Sunday, February 02, 2014

Gove, leave those teachers alone

The latest piece of nonsense emanating from a former Government adviser dictates that school days could be extended to nine hours, and holidays cut drastically under a series of new measures being proposed for consideration by Downing Street.

Children would go to school from 9am until 6pm, instead of the current hours of 8.30am to 3.10pm, and holidays would be slashed from 13 weeks to seven.

These radical plans are being drawn up by David Cameron's former policy chief Paul Kirby. He believes the measure would solve a wide range of issues, as he puts it, 'transforming the lives of most households in the UK within two years'.

He believes the extended days could reduce youth crime, boost education standards and prepare children for the world of work by getting them used to full days.

Kirby clearly understands nothing about modern schooling, but being a policy adviser, he probably cares less. Nevertheless, this doesn't prevent him from promulgating policies of manifest lunacy, because of course, he will not have to be the person responsible for implementing them!

What does he possibly think such moves are going to achieve, and how does he think they are going to be realised?

Kirby is a typical bean counter, the sort of man whom Oscar Wilde described as "...knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing..."

Kirby, creator of the Audit Commission’s comprehensive performance assessment, was named as David Cameron’s new head of policy development in 2011, and led the management of departmental performance.
A consultant with KPMG, he was seconded to Conservative central office before the election where he came to be trusted by key members of the shadow Treasury team.
On his return to consultancy, he co-authored the radical report ...Payment for Success...", which called for payment by results to be “implemented aggressively, consistently and systematically” to every part of the public sector “without exception” to make the necessary financial savings.
 “People should be pretty clear that things could get even tougher over the life cycle of the Parliament,” he said. “This ruthless focus on outcomes is going to become the hallmark of public policy.”
Mr Kirby, has also worked in the Cabinet Office and for the BBC as well as the Audit Commission, where he was director of inspection and head of local government.
A beneficiary of the highly corrupting Whitehall 'revolving door' principle, whereby senior figures from the Big Four spend a period in Government, before returning to their partnerships, Kirby is a classic example – he was a senior partner at KPMG, then in February 2011 was appointed as David Cameron’s head of policy development. Until he went back to KPMG last January.
Of the apparently “respected” civil servant head of the No.10 policy unit, it was said when he was leaving his post: “The Prime minister thinks Paul did an excellent job recruiting and leading an excellent team.” 

Well, I don't know about you, but I would have thought this was fairly hollow praise indeed. Interestingly however, Kirby was not replaced by another Civil Servant, instead this crucial role reverted back to a political appointment. 

The highly influential Guido Fawkes blog reports; 

“...I am told it was Kirby’s decision to leave as he felt his main work had been done and the mid-term review was a natural point to leave... That’s not what Guido is hearing though..." 

"...A government source whispers that there was actually multiple reasons for the departure. Including that he was “completely useless”  had“ no political nous” and a “totally bureaucratic mindset.” More embarrassingly, details are emerging of a tantrum resulting in Kirby returning to KPMG:.."

“...He completely humiliated himself by demanding a promotion to permanent secretary. When he was told he had no chance, he opted to flounce out of government altogether rather than take a job in another department.”

Well, with no sense of modesty or even shame, Kirby now feels free to pontificate on education policy. In his own recent blog he utters the following gems!

"...What about this for a simple manifesto promise – “From September 2016, all state funded schools will, by law, provide 45 hours of education per week for 45 weeks of the year”. 

"...This increase by two-thirds in the time that kids spend at school is designed to allow all parents to work full-time without the need for additional childcare. It gives teachers the same sort of working week and annual holidays as other hard working professionals. It’s disruptive enough to be a real game changer in education, in employment and the economy more generally..." 

What this modern day Gradgrind -  (the notorious headmaster in Charles Dicken's novel Hard Times who is dedicated to the pursuit of profitable enterprise. His name is now used generically to refer to someone who is hard and only concerned with cold facts and numbers) - fails to understand is that teachers are already putting in very long days already, and their commitment to their job does not finish at 3.20pm, and most of them are at their desks at 7.30am in the morning.

My son and daughter are both teachers, and I know that they both start even earlier and are rarely away from their schools before 6.00pm in the evening, and this does not include the days when they have management meetings, or parent-teacher evenings to provide.

Mr Gradgrind Kirby apparently does not realise that future lessons have to be planned; teaching collateral identified and reproduced (because so many schools do not have enough text books for each child to have one of their own); Powerpoint presentations to be designed, pupils' work to be marked and a plethora of bureaucratic form filling to be completed.

When does this silly man think this work will get done, if not after the school day? You will note that he reverts to the traditional right-wing model of seeking to generate division between working groups by stimulating envy of the putative disparity in working hours enjoyed by teachers. Listen, bean counter, if you had to pay teachers by the hours that they really put in each day, the country couldn't afford it!

