The spotlight is firmly shining on the world of education and the country is in uproar over MP Michael Gove’s reforms. Arts and creative subjects are being marginalized, grades are transforming into numbers, and coursework and January tests are being scrapped, with a focus on tougher, longer, single summer exams. Schooling could begin from a younger age and AS levels are being done away with. Like a bull in a china shop, Gove is tearing through the system and shows no sign of changing course, intensifying the educational experience for the students that the Labour government 'went easy on'.
Meanwhile, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers speaks of a new generation of ‘ghost children’ reporting that parents are increasingly treating after-school clubs as free childcare and leaving their kids in school for up to ten hours a day. 87% of 1,300 surveyed teachers said this could impair pupils' ability to concentrate and 67% believe it thus causes disruptive behaviour. They say the timetabled day for primary school students should last no longer than 5 hours. Meanwhile, the Education Secretary has said that State schools should operate 10-hour days to boost standards. School plays, debating societies and orchestras ‘build character and instill grit,’ according to Gove. According to the teachers – you know, the ones that have experience working with children, they ‘cause tiredness.’
It’s a fair point that free time might be spent more in front of a screen than with the family. After all, parents lack a healthy work-life balance, says the Guardian. But that’s a different issue. Crucially, Gove is focusing on quantity rather than quality. Not one of his proposals to raise standards has been met with general positivity by the teaching community. Cambridge University has attacked Gove’s planned A-level reforms.
Naturally, the media is distressed. In the same way they lamented ‘the burden of government debts being placed on the shoulders of our youth,’ fears are mounting over the happiness and the attainment of our students. The 2012 Pisa tests revealed that UK students are lagging behind their counterparts across the globe. The Education system is ‘failing youth and employers’, according to the Times.
It’s a pity we don’t speak of teachers in the same way. 20% of the work they do doesn’t benefit the children, and they’re drowning in a sea of targets, data, unnecessary paperwork and meaningless bureaucratic tasks set by Ofsted, an organisation which has become ‘punitive’ rather than ‘constructive’. The working day is being stretched and 40% of teachers suffer from an inadequate work-life balance and low self-esteem. The public sector wages are being squeezed and few have much of a pension to look forward to. Small wonder, then, that 40% of them quit the job within 5 years. It’s also unsurprising that their plight has resulted in the planning of strikes.
How does the country react to this? "Militant teaching barons have unleashed a fresh summer strike that could wreak havoc for hardworking exam pupils", is how the forthcoming industrial action was described by the Sun. The Daily Mail uses similarly one-dimensional language. The Western Gazette asks ‘how will it affect your children?’ Not at all is the obvious answer – why would one day of strikes affect anything?
Rather than a belligerent movement of selfish people, we should be seeing teachers as holding the future of the country in their hands. What method, other than striking, is likely to earn recognition of their troubles and show the necessity for change? The fact that, in doing so, it allows the media to make the young generation look more like the victims, is saddening. But hopefully, it will also encourage people to see just how pressurized the teachers of today really are.