovely teacher standards aren't applied to the teaching assistants are they?

Do parents realise this when they read about your concern for education Michael? No. That's because most parents are completely unaware that this even happens. Ask a parent of a six year-old this question: "Are you happy that your child is regularly taught by an unqualified teacher or teaching assistant?" and see what response you get. Don't get me wrong, some of these teaching assistants deliver excellent lessons. They do a great job. But they're not qualified, or judged, or paid like teachers. It's wrong.

How about the new national curriculum? Any inconsistency there? Of course there is. You say it is necessary, vital, an essential reform. We must reintroduce learning by rote, memorising facts. Children must be tested on their memory capacity; not their skill level in interpretation or creation. But Ofsted is looking for teaching that uses assessment for learning; constant reaction to a fluid situation, imaginative planning and skilled, differentiated delivery. Even the Teachers' Standards call for this.

And the greatest inconsistency of all: you say the new national curriculum is "essential" but tell your pet free schools and academies they can opt out of it. Truth is, you know the new curriculum will restrict schools and teachers so offer them the carrot of escape via academy or free school status.

You're consistently inconsistent Michael. Some call it hypocrisy. And we teachers don't like it.

Today's Secret Teacher works in a primary school in the north of England.

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