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Editor’s comment: Morgan must know that pride, and prejudice, comes before a fall



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.

 

Laura McInerney will be discussing the role of politics and education at the Politics in Education Summit on 2 November 2015.



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5 Comments

  1. Victoria Jaquiss

    Go along with this mostly except for this bit: nobody would deny that it is “absolutely right to remove poorly performing schools from those unable to manage them.” 1. Who says these heads/governors/management teams are not managing? Answer: Ofsted [say no more]. 2. The absolute chaos and disruption that the upheaval that academisation brings to a school, from removing its identity to changing uniform, staff, rules, etc etc is not worth the lives of the most badly affected year groups.

    • Aidan Pettitt

      Tend to agree with this comment: is it reasonable to judge one school dealing with challenges a failure against another that isn’t and who do we hold responsible for alleged failure? The LA (or sponsor? The governing body? The head? Senior staff? It’s a bit too easy to argue that schools with Ofsted 3 have failing heads who need to be replaced (by forced academisation or some other process).

    • tubbyisaacs

      There are schools that all of us would probably agree are performing poorly.

      That doesn’t mean we support academization of them at all. Some new senior management and governors could fix it.

  2. Nadia Edmond

    I too agreed with most of this editorial but also baulked at the sentence “It is absolutely right to remove poorly performing schools from those unable to manage them”. Dangerously and misleadingly glib in my opinion. Lets stop and think a minute about what this means. “Absolutely right”? I am always wary of absolutes, especially when used in a complex context like education where I think there are no absolutes, rightness or wrongness will always depend on wide range of factors. What about “poorly performing schools”? Do we accept unquestioningly the performance measures being used? and even if we do, do we accept uncritcally the notion that it is necessarily the result of ‘bad management’? And who are “those unable to manage them”? Is it the head? the governing body? the LEA? All three? If the LEA is also ‘managing’ well performing schools why does it make sense to remove poorly performing ones from LEA oversight?

  3. Kevin Quigley

    Let’s be clear. The statement above “it is absolutely right…” is in fact absolutely correct. This has always happened. The important part of that is “from those unable to manage them”. Maintained schools that are “failing” are generally identified and supported by the LA by either bringing in a temporary or new head, additional or different teaching staff, advisors, extra funding or other interventions. My wife worked in such a school in the early 90s. The only thing that changes now is that those schools are now whipped out from LA control straight into the arms of a sponsoring academy trust. That is the real issue.

    It concerns me a great deal that a governing body that chooses not to opt for academy conversion is branded as hostile. This is not the language I expect to hear from education leaders. As a chair of governors of a school currently looking at options, I have spent a considerable amount of (unpaid) time trying to find out about all this. Shockingly, there is, frankly, bugger all hard data or information available from the DfE about the whole conversion process. The advice available is variable, of questionable value and mostly exists behind pay walls of the various support groups that have popped up in recent years.

    So here is the thing, how can a governing body push through a status change if they have no guarantees on ongoing budget allocation, no evidence of how academisation benefits the child, no assurances on future capital investments, reliance on a private sector to sort out things when the roof falls in (as literally happpened is summer here).

    We are told to devote time to ensuring we are rigorous in our procedures, yet the procedure to change status is shockingly vague and seems to be driven by fear of hostile take over or a plethora of promises of some future educational nirvana rather than evidence. If the academisation process was subject to inspection it would definately be in the inadequate category.

    So Ms Morgan and others. Please do not brand us as hostile. We are not hostile to change that can be proven to benefit our children, our staff and our communities. Indeed, at the schools I work with we collaborate on training, assessment, technology, mentoring etc. Exactly what a MAT is supposed to do. As responsible, progressive governing bodies (because be clear, it is governing bodies that make these changes not headteachers) we are doing what we are asked to do. We investigate, we research, we assess and we make decisions based on evidence and not on political ideology (of any party).

    We are trying very hard to do our job, which is unpaid and takes up a lot of time, so how about some genuine support rather than antagonising us? You do your job, let us do ours.