Education was seldom out of the headlines during last year. While Michael Gove forged on with his reforms, teachers took industrial action against his changes to their pay, pensions and workload.
Despite warnings from MPs at the start of the year that Michael Gove was “trying to do too much too quickly”, his plans for reforms to A-levels and GCSEs stayed unchanged. These included fewer re-sits and no more modules, resulting in the revival of externally marked, written exams, with school-based assessment kept to a minimum. However, Wales kept the previous GCSE, so that pupils in different parts of the UK will hold different qualifications with the same name. After some debate about what to call the new exams, the Education Secretary dropped his favoured English Baccalaureate Certificate and retained GCSEs.
Mr Gove also introduced spelling and grammar tests for 11-year-olds and a new national curriculum that focussed on rigour, knowledge and the three Rs. Critics of his plans for the curriculum were outraged, and a letter from 100 leading education academics, published in two national newspapers, warned that his reforms could “severely erode educational standards”. Like Margaret Thatcher, one of his predecessors as Education Secretary, he wasn’t for turning and called his critics the “enemies of promise”.
Although Ofqual warned that grade inflation was damaging public confidence, the number of pupils getting top grades in A-levels and GCSEs fell for a second year.
The rise of academies and free schools continued, with 653 primary schools and 207 secondaries becoming academies, and the number of free schools doubling to 174. Some academies ran into trouble and a leading chain was criticised for “a culture involving prestige venues, large drinks bills, business lunches and first-class travel”.
Labour removed shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg from the front bench. His replacement, historian and broadcaster Tristram Hunt, demonstrated his skills in dealing with the media when the Pisa results showed the UK was only average in reading, science and math. Mr Hunt grabbed the headlines just before the results were published, by arguing that they showed that the Coalition’s education policies were ineffective. In response, Michael Gove pointed out that the pupils who sat the tests had received most of their schooling under Labour.
The Education Secretary’s reforms to teachers’ pay, pensions and workload resulted in a wave of regional strikes during 2013. The NUT and NASUWT have warned they plan to resume strike action by the middle of next month if there is no sign of “significant progress” in talks to resolve the dispute.
With all the challenges – new and old – that teachers are facing, it’s hardly surprising that almost half of them considered leaving the profession last year. A survey of 501 teachers for NASUWT showed that 47% had thought about giving up teaching and 52% wanted to quit their current job. For 79% their biggest concern was increased workload, followed by pay cuts and increased pensions contributions, government reforms to the curriculum and school inspections. 50% of respondents had been forced to cut back on buying food and essential household items and 30% had to rely increasingly on credit and overdrafts.
However, the good news is that 68% of teachers enjoy their work and 91% get a buzz from seeing their pupils learn!
What was 2013 like for you? Share the highs and lows with the Eteach community!