Watching Kathy Harwood receive the outstanding teaching assistant of the year trophy at the Pearson Teaching Awards on Sunday night was quite something to behold. After leaping onto the stage she smothered straight-laced presenter Dan Snow with a hug before joyfully fist-punching the air.
A video played of parent tributes, with many close to tears, as they described her work at the hospital school in Nottingham We saw Kathy hugging children despite tubes covering their bodies and helping them build, bake and garden despite grave illnesses. It was awesome, in the truest sense of the word.
A few days later I sat at my desk looking at a government document that was also awesome. Not in a good way, this time. It read: ‘Head teachers hit back at enemies of academies’. It gave accounts from head teachers who faced “hostile” opposition in schools they sought to help and in “some” cases saw their school buildings “physically assaulted”.
The insinuation was that these claimed misdemeanours in a handful of cases were the justification for the government “sweeping away bureaucracy” – by which it meant a right to public consultations and a judge independently checking decisions made about the groups taking over schools.
But it is not just the “hostile” who will lose out. The rights will be taken from everyone. Every interested parent, teacher, or child – however calm or mild-mannered. It is the ultimate example of keeping everyone in at break-time because one person misbehaved.
It is absolutely right to remove poorly performing schools from those unable to manage them. And sometimes that will be heated. But Nicky Morgan needs to be careful. Her predecessor Michael Gove was kicked out the second he allowed himself to claim that “outstanding teachers” were in favour of his reforms whereas “bad ones” didn’t get it. Pride, and prejudice, comes before a fall.
It’s also insulting to use this sort of divisive language. Imagine calling people like Kathy Harwood an ‘enemy’ if she wished to have a say in her pupils’ future. Or to use that word on Dinah McManus, primary head of the year, who led pupils and parents at her school, Holy Family Primary in Belfast, to tear down an actual wall erected to keep so-called ‘enemies’ apart. Any head complaining about opposition could gain some perspective by hearing her story.
Right now schools are facing genuinely serious challenges. As I write this editorial, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has reported that school spending is facing a real terms cut of 8 per cent. Teacher recruitment is struggling; retention is falling. Mental health services are disappearing. Government ministers do not need to create enemies: there are plenty out there, already.
It’s high time the government tackled those rather than lending their support to attacks like this which simply make things worse.