Not in the least embarrassed by his opening nonsenses, Gradgrind Kirby then starts to insult the very teachers we need to rely on to keep our schools operating. He states;

"...We will come to the education arguments (and the teacher fury) in a moment. But the role schools play in our national and family life is far too important to leave to teachers. And it’s certainly too important to leave to their knee-jerk, as opposed to thoughtful, responses..."

This is clearly not a very nice, nor a very informed man.

His blog piece is stuffed full, as you would expect from an accountant, with lots of statistics and figures. He has accountants' explanations for everything, coupled with statistics that make one's eyes glaze over with incomprehension. But these are figures for statistics' sake, they do take into consideration the realities and the practicalities of every-day teaching in the state sector.

He equates teachers with the role of child-minders. He states; !... Full-time school should provide all the free childcare that most people could want..."

When he isn't turning teachers into free nannies, he is offering them another role as prison warders. He states; "... 30% of all youth offending happens between 3 and 6pm each day, in the period between school finishing and parents getting home. Full time school would eliminate this period, the peak period of youth offending..." 
It is absolutely pointless seeking to make viable comparisons with teaching statistics from other countries. Frankly, it is pointless trying to make comparisons between the average state school and the average fee-paying or independent school.

The reality is that for children to do well at school and to take full advantage of the facilities that are on offer, they have to get to school in a fit state to engage with the process.

Both my son and daughter tell us, their parents, about some of the problems they have to confront daily, trying to deal with disruptive kids who don't want to work, don't want to conform to even the modern concept of acceptable classroom behaviour; who aren't interested in studying; who cannot see the point of contributing towards their education in the hope that they will achieve satisfactory grades, and whose behaviour can disrupt an entire classroom, wasting a significant amount of time.

My daughter most recently had to sort out a fight between two young boys in her junior school class, one of whom had spat in the face of the other. My son who teaches teenagers most recently was confronted by a youth who simply refused to do any work or contribute to the lesson, and who sat, vocally abusing my son, insulting him and showing a significant lack of respect, merely as a means of seeking attention.

If Michael Gove and those who advise him really wanted to make a difference in the state learning process, the first thing they must do is to stop blaming the teachers for the failures in the state school system.

They have to realise that without basic discipline and an environment where children want to work, teachers, no matter how good they are, can do nothing. An inspired and gifted teacher is rendered impotent to succeed, confronted by one sociopathic child who has decided that he or she is not going to conform to even the most basic form of acceptable conduct.

In state schools, there are some children who will confront teachers regularly, they will walk out of classes, they will refuse to attend detentions, and they will seek every opportunity to attract attention. They are an utter menace to good order and discipline, but it is difficult to exclude them without very good cause, so they return daily to continue to cause trouble.

Gove and his team would do well to examine the daily diet of children in  the State sector. Many schools are now happy to offer a breakfast club to ensure that pupils get a proper meal first thing in the morning.

"... Breakfast clubs can be especially valuable for children whose parents are not able to afford to provide them with regular morning meals. They can provide both short and long term health benefits. Children who receive breakfast often perform better at learning, and can also be better behaved. Breakfast clubs can also improve the child's long term health by providing a well balanced nutritious meal. Secondary benefits of breakfast clubs include improving attendance..."

They must go further, and start to demand that parents now recognise that they owe a duty to the schools their pupils attend and the teachers who educate them, to ensure that their children get proper sleep and eat sensibly and healthily; that they supervise the amount of time the children spend on-line and using electronic games; and that they acknowledge that the disciplining of children is a joint function between parents and the school. At the end of the argument, it is the parents who have the primary responsibility, no matter what the excuses or the extenuating circumstances, to ensure that their child knows the rules and how to behave when attending school.

If Gove and those who advise him want to have any sensible input to making long-lasting changes in the state school process, the best thing they could do is to focus their attention on the parents, to ensure the highest standards of discipline; to minimise the level of disruptive behaviour and to make sure that their children attend school in a fit and proper state to receive tuition.

Even better would be that they implemented a 5-year moratorium on any more changes or reforms or radicalisations in the teaching process, and offered instead a 'hands-off' policy, instead of harassing teachers at every conceivable turn.







2 comments:

Amazed! said...

The conditions your two children describe are repeated day in, day out, in classrooms across the country.

Disrespectful, lazy and disruptive students who don't care about their own education grinding hard-working, dedicated teachers into the ground.

It is truly shocking what is occurring in classrooms today - and I speak from experience, having been an upper school science teacher for ten years before recently throwing in towel.

There is simply no joy in teaching anymore.

These politicos wouldn't last a week in the classroom.

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