“Not all teachers and students deserve prizes but they do deserve self-esteem, opportunity and fulfilment and moreover fair treatment.
A prerequisite of this is a properly funded education system which genuinely seeks to meet need and does not penalise and denigrate students simply for starting the educational process with very little, and denigrating and punishing staff for having to work harder and more effectively in these contexts than in any other.”
A recent UK report, Supporting Outstanding Pupil Progress In Schools In An Area Of Social and Economic Deprivation, looked at a schools in disadvantaged areas to analyse what behaviours make an “outstanding” teacher, contributing to outstanding student progress. The report speaks to questions asked by and of educators worldwide, and is as pertinent to our own situation in New Zealand as it is in England.
The report’s findings will not surprise most teachers, citing social and economic deprivation as a major factors in students’ chances of success. Neither will it surprise many (any?) teachers that they are often expected to act as surrogate parents for those without support and stability in their home lives.
Professor Bridget Cooper, Director of the Centre for Pedagogy at the University of Sunderland, UK, who led the report, says: “It is obvious from this report that schools in socially and economically deprived areas need more generous and more appropriate funding. Those in power need to understand and take into account the effort teachers in those schools have to make to counteract the multiplicity of needs of their students for their entire school lives.”
“It is completely unfair and irrelevant to compare these schools, teachers and children throughout their academic life unfavourably with schools which do not have to meet such great need as the teachers have work even harder.”
The Danger of an Overbearing Review Office
The report also looks at the role of OFSTED, which is the UK equivalent of ERO, and raises concerns that reviews are often barriers to good teaching practice, being so very prescriptive that teachers find it hard to harness their own creativity and create engaging learning for students.
Whilst in Aotearoa differentiation and personalised teaching is still, quite rightly, seen as good pedagogy even by the review office, the report found in England OFSTED insisted on “having objectives at the start of the lesson which does not always work with each student”. It went on to say that “[s]everal staff said that always having the objectives at the start of the lesson goes against ideas of discovery and student-centred learning (both secondary and primary) and can make lessons dull and mechanical.”
Far from allowing teachers to do what they know works or to experiment with new resources and pedagogy in order to engage students and inspire them, “teachers are constrained by the structure of the school day and the push for conformity is hindering progress in “deprived” schools.”
Of course, things are made even worse when you consider that in England teachers are subject to performance pay. This means that there is pressure to jump through whatever hoops OFSTED deems important, as your wages depend on it. It doesn’t mean teaching better or responding to students’ needs more appropriately, though.
And there’s the rub.
“We are concerned about the lack of democracy in these processes.”
“We are concerned that the changes are for political purpose rather than for sound educational reasons based on evidence.”
“We are concerned for the future of education in New Zealand.”
Below is a message sent home from Fergusson Intermediate to parents, explaining the very real concerns regarding IES (Investing in Educational Success). It explains the concerns of many, and is well worth reading and sharing with your teachers, BOTs and parents so they, too, can consider the consequences of the proposals being mooted.
At the last Board meeting the Board discussed and passed the following resolution.
That the Board
These concerns arise as the Government forges ahead with its hastily announced initiative to spend $359m on education with ‘Investing in Educational Success’ (IES). None of this $359 million to be spent over the next four years around the new roles will go into new resources for schools such as extra teachers or teacher aides improving teacher pupil ratios or even into general programmes of quality professional development for existing teachers and principals where it could have done great good. Instead the money will mainly go towards salaries and allowances for those teachers and principals who are willing to be selected for, and prepared for, the new super roles and then willing to take them up, creating a new level of public servants within education.
We are concerned that this money is not being appropriately spent on areas where there is evidence it would have an impact.
As we have seen of this Government, the way these changes are sold to us does not necessarily relate to the actual outcomes. They would have us believe that appointing Executive Principals to oversee 10 schools (while still doing their job in their own school) and Expert Teachers to go into other schools 2 – 3 days a week (while still doing their job in their own school) will improve student achievement. There is no evidence that this will work and we fail to see how removing a Principal from the running of their own school, or a teacher from the classroom for 2 days every week, will have any benefit for the students of that school and very possibly could be detrimental.
We are concerned about the effect on our students.
It appears that these Principals and Teachers will be appointed based mainly on their National Standards results – the unproven, unreliable and flawed system that this Government has introduced to measure one school against another.
We are concerned about the weight given to these unreliable measures.
Boards of Trustees, and those they represent – our community, have not been consulted, yet the management structure and the way in which staff are employed will change significantly under this initiative. We will lose the ability to staff our school as we believe best meets our needs. We, because of our success, would be penalised by losing our good teachers and management 2 – 3 days a week with no compensation. We, as the community, are the consumers of this service, by far the biggest sector within education, with the good of our children, and tomorrow’s children, at heart, yet we have had the least input.
We are concerned that there is no ‘community’ voice, and that schools will lose their autonomy and individual character.
In addition to the IES changes the Minister has stated ‘The most successful funding systems narrowed the gap between high-achieving rich kids and under-achieving poor kids by strongly incentivising pupil progress (NZ Herald, March 16, 2014). We are concerned that changes to how schools are funded won’t be around the need of the school or its students but rather the academic results. This would see high decile schools most able to meet achievement targets and therefore meet ‘incentives’ for funding, while lower decile schools with poorer resources, less able to achieve targets, penalised – effectively the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
We are concerned that this competitive model will create greater inequity in education.
