Tom Bennett

Home » #askgove » Teacher Voice: we need more than #askgove. Teachers need to speak up

Teacher Voice: we need more than #askgove. Teachers need to speak up

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I’m warning you

Have you heard of Student Voice? Of course you have. If you haven’t been interviewed by a twelve year old, or sat in the stocks of a 360 degree performance management assessment while your more feral EBD customers pelt you with mouldy tubers, then you, my friend, teach on the Moon.

Have you heard of Parent Power? Stupid question; when they aren’t demanding to know why their children haven’t completed their A-level in Further Maths in year 7, setting up a Free School, or crucifying you with league tables, they’re logging onto the new ‘Rat on a school’ website designed specifically for people with personality disorders and bleak, flavourless lives to bleed their neuroses online while cry-w*nking into a sock.

Have you heard of ‘Teacher Voice’, the bold new initiative launched by the DfE to create a representative body that regularly polls and consults acting teachers, asking them about issues of pedagogy, how children best learn, what needs to happen in schools, classroom design, etc.?

NO YOU HAVEN’T UNLESS YOU LIVE INSIDE MY MIND. That’s because it doesn’t exist. Everyone BUT teachers has a megaphone in the meetings where nuts and bolts are cast. We don’t even get an invite.

I am put in mind of this point because of the #askGove project that is currently lighting up the switchboards of Twitter like a pinball machine. It’s an attempt, it says here, for the education select committee to get the views of teachers, ahead of  a meeting with G-Diddy on Tuesday. Well, excuse me for pissing on your camp-fire of I AM LISTENING, but what on EARTH is this designed to prove? We can send him questions any time we like already. Does anyone seriously think that all their questions are being put, as we tweet, into a big sack, and the Education Select Committee will rummage round it, arm deep like Jimmy Saville, and pluck out something to ask M-Gove? ‘Now then, now then, here’s a question from Beth from Middlesbrough, and she’d like to know if you’ve ever gone full pelt with a tranny. Minister?’

I SUSPECT THIS IS NOT A THING THAT WILL HAPPEN. No, what will happen is that they ask the questions that they wanted to ask anyway, and use any goddamn data they fancy from the #askgove pool of tweets to justify their interrogation. It isn’t an exercise in listening, it’s exactly the opposite; it’s an exercise in appearing to listen, which as we all know from classrooms is ANNOYING AS HELL. It’s also deceptive, and patronising.

Who devises policy? Who decides how best children learn? Who works out if class sizes are important or not? Who creates systems of assessment? Who says if a subject, a skill, a project is workable, or a laboratory Frankenstein, engineered in a Petri-dish of good intentions? Everyone BUT us. Now does that sound sensible to you? It doesn’t sound sensible to me. In fact, it sounds perverse. It sounds like education is the ball everyone wants to play with, and the ones who actually do…you know, the educating thing….are the ones most removed from its design and execution. Isn’t that odd?

In the Land of the Deaf, the big-eared man is King.

It is my mission in life, because I am on a mission, to wade through the slurry and the offal of guano that rains on us like Satanic Manna every day, wave my tricorder at it, and decide one thing: good idea in the classroom or bad? Most of what showers down on us that was decided solely in a department of education, a cabinet meeting, a pow-wow with speech writers and focus groups, falls fairly and squarely into the latter category. I have had it up to here *indicates a spot between nipple and chin* with False Prophets telling us, the experts, what works, and what doesn’t.

We, as a profession, have been muzzled, fixed as neatly as any castrato. When  Ofsted ties its horse to the front gates and bowls in like Berty-Big-Balls, it consults the school leadership, the students, even the parents. How are teacher views taken into account? When, apart from the ballot box, when single issues conflate into a million others, are teachers asked to indicate their preferences for how they would like to teach, for how they think children learn, and what they think about the latest oh-boy initiative doomed to die, like mortal men in Middle-Earth?

