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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Tuesday Tidings: I need discipline and fear

According to Oliver Letwin, I do, anyway. That's the problem with us public sector workers these days - we've grown too comfortable and complacent. Probably the students are already too comfortable and satisfied as well; perhaps the cane would help? Or maybe they should bring it in for the staff? My college has a rather lovely quad - public floggings, perhaps?

Interestingly, in this same week I came across this article from Channel 4 News about the suicide rate among teachers (it's almost doubled in recent years, with teachers now 30-40% more likely to commit suicide than others). The article draws a fairly clear connection between teacher suicide and the Ofsted regime:
Teachers often cite the pressure they experience in the run-up to Ofsted inspections - the usually triennial assessment of schools and individual teachers, with grading from inadequate to outstanding. The inspections make them feel like they can "make or break their reputations, and by extension the school, so it is extremely high stakes", Mr Illingworth added.
"It's to do with teachers not trusting Ofsted, which has proved to be a very erratic inspection agency: a school can be outstanding one year and failing the next: so teachers feel there is no consistency among inspectors. They're therefore extremely nervous as they don't know what to expect, how to prepare."
In the past few years teachers have been held more accountable for students' achievements than ever before. Students making little to no effort; students with long-term personal or health problems; students working doggedly in very difficult circumstances. All assessed the same way - what the last school got out of them + x National Curriculum 'Levels' = their expected achievement. Unfortunately, people are neither machines nor products and it just doesn't work like that. Thankfully for us, some students will blossom in sixth form and 'outperform' based on the standards expected of them. Others will achieve exactly as expected and some will not. A Levels are still demanding academically, whatever you will read in the papers in a couple of weeks on results day. Hard-working students can do very well in GCSEs, but hard work alone will not get you to an A or A* grade at A Level  (gratifyingly, nor will natural ability alone - both are needed for the top slots). Students' results depend on considerably more than just the ability, commitment and talent of their teachers (just as they should).

I don't know where Oliver Letwin obtained his knowledge of the recent workings of schools, colleges, prisons, hospitals and other publically-funded institutions, but I think he'd find it difficult to do much to increase the culture of discipline and fear.

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