Conservative conference: Nicky Morgan union clash over ‘negative picture’ of teaching

Nicky Morgan has clashed with trade unionists at the Conservative Party conference as she accused them of painting a “negative picture” of teaching.

During a heated debate at a fringe event organised by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the education secretary, pictured above right, said she was “outraged” by comments made by NUT general secretary Christine Blower, above left, about the impact early assessments such as baseline tests and the phonics check had on children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ms Blower, who was on the panel with Ms Morgan, University of Manchester Professor Neil Humphrey and Schools Week editor Laura McInerney, warned that children living in poverty arrived at school with “less advantage” than those who are not, and said too much testing at an early stage could further “constrain their primary experience”.

Ms Blower said: “And if what that means is that we then constrain their primary experience even further by chasing the goal of getting the literacy levels, then that, frankly, is a huge problem.”

Ms Morgan told the event she had “immense respect” for people who taught on the front line, but said she did not “recognise the picture” of teaching painted by Ms Blower, claiming the schools she visited were “full of wonderful classes with inspiring teachers”.

She added: “I came to this fringe meeting thinking I would be perfectly calm, but I’m now outraged by what I’m hearing.

“To sit there and say that just because a child’s from a disadvantaged background, it’s not fair to test them, what the hell is this about?”

She continued: “Frankly Chris, if you’re going to paint a negative picture of schools and teaching up and down the country, I think you’re letting your members down. I think you and Mary (Bousted, general secretary of the ATL) and other unions have got some fantastic teachers.

Ms Morgan said high expectations needed to be set “for all children in the country”, including those who come from “the most disadvantaged backgrounds”, adding that it was her duty as education secretary and the duty of “people working in schools” to help those children “do really well”.

She concluded: “I’d rather do it with the support of the teaching unions, but if I don’t have that support I will do it anyway.”

Ms Blower later said she agreed there were many fantastic teachers but that evidence from academic research suggested schools narrowed their focus on “teaching to the test” which reduced the curriculum offer in some places.

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  1. Janet Downs

    Baseline tests have been tried before – they were introduced in 1997 and abandoned in 2002 because they didn’t support children’s development. Neither will these proposed tests.
    They are being introduced, it is claimed, to provide a ‘baseline’ from which to measure future progress. This reveals their true purpose – it will provide ‘evidence’ by which to judge schools. The well-regarded Early Years Foundation Stage Profile is already embedded but this will be replaced by a flawed and narrow test which diverts attention from the social and emotional needs of children starting school.
    Morgan wants to track children from the start of their school life and beyond via tax data. There are privacy issues here which have not yet been discussed. Parents should be concerned about the amount of data being collected about their children under the guise of educational testing most of which has no educational benefit.

  2. David Gilchrist

    Well done Christine Blower! Morgan’s reaction is indicative of the gap between reality and Tory rhetoric on education. Of course schools have “wonderful classes with inspiring teachers”. All very nicey, nicey, when the Education Secretary comes visiting and of course we only visit academies or free schools nowadays don’t we?
    Teachers work very hard indeed to overcome the effects of Tory education policy and provide meaningful experiences for our students. We are held back in doing so by the testing regime and the ideological baggage that goes with it, that children all progress in a linear fashion and regardless of the social circumstances in which they live. Morgan knows nothing about education or the real lives of our students.
    At least we have in Corbyn a Labour leader who is looking the right way over education. Perhaps we can start to undo some of the damage done and move towards a decent education system again. Not that we can wait five years for a new election. Christine et al need to use the boost provided by Corbyn to start making real traction now.