With elections not too far away now, and important issues and pledges being made thick and fast in a mad rush to persuade voters, it is little surprise to see an education pledge appearing from the Tories, who in many respects are looking to move beyond just talking about Europe and immigration.
Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged that he will create an elite squad of high quality teachers in what he calls a National Teaching Service to go into what are described as ‘failing schools’, of which there are estimated to be around 500. These people will also be given the power to remove the schools’ leadership if it is deemed necessary. In order to do this, Mr Cameron says that he will be consulting a team of of ‘experts’ to help develop such a package.
It is the first initiative Cameron has undertaken with the new education secretary, Nicky Morgan, drafted into the cabinet to replace the unpopular Michael Gove. Morgan said that it had become necessary to “go further” and target schools where she said “failure has become ingrained”. She added: “We will not tolerate failure, and where we find it we will use tried and trusted interventions to turn things around in the interests of young people everywhere.”
The regional commissioners were largely developed by Gove as he realised the rapid extension of city academies meant the department for education was directly responsible for the oversight of thousands of academy and free schools in what was rapidly becoming an act of unwieldy centralisation.
Under the new model, the commissioners will be able to order immediate personnel changes to governing bodies, introduce standard punishment tariffs for bad behaviour, and bring in behaviour experts to implement new policies on classroom discipline, school uniform standards and homework. They would also have powers to make “immediate personnel changes to the governing body to improve the calibre of leadership and ensure they have the skills they need to improve”. Ofsted has largely been left to rate schools, but there was no systematic means of improving schools’ performance. It is not yet clear how the new commissioners would work with the under-fire Ofsted under the Conservative plans.
Last week it emerged that Gove had discussed how to remove Sir Michael Wilshaw as chief inspector of schools, but he responded on Friday, vowing to carry on in his position and claiming that he was a victim of “smear campaigns”.
The former education secretary David Blunkett, in a report in May to the current shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, had proposed a new, more democratic, middle-tier body to oversee improvement of local schools led by a new local Directors of School Standards. The proposal was largely modelled on the successful London Challenge responsible for improving school standards in the capital. Hunt, just back from studying the widely praised Singapore education system, added:“Ministers are now trying to play catch-up but the public will see that it is this government’s damaging schools policy that has failed pupils.”
So basically, Cameron’s idea is a Salvation Army of Teaching. Who are these so-called high quality teachers and what makes them stand out? If our education system is supposed to be of high quality, shouldn’t all of our teachers be qualified to be in this particular group? How is it going to feel if you have been consistently praised as an outstanding teacher for years on end, only to not even be considered for such a position? Am I the only one who thinks this has the potential for damaging the already battered and bruised morale of most of the teaching profession? If that happens, then there will be more and more people trying to leave the profession instead of joining it. We have a shortage enough, why make the situation worse? Ofsted are already under fire, so do we really want another mini Ofsted as well? I remain to be convinced of 1) how this is going to work and 2) where it fits into an already awkward system.