Monday, April 15, 2024
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Reader’s Comment of the Day: Today’s teachers are not the mad lefties of the 1980s


In response to, Chris McGovern: Bottom up reform of schools has been tried and failed. Alpha males are our only hope, timbazo wrote:

I taught in state schools in the mid-80s, when teachers were able to teach what they wanted, how they wanted and they were able to ignore the fact that most school-leavers left with no meaningful academic qualifications. So, like Chris, I understand why the reforms starting with the National Curriculum were implemented.

The ‘bottom-up’ or ‘top-down’ dichotomy is false. Left to their own devices, the teaching profession would not revert to the 1970s and 1980s. The idea that teachers are a Marxist 5th column is false. The cultural changes of recent decades mean that most young teachers are very different from their predecessors of 40 years ago. Also many of the ‘radicals’ of 40 years ago are now the senior managers driving their staff to work long hours and implementing performance management systems that match any system practised by private companies. Where the old radicals do reside is possibly in the teacher training colleges, which in any case are being marginalised by programmes where new teachers are trained in schools. Let me assure you that programmes such as those run by ‘Teach First’ are not an easy ride. The young people on these programmes are probably being challenged as much as young lawyers and investment bankers and receive a fraction of the pay.

The ‘top-down’ approach has led to the uniformity of secondary schools that fail to reflect the different needs of pupils who are not suited to a purely academic education. It has led to the flip-flops of OFSTED, who once prescribed in detail how a lesson should be taught but now show no interest in how lessons are taught. It has led to the trumpeting in the media of initiatives such as removing the need to give 24 hours notice for longer detentions, in complete ignorance of the fact that many pupils do not turn up for detentions and that the timing of the notice given is therefore irrelevant. (An easy way to improve education in this country would be to introduce a rule that the Minister for Education needs to have spent most of his or her own education in a state school. This is not to denigrate private schools but to ensure that whoever is Minister has some idea as to what goes on in most state schools).

Ultimately the ‘bottom-up’ or ‘top-down’ dichotomy is false because the ideas that will improve the way pupils are taught and especially the way new technology is used will not come from bureaucrats in Whitehall. The ideas will come from teachers in both the state and private sector. (A programme that involves swapping jobs between the sectors for a year would probably yield great rewards). At the same time, schools, colleges and local educational authorities should be held accountable for the huge amounts of public money that they receive. I would go as far as to ask why the position as Head of an LEA is not a democratically elected post.

I find the last paragraph strange. Primary school education may be female dominated, even if there is a healthy representation of men amongst head teachers. I see little evidence to suggest however that secondary schools are dominated by women. As for the ‘alpha male’ style of leadership, we do have too much of it in this country. It was for instance the style of management that Fred Goodwin used to make RBS the biggest bank in the world and ultimately to saddle us with its debts. It is the style of management that brought Gove down. The ‘alpha male’ style of management fails because any sociopath can be ruthless and sack people. True leadership requires not just the ability to offer a vision and a strategy to make the vision reality. It also requires the ability to carry the people who are needed to implement that strategy.

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