Regardless of which party I voted for in the last election I was really excited about the positive changes that could come from the coalition government. How wrong could I be?!? Along came Michael Gove.
I didn’t pay much notice to educational policy until it started to impact my daily practice in the classroom. I have achieved consistently ‘good’ grades in lesson observations, and have always aspired to ‘outstanding’. Like a ‘good’ teacher, I modify my classroom practice to make it better, by trying to be dynamic, making my lessons exciting, bringing real world examples into the classroom, finding a ‘hook’ to get pupils interested in the subject etc etc.
The Ofsted framework changed and so, the path to ‘outstanding’ changed. No longer does ‘Satisfactory’ mean satisfactory and ‘Good’ mean good. Now ‘Satisfactory’ is a fail. ‘Good’ is satisfactory and ‘Outstanding’ is impossible. The focus (at least in my school) is on pupil progress and marking. I am at a loss to understand how the Ofsted inspector, who came into the final 10 minutes of my lesson, could accurately grade it, but I achieved another ‘Good’. Does this mean that under the old framework my lesson would have been ‘Outstanding’? I don’t know. I am left feeling that I will never achieve that elusive ‘Outstanding’ grading and feel rather demoralised. Too much meddling makes for a messy system.
And so, I come to Michael Gove; Minister of Meddling.
It started off so well. As Subject Leader for ICT, I battled to provide stretch and challenge in the classroom. I have a Computing degree (a 2:1, so good enough to teach according to Gove) and I wanted to teach more elements of computer science to those who wanted to learn. Programming had crept into the curriculum using Scratch, but teaching PowerPoint at Key Stage 4 was not stretching anyone.
I thought Gove’s comment that ICT was “demotivating and dull” was a little harsh and it did result in a little ridicule in the staff room, but ultimately, changing the programme of study was a good idea, although his initial timescales were ridiculous.
Since then many of his comments have also been ridiculous. The recent speech he gave criticising the use of Mr Men in History worries me the most. His assumption that making the curriculum relevant to pupils is wrong, turns everything I have ever learnt about teaching or that I have practiced in the classroom, on its head.
I wonder how much time Gove has spent in the company of children. Spending only a few hours in the classroom (without TV cameras watching him) would demonstrate how important a ‘hook’ is. Why not use Twilight to demonstrate a concept in English? It might not be George Eliot, but it is something that pupils can relate to. Finding something that pupils are interested in and using it to demonstrate or consolidate a topic is an excellent way for pupils to remember what they have been taught and it can hardly be described as “infantilisation”. Endless facts and figures on their own are unlikely to gain good exam results. But, a decrease in exam success would allow Gove to say that his curriculum is more rigorous and therefore he would be perceived to be successful.
I read today that Gove had stated that too many teachers were treating “young people on the verge of university study as though they have the attention span of infants,” and that worksheets, extracts and mind maps had replaced whole books, sources and conversation in history and other subject lessons.
Where is his evidence for this? In my experience and I am sure, in the experience of most teachers, worksheets are used infrequently and extracts and mind maps are used to promote conversation and discussion. Books are expensive, and as his government has wasted millions on academies, school budgets are tight. (Another nonsensical idea from Meddling Mike)
I full heartedly support @ellaswift’s campaign to get Gove into the classroom. I very much doubt that he would do it, but I have to ask the questions:
- Why is education policy being dictated by someone who has no knowledge of what happens in the classroom and who continually ignores the advice of those who do?
- Why are those who question him accused of “making excuses for failure”?
- How does he equate making the curriculum relevant to students to creating “a culture of low expectations”?
As for the coalition I was so excited about, what input has David Laws had in educational policy? In 2010 he stated that “Ministers currently have far too many powers when it comes to the curriculum, qualifications and the management of schools. Indeed, the current education bill (the 12th in as many years) awards the secretary of state even more power to meddle, interfere and prescribe.” I would be interested to know if he is fighting ‘our’ corner behind the scenes or being railroaded by Meddling Mike.