Education Has Been Hijacked. The Politicians Own It.

We have a thoroughly-researched , passionate and a simply stunning piece today from a probationer teacher who is wondering how long he/she might stay in teaching for.

Securitisation of Education

 

In trying to understand why Scottish education is in crisis and how we’ve arrived at this point, I am beginning to realise what others have known for a long time, that learning and teaching are no longer in the hands of educators. 

 

Speaking to my Mum about teaching (again) we reflected on how and why education has changed over time. She’s in her 70s and started primary teaching in the early 1960s. 

 

While input to education from other actors and agencies may have been necessary and appropriate, my Mum pinpoints a detectable shift in power around the late 80s/early 90s. 


In one key incident she recollects her head teacher returning from a meeting of colleagues at Strathclyde Regional Council and commenting that “they no longer want teachers to manage schools, they just want mangers”. 


While the HT fully agreed that HTs required management skills and training, his opinion was that your experience as a HT and teacher at some point in the future would be irrelevant, as long as you could “run a school”.

 

Education has travelled in one direction since that time and policy is no longer made by education departments. Now, education departments are left to regurgitate Scottish Government diktats, albeit with their own corporate branding. 


Post devolution, education has now been securitised by Scottish politicians, that is, “successfully shifted into a special category of politics where existential threats… justify the use of extraordinary measures”(Open University, 2016). 


It is now the responsibility of teachers to solve, not just help overcome, all society’s ills. Mind that target on your back now.

 

Education before devolution was, along with Scots law, a Scottish matter. For better or worse, it was one of the few areas of Scottish life in which Westminster and Scottish politicians seldom interfered. 


The Scottish Parliament has stolen education from educators and Scottish education is worse off as a result. Ms Sturgeon asked to be judged on her education record. She may consider herself judged.

 

As a probationer my Mum was sent into a class of over 30 children in Glasgow’s east end with a syllabus in the form of a booklet from Glasgow Corporation. 


Her class rose to well over 40 the following year. It was a tough job, and she was poorly paid, but it was a job she loved and retired from, as did the vast majority of her teacher friends because they were supported by colleagues and teachers were, on the whole, respected by children, parents and the community.

 

Clearly, progress requires change and change can be hard. My mum admits 5-14 was difficult to embed but recalls it being launched with only literacy and maths, other curricular areas following at a later date. While there were constraints within 5-14 she could also see the benefits. 

 

Concerns and complaints about CfE were met with benchmarks, though by that time some well-experienced, savvy teachers had collaborated to write their own. I watched my Mum‘s eyes roll in their sockets as I drilled into each E&O in the CfE app “with Benchmarks”. Don’t leave home without it.

 

However, the pantomime of CfE, and it is a pantomime whether you think it works or not, is a political construct. 


It’s difficult to see how things will improve since education was hijacked and is now owned by politicians. If you’re in any doubt, just check out how many times John Swinney is tagged into tweets by teachers and other people in education, all vying for approval – or promotion. 


Or schoolchildren as props in photo calls with various politicians, sometimes to the silent discomfort of teachers and senior management teams.

 

Add into the mix legislation, inclusion (which requires a whole other essay), GIRFEC, named person (thanks to the ECHR we’ve hopefully dodged that bullet), strategic drivers, policy drivers, etc. and it’s become impossible to identify where teachers’ responsibilities begin and end. 


Education is now a commodity, with corporate branding and mission statements, children are now ‘clients’, teachers are ‘stakeholders’ and we must now have a policy for everything, including how to proceed in the event of rain.

 

Like many families where teaching is the family business, countless conversations eventually lead back to education, but it’s become clear that teachers of my Mum’s calibre, who committed to the job because of a sense of vocation, have disappeared at an alarming rate. 


Contrary to the GTCS’ Ken Muir’s recent claims, the issue is not confined to the so-called millennials or because the grass looks greener – it is greener. The high number of ‘millennials’ leaving teaching is due, I’d suggest, to fewer caring and financial responsibilities compared to their older colleagues. It’s too late for us but save yourselves…

 

Teachers, of all ages, want a job that won’t:- compromise their marriage or relationships, deprive their children of a parent, affect their physical and mental health, work in an environment where verbal and physical abuse are deemed acceptable, or drain their bank account – in what other job are you expected to supply limitless, basic, costly, resources to be used by others? 

Do doctors, nurses or clinicians supply drugs, bandages and bedsheets? 

 

Teachers are clearly underpaid, but even if a 10% pay rise was granted tomorrow, these issues and others I haven’t even touched upon (like assessment) will still prevent teachers teaching. 


There is now so much regulation and legislation around teaching the job has been codified. Your teaching syllabus is a collection of Acts of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government policies. See Education Scotland for a comprehensive and ever-expanding list of your responsibilities. That’s where you’ll find your actual Ts & Cs.

 

I’m a probationer. It’s been a long slog to get here and I’m pleased to still be on the journey despite obstacles. I’m instinctively motivated and relish many aspects of the job – lesson preparation, CPD in its many forms, meaningful assessment – but even if I survive this gruelling probationary period, I’m wondering, how much time will I actually get to teach? Or even see my family? 

 

I fear we’re closing the stable door on a horse that bolted some time ago.

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