Spiralling into the depths of despair is all too easy when daylight is in short supply, the weather is wet, temperatures are freezing and your energy levels are plummeting at the same time as your workload is rising. It’s that time of the year when tempers get increasingly frayed as the season of peace, hope and joy draws close; people end up feeling ill and permanent exclusions hit a peak.
None of this is helped by the contrary and contradictory practices circulating around the World of Education. Take for example the vexed issue of teacher supply. At a time it’s generally recognised that we are going to have significant shortages, many of us think a crisis is a better description, we learn this week that Cambridge & Oxford University may close their History PGCE courses only to find out that they won’t. Universities will be forced to stop recruiting onto their PGCE courses at around the 75% or 95% or whatever, unsurprisingly PE is the first of the PGCE programmes to be stopped nationally, to ensure more teachers are trained in schools. Artificial limits at a time of a pending recruitment crisis seem madness. I wonder how long before universities just throw their arms up in the air and close all their PGCE courses as they can’t cope with the uncertainty. A bit of extra teacher supply in the system might be quite a good thing for pupils as schools will have a choice of candidates to fill any vacancy; an increasing rarity in some subjects and parts of the country.
Modern foreign languages don’t escape the confusion. Primary schools are required to teach a modern foreign language though, in what many people think of as an English speaking World, they can choose which one; serendipity will play a larger part than strategy. Cue eleven years old turning up at their secondary school some with a smattering of Mandarin Chinese, others French, German or Spanish plus some with no language experience or poor literacy only for secondary schools to be forced to ignore the lot and start again. The EBacc will attempt to make languages a common experience for 14-16 years old students, been here before, only for a lack of teachers and too many unwilling teenagers to make the experience painful for teachers and pupils alike. Post-16 Modern Foreign Language numbers are too low and there is nothing happening to change this. No other high performing country seems to only think about imposing a curriculum from 14-16 which academies can ignore anyway.. Where have all the students who had compulsory MFL up to 2004 gone? They will be in their late 20s and certainly haven’t gone into teaching in any large numbers.
In terms of accountability and autonomy, academies are not required to follow the National Curriculum including the EBacc yet will have key performance indicators published on the EBacc ascribed to their school. As John Y said to me this week it is like being prosecuted for a law that doesn’t apply to you. Are we autonomous or not? Ofsted have been shown to be unable to recognise a school on the cusp of anything, admitted that judgements favour affluent schools with able pupils (who are then designated system leaders) and with the DfE and Regional Schools Commissioners all wanting to look hard on standards, whilst doing little to improve them, workload and unjust damning judgements are forcing people, we can ill afford to lose, out of the profession. The increasingly important issue of Safeguarding against abuse and extremism is checked spasmodically and years apart instead of being an ongoing annual audit process.
On funding, don’t go there. Schools were supposed to be protected in cash terms so I had been working on an 8-10% real terms reduction only to find the Education Support Grant, about £140,000 for our Trust’s academies, wasn’t included in their promise. Fairer funding will probably come to our rescue but as we go up I’m conscious another school will take an even bigger hit. It’s always darkest before dawn.
Right, having cheered everyone up I’m off to prepare for the season of goodwill to all mankind, happy Advent.
#SaturdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week. The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short. It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger. The intention is for it to be read in two minutes as you’re relaxing or busy running around on you day off.