Don’t the Unions speak for us? Well, they have a different purpose these days, being focused more on pay and conditions- thanks for that, incidentally-than matters of pedagogy. They do act as a funnel for ideas and debate, but I don’t think I’m ruffling any feathers here when I say that’s not really what they’re about any more. Also, their intrinsic aim of defending the lot of the teacher, while admirable in many ways, isn’t the same thing as defending education itself, although it often identical. The GTC? The GTC is/ was a miserable embarrassment, because it could have been so much. It was meant to be a representative and regulatory body that ensured the profession was a profession. What it became also damned it; a punitive organ you only heard about when you had to cough up your fees so that you could receive a tatty circular sent to your previous address. Sometimes you heard about it when somebody got busted for downloading porn. It was the Vito Corloene of the quangos, awkward and unloved and it will not be missed.

‘Oh we can HEAR you; we just don’t have to GIVE a sh*t.’

And now there is nothing. The Schools Council, the GTC, all lost, like the library of Alexandria. Nobody speaks for us. Worse, we have even forgotten there is an us. We have lost consciousness. Never consulted, we now no longer even act surprised when we are not consulted. A generation of teachers have gone through the system who have never experienced what it feels like to question educational orthodoxies, who seem to be unaware that other orthodoxies, equally contestable, even exist. Teachers who have sat obediently through MAs and PGCEs who have never known anything other than the dogma of group work, of thinking skills, of learning hats, or levelled assessments, of value-added, of target grades and FFT, of green marking ink, of graded inspections, of skills-driven learning, of APP, personalised learning, AFL and positive behaviour management. We have become like the inhabitants of Huxley’s World State in Brave New World, unable to conceive of other realities.

This situation will last as long as we permit it. We are legion because, of course, there are many of us. Every teacher needs to wake up; to remember that the duty they serve is greater than any directive or article of best practise. If you saw a child being man-handled on the street would you ignore it? I hope not. If you see a child’s future being wrecked in an act of abstract abuse, should we look away. Worse; should we enable it? Of course not. Teachers, we need to speak up and tell people when they’re doing it wrong. You have every right; YOU are the expert on education.

And what of the commentators, the Professors of Education, the advisers, the talking heads? They too have their place in the discussion on education. Their ideas are useful, and important too. For all the faults I sometimes paint, we need them to act as a check and balance on us, to detect the counter-intuitive flaws of the classroom, to advise and challenge. They also care about education, and often, they have skills we lack and need.  But that isn’t what they are right now. Right now, they are the ruling class, the Alphas to our Gammas. We barely register on the RADAR of the war room. In the Secret Garden of Education, the gardeners are now absent, replaced by flower arrangers. Like bee-keepers; they want the honey, but they couldn’t make it themselves. If ministers ran a hive, they would probably advise apiarists to wake the bees up with Radio 4 and warm air because ‘research suggests honey production accelerates in these conditions.’ Either that, or they would slice each tiny insect open, looking for the honey.

So from now on, I invite you to remember that you have a teacher voice. We are the only missing guest at the party; in fact, there isn’t even a seat for us.

Teacher Voice Manifesto:

  1. Realise we are a marginalised group.
  2. Admit that we know most about what happens in classrooms
  3. If educational research contradicts classroom experience, and the shared experience of your peers, then defer its acceptance until the research has been explored and reviewed 
  4. Speak. Up. Raise your voice at every staff meeting; email the HELL out of people with whom you disagree.
  5. Ask for explanations of every policy you feel is damaging and dangerous to children
  6. Raise your points with line management, governors, anyone you feel needs to know.
  7. Seek positions where you can influence policy yourself.
  8. Discuss and debate and defend your experience in every arena, virtual and solid, from chat-rooms to the staffroom.
  9. Always stay focussed on what we should be doing- educating children to the best of our ability- rather than what you are told to do: for example, raising the school GCSE rates. Such things are extrinsic goals, incidental to our objectives.
  10. Campaign at all times for teacher views to be taken into account at every stage of interrogation and data sampling. Who conducts national surveys of what we think any more, unless they want to sell us something?
    ‘PERHAPS YOU CAN HEAR ME NOW, F*CKER?’

Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, it’s time to crash the party.

Teacher Voice.

Teacher Voice.

TEACHER VOICE.


8 Comments

  1. grahart says:

    excellent. Good man. Keep up the good work. Nice to see someone else annoyed at the stupidities currently masquerading as educational policy. 'Look at the Emperor's new clothes!'

  2. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic summary. As a profession, we've become as institutionalised as Brooks in Shawshank. Can you imagine anyone else putting up with the free schools nonsense? Can you imagine this world http://www.notaclique.com/free-hospitals/ ?

    Of course not. The problem is that we don't have a professional body. The BMA and the Royal Colleges are doing a good job of attacking the same systemic problems with Health Reform, but for nigh on 30 years the Teaching profession have just rolled over and taken it.

    We need to find a single voice.

    But even beyond the system, you're right about the lies that are peddled and the untruths that distort classroom practice. We're living in a world where some people still think VAK is valid and convince kids they can only learn in one way, or that Brain Gym is anything more than snake oil. Until practitioners – actual honest-to-god *teachers* – start getting involved with policy making we will continue to be screwed with our pants on.

    ProfTentacles

  3. Anonymous says:

    “… ever gone full pelt with a tranny.”

    That's actually a very good idea. Listening to a radio while jogging will make it seem much less of a chore.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Some of us ex-teachers wouldn't be ex-teachers if we had had any voice. I used to talk about the 'X-Factor', long before it became the property of Simon Cowell, in respect to that little switch every student has that can turn them in to learners. Some students had completely different switches but I couldn't explore that with them because it wasn't listed/published/certified/on our database/recommended by non-teaching inspectors/devised by commercial accrediting bodies. It was only identified as a result of me watching and listening to my students. Me, seeking strategies to make learning, if not exciting, at least interesting for my students. 25 years ago, my colleagues and I would spend off-time devising activites that enabled students to discover, use and understand a variety of difficuly business concepts. And they ate it up! And we were told to stop.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hear hear! to the Teacher Voice Manifesto. We are bombarded with monthly directives from 'on high'. I don't know who is 'on high', but they certainly know how to feed us teachers rubbish. I have lost count of the technical strategies which have been pushed to my side of the table – the last one was The Learning Academy. It was sold to me as a great idea, 'you just document what you're already doing' they said. 'Great for your CV' they explained smilingly. I resisted and did nothing towards it. It hasn't been heard of since. Repeat – it hasn't been heard of since. Another complete waste of time and energy, those two quickly depleting resources.

    The current absolutely deplorable rubbish espoused by that traitor Wilshaw is his opinion. It is appalling that out Headteachers and their cronies are allowing us to be dictated to by a man who is governing the country's education (I say education, but i really mean schooling) because of his opinion. It's not down to research evidence about poor school staff morale being a good state of affairs, it's Wilshaw's opinion, and he means to rule us like some autocrat or dictator.

    You're right Tom, we need to stand up and face the cowards and traitors who rule us and say no. But it's got to happen soon.

  6. Anonymous says:

    You have just made me want to stand up on a table and shout through a microphone. Thank you.

  7. Littlemavis says:

    I'm really, really sorry about this but im afraid you're going to have to do It without me. I tried I really tried to argue that education was about more than qualifications & our being a grade 1 department, that doing what wad right for a student was more important than what was right for the school. But this just bought trouble & I've left them to it. Good to know someone is still fighting though.

  8. Ant Heald says:

    Missed this until re-tweeted today. Please could you repost it every week so it's your freshest offering until sense prevails or (more likely) I receive my invitation to the Pope's gay wedding.

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