Education Jun 11 2010

It could have been worse. We could have got Eric Pickles.

By Urban Head 4 comments

I am Head of an inner city secondary school. Its non selective and local authority controlled and as result it is about to become deeply unfashionable.

As the likelihood of a Conservative government grew over the last 18 months I began to take an interest in their policies. I attended talks, read policy documents and spoke to civil servants and policy wonks who were close to  Michael Gove. To be honest I didn’t bother looking into what the Lib Dems were proposing. Judging by the balance of Ministers and the coalition education policy neither did the Conservatives when they put together the coalition arrangements for education

It all started well if you were employed at DCSF HQ. During week one staff were sent home early so that every rainbow could be removed from the building by a team of maintenance workers.  It seems odd that Michael Gove wanted to get rid of the rainbow when Judy Garland sang, in the Wizard Oz that

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

Perhaps it was the thought of having to follow the Lib Dem Yellow Brick Road that upset Michael.

We have had no news on BSF which most Heads are taking as good news. Fools!  Glibb was very clear pre election when he stated that the Conservatives would only guarantee projects that had reached financial close. That was before George made clear that he would let the economy contract rather than propping it up spending money we haven’t got. Glibb also stated  that there would be a 50% cut in BSF to fund the new schools so it all looks rather gloomy for those of us still teaching in portacabins or old Victorian workhouses

Most Heads are publicly celebrating the end of the quangos. Its the usual logic of better them than us and what good did they ever do us. Both fair points but privately a lot of Heads are in despair. If all the quangos go the consultancy market will be flooded with educrats chasing even less consultancy. That means most Heads now have no hope of early retirement propped up by a ‘nice little earner’ at £500 per day.

National Strategies have survived until April 2011 although the Conservatives wanted to put  all of the staff on gardening leave from December as  their costs are so high. Apparently some poor civil servant had to explain to Ministers that most of the costs were travel so that the advisers could actually visit schools. Something I notice Michael Tin Man, Scarecrow Glibb, Lord Cowardly Lion, Winkie Tim and Dorothy don’t really do a lot of – unless of course its an Academy or Academy supporting school.

BECTA is also gone and were, from my experience, rather directionless at times but this was due to the appalling lobbying of the IT industry who must be relishing a return to the free market. No longer will Tory supporting IT companies have to worry about meeting each other to agree common standards which might reduce costs and raise standards. Instead we can just leave on line security to Facebook and software to Microsoft. It is, by the way, an absolute scandal that schools have to pay so much for MS Office when all we are really doing is ensuring that children leave schools addicted to Uncle Bill’s products

The TDA is being cut too. We are not sure how. Like BECTA they did, in my experience, spend more than they needed to on some projects. However it appears that  when we get to ‘over the rainbow’ we won’t need to ensure teachers meet common standards as the market will decide. Still with graduate unemployment being so high this will not be problem until the next boom when we will repeat the mistakes of the late 90s. So younger Heads in inner city schools can look forward, in a few years time, to running out of high quality UK trained teachers and having to resort to using untrained overseas graduates – if they are allowed in.

Lastly QCDA has gone as have the academic diplomas. The new primary national curriculum has also gone. Meanwhile iGCSEs are now in. Well its all rather irrelevant as Academies can teach anything so why have any national curriculum? Again the market will be allowed to decide with parents making choices about schools based on who and how they employ teachers, what is taught and what exams the children sit.  In a school such as mine where half the parents are illiterate in English they will find this a challenge

As for the dash to academies its all smoke and mirrors. 100s of Heads signed up for further information. Who wouldn’t? I did. Our job is to evaluate the options. A week ago we all received an email asking us to tick a box to say if we wanted to know more. A week later the Tin Man told us 1000 schools had applied to become Academies. It seems Michael thinks running the DfE is a bit like running a Book Club.

A few predictions. School meal standards will be relaxed. The usual selection of Turkey Twizzler peddlers have already started lobbying for the rules to be relaxed. OfSTED data on schools contained in the RAISE online report will be made public. The new free schools will be mainly in marginal seats and will be the biggest piece of gerrymandering since the sale of Council houses. Most of the free schools will be run by ‘for profit’ companies who have been gearing up for this for the last 2 years including viewing properties and approaching staff. The pupil premium will make no real difference after all the discretionary grants go and will dovetail nicely with areas where the new  free schools go. League tables will have a new measure of 5 real GCSEs (no equivalent BTECs) including English, Maths, Science, Humanities and a Language. Funding top ups for diplomas will go and this will lead to a massive fall in take up. BTECs will stay but their points value will be scaled down because we all know the real crime of QCDA, apart from getting rid of primary school subjects which are taught at prep schools attended by Ministers, was giving equivalence to any 100% BTEC coursework qualification with an exam based GCSE. The BECTA building will become home to the first free school sponsored and run by Tesco

Still it could have been worse. We could have got Eric Pickles

4 Responses to “It could have been worse. We could have got Eric Pickles.”

  1. Sally says:

    The gallows humour made me laugh in my despair. For that, thanks.

    In my little Primary today we had an emergency finance meeting. Our LA has no money in its property maintenance budget. Not even for emergencies like leaking oil tanks and holes in the roof. So we are having to put off our own planned capital spending so we can keep a reserve for the urgent work that the LA used to do. Our LA property adviser says he has never known a situation like it. But he's very young. Too young to remember the last Tory government when every school had a set of buckets to collect the drips when it rained.

  2. @anpa2001 says:

    Excellent article from the coal face. I run a nursery in a similarly deprived area with low literacy levels. You are right, our parents cannot make the choices that are supposedly on offer. They will be denied the opportunity (sic) to set up schools because they don't have the ability. Pupil premium is very likely to come at the expense of many of the already existing schemes to support deprived pupils. All these policies will do is widen the gap. Appalling.

  3. Laura says:

    @anpa2001 – good point on pupil premium. Besides, schools are terrible for using extra money for things completely inconsequential to those in need and instead use the money to pander to the more engaged parents rather than thinking about the ones excluded from the conversation.

    The predictions are scary but — and I'm truly sad to say this — very likely. The idea of 'real GCSEs' makes my heart sink. The easier way to solve the BTEC problem would be to have full external moderation for each unit rather than a sampling system which is easy to fudge. The Diploma coursework modules have done this by having controlled assessments all of which are sent to the exam board for moderation. It works.

  4. Gel says:

    What are the predictions for children with special educational needs? The head from my children's school once told me that she had concerns about the limited progress of below average and average non SEN pupils as a result of the over emphasis on the allocation of resources to SEN pupils in the class. Despite this non inclusive ethos from the head the school was given 'Outstanding' from Ofsted in “How effective are teaching and learning in meeting the full range of learners’ needs”. I feel it is a bleak future for SEN.

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