Wednesday, 18 January 2012

OFSTED and Disaster Capitalism

The recent announcement by the new head of OFSTED, Sir Michael Wishaw, whereby he wishes to change the "satisfactory" category of school and lesson performance descriptors to "requires improvement" - SEE HERE- while apparently showing concern for improvement in overall educational standards, is the thin end of a very thick wedge. Other measures are the recent announcements by Michael Gove that he is speeding up the process of dismissing so-called incompetent teachers and today's announcement that he wants to see greater sponsorship of schools by private firms. Barclays Bank have announced an interest in this today.
All this is intended to give the public the impression that this government is dealing effectively with the "problem" of education. There is a popular misconception, carefully fostered in the right-wing press (The "Daily Mail" is an obvious example) that schools are full of lazy, incompetent teachers who have been getting away with it for many years. It really should be asked - if this be the case, why has OFSTED not noticed it before, as they have been in existence for the better part of two decades? Could it be that OFSTED inspectors are lazy and incompetent? Surely not!
If there are so many incompetent teachers, how did they become teachers in the first place, I wonder? Contrary to what might be thought, it is not that easy to qualify as a teacher, and student teachers DO get failed. I have seen this happen a number of times in my career. Besides which, if it is so easy to be lazy and incompetent and still pass your teaching course - why is there such a high drop-out rate? Or should OFSTED be inspecting teacher training establishments more strictly? Ah, the beat goes on...
The plain fact is - despite denials - that the new measures to be applied to teachers will make it easier for Heads to get rid of staff that they do not want. The most obvious category of teachers to feel the lash will be older teachers of (about) 45+. As one Head observed to me: "Older members of staff take more time off than younger members" - and he is not alone in thinking this. Besides this, Heads, Deputies and Senior teachers are not immune to bringing their personal likes and dislikes to lesson observations and, as the old saying goes: "Ill will never said well". It is only too easy for ill-disposed lesson observers to downgrade an observed teacher - and, although I have to be discreet, I know that this happens. It is not unknown for Heads and senior teachers to pressurise staff in other ways also - I have even been told of a Head who gave a male teacher a class in which there was a child with a history of making allegations against men! The new rule, whereby a Head can walk in on lessons as many times as he or she wishes - unannounced - is a ready made tool for harassment.
As for the change from "Satisfactory" to "Requires Improvement", this is all a matter of semantics. After all -does not a "Good" teacher require improvement?And who gave OFSTED the right to change the meanings of words? I have actually heard an OFSTED speaker describe "Good" as the new "Satisfactory" - very enlightening!

If all this is intended to improve education, then the general public needs to know that this government has some strange ways of going about it. For instance, a head now has the power to put any person deemed suitable in front of a class. Cuts in school budgets have meant that schools avoid employing supply teachers as much as they can. Instead, Heads can put Teaching Assistants or anyone with Police clearance, such as volunteer parent helpers, in charge of a class. One West London secondary school head has been known to use school security staff - ex bouncers - to cover lessons in place of absent staff. Academy Schools have the right to employ staff who have no teaching qualifications whatsoever. And this - allowing children to be taught by unqualified staff - is supposed to be an improvement.
So - what's really going on? Well, the unions are right, in my view, when they say that this government wants to destroy state education. Hence the link  with "Disaster Capitalism". "The Shock Doctrine", by Naomi Klein, outlines this theory. In a nutshell, it states that monetarist economists (such as the late Milton Friedman), exploit disasters such as wars, famine, etc, to implement their desire to cut back on the public sector and let the market take over all the former state functions.
It hardly needs to be pointed out that this bears a close resemblance to the education policies of the present government. In fact, Michael Gove is said to be an admirer of Mrs Thatcher, who, in turn, was a great admirer of monetarism. By attacking the state sector financially, and making the lot of the average state teacher more insecure and onerous, the government is exploiting the present economic crisis. The aim, as Union leaders have spelt out, is to "encourage" more schools to seek academy status, and thus money from firms such as Barclays. The monetarists in the government will have their way, making education" less of a burden" on the taxpayer - and hard luck for anyone who suffers because of this.
Surprisingly, there is no mention of making cuts in OFSTED. Schools, hospitals, day care centres,police,public libraries and recreational facilities suffer cuts and closure, but OFSTED carries on without penalty.
Isn't it time we asked why?

Monday, 2 January 2012

2011 - No Need to Say Goodbye?

Well, it doesn't take much to show why we should be glad to see the back of 2011. We know it all already: the godawful financial situation which has devastated our economies, the Euro crisis, the summer riots, the cuts in public spending and the upward creep of the unemployment figures.Anyone who has followed this blog through the past year will see that there has been ample comment on all these issues, by myself and others.Summing it all up has challenged experienced media pundits. For me, perhaps the best summation of 2011 comes in this phrase I found in a Latin phrase dictionary:
"Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit"
I won't translate that, as Google does a better job. However, I truly believe that there were signs of hope in all the last year's deluge of misfortunes. There was the marvellous "Arab Spring" in Tunisia and Egypt and, albeit with NATO help, the end of "The Mad Colonel" in Libya. During, and after, the dark days of the summer riots, ordinary people stood up against the tide of criminality: the Kurdish Community of east London who rallied to defend their businesses; the Sikh community of Southall, who mobilised to defend their Gurudwaras and neighbourhoods (no rioters came anywhere near), and the "clean-up" army of citizens who turned out to clean up their riot-hit neighbourhoods. There was also the great Trade Union march against the public spending cuts back in the spring. I took part in it, and sensed how powerful the people united can be. "dum vita est spes est" ( I won't translate that either).
So, for my New Year's message (Let all take notice!), I'd like to wish everyone what I wished for you last year, which is a massive slice of good luck. We needed it a year ago, and we need it now. And let's not forget that, while we may be weak separately, who knows what we can achieve if we act together - "viribus unitis"?
BTW - My New year's resolution is to put my Latin phrase dictionary back on the shelf. "Consummatum est!"