As part of the ACT/National Confidence and Supply agreement (the tea cup meeting), the Government has initiated a review of the Education Act next year, already stipulating what will and will not be reviewed. They will not allow ‘matters that are currently the subject of Government initiatives, National Standards or new school types (Charter Schools) to be reviewed. However, it will review governance and management matters with a view to creating ‘increased regulatory flexibility’.
We are concerned that they will only review what they want to change – the Governance and Management model that is the key to Tomorrow’s Schoolsand that this could spell the end of a community voice in education. We are concerned that there is no opportunity to review the most recent and drastic changes to our education system.
We are concerned about the lack of democracy in these processes.
We are concerned that the changes are for political purpose rather than for sound educational reasons based on evidence.
We are concerned for the future of education in New Zealand.
We ask that you make yourself aware of the changes afoot. Think about not only today’s students, but those in 10 and 20 years time – your grandchildren, and their ability to access a quality education. Will the world that they live in give equal education opportunities to those less fortunate? Will we as parents and a community have a say? Will our children be on a treadmill from preschool onwards? Will we be growing great citizens?”
I read the letter below with a heavy heart. Mrs Utting was recently widowed when her husband, a teacher aged 37, died of stress-induced heart attack, and here she writes to Mr Gove, your English counterpart.
Mr Utting was a teacher in England, but could just as easily have been in many other countries, including New Zealand, as the same reforms and policies are pushed on teachers worldwide.
I urge you to change tack. The levels of stress and feelings of mistrust regarding government policy are reaching epidemic proportions.
Mrs Utting says:
I should be proud that my husband was a teacher. But right at this moment, I’m not. I’m sorry that he was. Because if he had a different job, he might still be with us.
Teachers love their students and care deeply about doing our jobs well – we want support, not workplace bullying.
29th April 2014
Dear Mr Gove,
I am writing to inform you of the death of Mr Gareth Utting, a teacher of English at a secondary school in Shropshire.
Gareth died at the age of 37 of a massive heart attack. There were a few contributory factors to his death, but looming large was the word ‘stress’. He leaves me a widow with three children, aged fourteen, four and one.
This is not the angry rant of a bereaved person. I haven’t got anywhere near angry yet. I am still reeling with shock and wondering if there was anything I could have done to prevent my husband’s death. When these thoughts beset me, I keep coming back to the fact that I should have done more to help him get out of teaching. And how can that be right, to think that? I love teaching. In the few weeks since Gareth died, I have heard and read so many tributes from his students that attest to the positive impact that a good teacher can make. I should be proud that my husband was a teacher. But right at this moment, I’m not. I’m sorry that he was. Because if he had a different job, he might still be with us.
I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the changes that have hit teachers in the last few years. I qualified as a teacher myself but have been at home raising our young children, so have not been directly involved. But I can tell you what I see around me.
Teachers like Gareth have changed.
Their hopes for the young people in their care have not changed. Neither has their willingness to go the extra mile to help those young people to succeed. But the work-load that they struggle under and the pressures that are applied to them from above have greatly increased. If this led to better education for our children, then I would be supporting these changes. But I don’t see better education. I see good teachers breaking under the load. I see good teachers embittered and weary. I see good teachers leaving the profession. I see good teachers never even entering the profession, for fear of what lies ahead. I see pupils indoctrinated with achievement targets, who are afraid to veer from the curriculum in case it affects their next assessment; pupils for whom ‘knowledge’ is defined by a pass mark and their position within a cohort.
Within this atmosphere, my husband struggled to help his pupils in every way he could. The comments that they have left on social media reflect a teacher-pupil relationship that was honest, helpful and mutually respectful. He taught them English, and they did well at it. But he also taught them about life, and love, and self-esteem. But he did this in spite of, not because of, the current state of the education system.
Gareth is at peace now. But I have some difficult choices to make.
Do I return to a profession that takes so high a toll? When my four-year-old son says he wants to be a teacher, do I smile or try to talk him out of it? When I see Gareth’s colleagues, do I congratulate them for being so amazing, or encourage them to explore other career options?
Mr Gove, I don’t envy you your job. I don’t know the best way to achieve a high standard of education for all pupils, everywhere. But I do know this: People don’t become teachers to be slackers, for the pension or for the name badge.
Here’s an interesting theory of mine that I was discussing recently with my husband. If you took away all external inspection and supervision, all targets and reviews, if teachers were left to themselves to teach what they wanted to teach, the way they wanted to teach it, what do you think would happen?
This is what I think: Every teacher that I know cares deeply about their subject and their students. They would teach marvellously. They would share knowledge and encourage each other. They would deal with problems (including less-than-perfect pupils and teachers) with the professionalism that they possess in spades.
Of course we cannot remove all monitoring of teachers and schools. But it seems to me that you have forgotten this basic fact: Teachers love to teach, and they want to do it well.
I don’t know what I want to ask of you. All I know is that the situation as it stands is wrong. On behalf of all the teachers and pupils out there, I beg you to go back to the drawing-board. Learn from your mistakes. Gain knowledge.
And please don’t send me your condolences.