As a former Headteacher who served in education under both Tory and Labour administrations, I am in a good position to pass judgement. Life under Labour and Tory was chalk and cheese. Under Labour education was properly funded, teachers’ pay was properly funded, buildings were maintained, support staff brought in, the teaching load manageable and the curriculum and syllabi interesting and broad. Under the Tories, it was the reverse – not just in a small way either. The changes were radical and overnight.
Here’s how the Tories ruined education:
The funding for education was greatly reduced.
With reduced budgets schools had to reduce staffing, cut teaching staff, make bigger classes, reduce support staff so those with special needs were not supported as well, reduce equipment so that lessons were not adequately resourced resulting in less creativity and experiments, buildings are not maintained and no new building programmes brought in.
Cuts to Teachers’ Pay
For thirteen years teachers’ pay has been progressively cut.
This has led to an exodus of good staff who have gone abroad where pay can be twice or even three times as high.
Good-quality graduates are not attracted to the profession so the quality of teaching goes down.
Vacancies cannot be filled due to staff shortages meaning untrained staff are put in front of kids and teachers end up teaching subjects they are unqualified to teach.
Many subjects, like Maths and Physics, are being taught by non-specialists.
Class sizes increase due to a lack of staff. This impacts greatly staff morale and workload.
The larger class size increases both the drudgery of marking and preparation.
Increased class size results in less personal contact, more behaviour problems, and less classroom support for struggling students and means that many underperformers go under the radar.
Reducing the Curriculum
The baccalaureate was intended to broaden the curriculum and increase range and interest. The Tory baccalaureate had the opposite effect. It put the emphasis on a limited core of subjects (Maths, Science, English) driving out the creative subjects (Art, Music) and downgrading the others (Geography, History, Languages). The result is that more curriculum time is given to the core subjects. The other subjects are driven to the periphery or dropped altogether into extracurricular slots. The curriculum that a student experiences is narrow and boring. They are all squeezed through the same sausage machine. Creativity and innovation are squeezed out.
Syllabi Content emphasises Knowledge
The move back to a fifties-style content-driven memory test is retrograde and inappropriate. Nowadays knowledge is present at the press of a Google button. Knowledge is not the commodity it was back in the 1950s. What is required is the ability to create, to be innovative, to problem solve and employ lateral thinking. If you want to know anything it’s there at the press of a button. We don’t need to memorise great chunks of stuff to pointlessly regurgitate for exams and then forget.
The knowledge-based education with kids in rows being spoonfed information and regurgitating it for exams is a complete turn-off and does not meet the needs of the 20th century let alone the 21st.
Under Labour teaching was vibrant, about experimentation, exploration, creativity and investigation. The skills that are needed in the workforce.
Teaching By Numbers
Teaching was regimented (enforced by Ofsted). It had to be a three-part lesson. There were a whole set of criteria that had to be met. A lesson had to be structured along a standard pattern in order to be assessed as adequate. It became ‘Teaching By Numbers’. Innovation and different teaching styles were systematically driven out by an inspection regime that used tick boxes to ensure that the lesson was delivered in the same way.
The innovative teachers had their wings clipped. Lessons became the sausage machine.
The GCSE was an exam for all students of all abilities. It enabled the top students to gain high grades and the low-ability students to still get passes in the low grades. Everybody was able to leave school with a set of qualifications which was good for self-esteem. The high-ability students achieved a bunch of high grades and if employers or universities required more it would have been simple to have provided access to the raw scores.
But Tories weren’t happy. They wanted winners and losers. It was not good enough to win they had to have others losing to make them feel good. They wanted more stringency, more differentiation of ability, more peril and more losers.
They brought in knowledge-based exams with more failure.
Many students left school defeated without any qualifications.
Inspections and Teacher Assessment
Under the guise of raising standards and improvement, they used the big stick to enforce accountability. Failure could then be heaped on individuals and schools and away from the failures of their retrograde innovations. Teachers could be driven to work harder and perform for less. The threat of poor Ofsted’s was a draconian tool. The impact on a teacher, a Head or a school could be devastating.
Where inspections had been diagnostic and used as a tool to provide support and assistance, now they were a sledgehammer to instil fear and ensure that the methodology was implemented fully. There was no room for eccentricities, innovation or different styles. This was assessment to ensure that ‘Teaching By Numbers’ was being fully applied.
The idea was to drive schools and staff to perform despite the cuts, workload and boring syllabi. The pressure was on. It disguised the underlying problems.
The other tool, under the guise of driving up standards, was to privatise education. They brought in academies and allowed business and other outside agencies (religious groups, American education groups and other organisations with political agendas) to take over control. Schools were to be run like businesses for profit. Profit came before education.
Education is now on its knees
No wonder the teachers are on strike. The workload is unsustainable (many staff are putting in 70-hour weeks). My own son has had to drop a day in order to cope with the workload. Pay has substantially depreciated. Student behaviour has worsened. Low-ability kids are not properly supported or valued. Teaching is boring (the Head of a private school I was talking to recently told me that he would no longer employ staff from State schools as they had had all the skills knocked out of them and been reduced to robots). Creativity, innovation, experimentation, and investigation has been downgraded and eradicated. ‘Minority’ subjects, their words not mine, have been sidelined.
Education, once vibrant and exciting, is now a boring mess. Thirteen years of Tory dogma has eaten the heart out of it.
But, of course, Tories don’t care, they send their kids to Private Schools (The Public School System). The plebs in the State schools are cannon fodder to be exploited by business. They’ll cream off the very best (don’t want too many to compete with their entitled offspring) and exploit the rest in their low-pay, overworked workforce.
What’s the purpose of education again? (under the Tories it’s not intended to be mind-expanding, invigorating, enlightening, exciting or promoting equality and empowerment – it’s purely sausages for the sausage machine to provide a poorly-paid workforce).
What a mess they’ve made of it!