What made education news in 2013?

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!

5 thoughts on “What made education news in 2013?

  1. As a former primary teacher who now works in the FE sector, I sympathise with the teachers who baulk at increased workload. It was what drove me out of the profession, and many other inspirational teachers I know ( Ofsted’s views, not mine ! ) who now work outside a negative environment that keeps teachers in a state of perpetual fear of the Ofstapo knocking on the door, the creation of a drone class of teacher whose creativity has been drummed out of them by incessant stats recording, and the interference of politicians who know nothing about education, other than what they experienced in their cossetted, 12-times- tables, non-relevant environment.

    My team teach those who were failed by the education system as children, and most were disengaged by their experiences, and lacked confidence, or who had dyslexia issues not addressed properly at school due to poor teacher training and lack of resources to support them from an early age.

    There are inspirational teachers out there, but they have to be allowed to thrive. I worked with some great teachers but also too many box tickers who should have never been allowed near children, because they had no empathy with them – or real concern other than as a product to be processed.

    Free schools and academies are not the only answers; teaching the skills business needs and will need is the way forward.

  2. Mike Matthews has nailed it. To reinforce his comment about box-tickers “who should never have been allowed near children”, while these people seem to enjoy quiet, obedient, productive classes – another box ticked on their behalf when it’s time for performance assessment – the stressed resentment of their pupils manifests as unruly behaviour in the classrooms of teachers who try to work with children rather than on children. Furthermore, the passive acceptance and lack of interest shown by the majority of the electorate in our democratic system of representation are a direct reflection of the extent to which children feel disenfranchised at school. Even the token gesture towards democracy of school councils is considered irrelevant by most of the pupils in most of the schools I’ve taught in.

    It’s now time for education to lead our society put off this mess – after all, “leading out” is what the word “education” means. It doesn’t mean “hammering in”, it doesn’t mean “pushing forward”, and it doesn’t mean “exercising tyrannical control over”, although an alien from Mars observing many practices in typical schools could be forgiven for thinking that any of these forms of bullying might be what is meant by “education”.

    However, teachers are operating in an environment which is becoming increasingly hostile in many different ways: the relentless onslaught of government, the constant changes brought about by advances in technology, the increasing fragmentation of society with the concomitant problem of low levels of engagement by children when they first enter the education system. Add to these the devastating effects of the malnutrition suffered by children brought up on a diet of packet snacks and fizzy drinks, and it can be seen that a society-wide problem exists which requires a completely new approach. Somehow or another, we have to turn the tide of society. The old approach to education has been part of the ebb ride.

    The new approach has to halt the ebb as well as initiate the flow. Central to this must be a philosophy of empowerment, because today’s children are going to have to lead this change as tomorrow’s young adults. Empowerment begins with, and is only possible through, positive relationships in schools between participants at all levels: pupils, teachers, teaching assistants, ancillary workers, parents, local community members, managers, governors, local industry etc. Forging links, developing understanding and goodwill, demonstrating and exemplifying respect, caring, compassion, generosity, abandoning confrontation and punishment as tools in the teacher’s arsenal, all these and more are needed to turn the tide. The alternative? Continue in the downward direction of confrontation and conflict, and hold our society and the environment to ransom.

  3. Mike Matthews has nailed it. To reinforce his comment about box-tickers “who should never have been allowed near children”, while these people seem to enjoy quiet, obedient, productive classes – another box ticked on their behalf when it’s time for performance assessment – the stressed resentment of their pupils manifests as unruly behaviour in the classrooms of teachers who try to work with children rather than on children. Furthermore, the passive acceptance and lack of interest shown by the majority of the electorate in our democratic system of representation are a direct reflection of the extent to which children feel disenfranchised at school. Even the token gesture towards democracy of school councils is considered irrelevant by most of the pupils in most of the schools I’ve taught in.

    It’s now time for education to lead our society out off this mess – after all, “leading out” is what the word “education” means. It doesn’t mean “hammering in”, it doesn’t mean “pushing forward”, and it doesn’t mean “exercising tyrannical control over”, although an alien from Mars observing many practices in typical schools could be forgiven for thinking that any of these forms of bullying might be what is meant by “education”.

    However, teachers are operating in an environment which is becoming increasingly hostile in many different ways: the relentless onslaught of government, the constant changes brought about by advances in technology, the increasing fragmentation of society with the concomitant problem of low levels of engagement by children when they first enter the education system. Add to these the devastating effects of the malnutrition suffered by children brought up on a diet of packet snacks and fizzy drinks, and it can be seen that a society-wide problem exists which requires a completely new approach. Somehow or another, we have to turn the tide of society. The old approach to education has been part of the ebb ride.

    The new approach has to halt the ebb as well as initiate the flow. Central to this must be a philosophy of empowerment, because today’s children are going to have to lead this change as tomorrow’s young adults. Empowerment begins with, and is only possible through, positive relationships in schools between participants at all levels: pupils, teachers, teaching assistants, ancillary workers, parents, local community members, managers, governors, local industry etc. Forging links, developing understanding and goodwill, demonstrating and exemplifying respect, caring, compassion, generosity, abandoning confrontation and punishment as tools in the teacher’s arsenal, all these and more are needed to turn the tide. The alternative? Continue in the downward direction of confrontation and conflict, and hold our society and the environment to ransom.

  4. As a disheartened and disillusioned SEN and EAL teacher who has escaped the tyranny of a hierarchical education system I can totally identify and empathise with the above comments. I’m afraid I’ve escaped back to the world of EFL teaching which allows for the kind of approach so eloquently advocated above. I do feel sad however that I was unable to work in this way in mainstream state schools.

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