Tuesday, December 15, 2015

UK: Who would be a teacher today?

Soul-sapping bureaucracy is putting off new recruits

The British education system has produced a controversy a week since the Conservatives took office in 2010. This time, secretary of state for education Nicky Morgan, her schools minister Nick Gibb and the Department for Education have been accused of undermining the teaching profession itself.

According to the Labour Party, schools are ‘hemorrhaging teachers’ because of excessive workloads. And the statistics would appear to support Labour’s claims. Four in 10 new teachers quit within a year, and almost one in five secondary-school-trainee places have gone unfilled this year, according to the government’s own figures.

None of this is a surprise. Teaching is no longer a profession. While you may still have to obtain a formal qualification, teaching has been emptied of any the freedom that teachers once had to direct the learning of their pupils. This repressive climate is putting off new recruits. But this is not just the Conservatives’ fault.

When Labour’s Tony Blair said that his three policy priorities were ‘education, education, education’ in 1997, many thought he really cared about children and the future. They were to be disappointed. During its time in power, New Labour built an educational edifice of exam scripts, policies, white papers, targets and data-driven nonsense, laden with jargon and acronyms, which has sucked the life out of our schools. Both the Conservatives and Labour are to blame for the lifeless and undesirable profession we see today.

The potential to change a child’s life and set him or her on a journey of discovery, not to mention the great holidays and public-sector pension, no longer outweigh the many negatives of entering the profession. Entering the classroom nowadays is fraught with difficulty. Teachers no longer hold the authority they once did. Not only do pupils at some schools sit on recruitment panels and decide who to hire, they also might very well break the career of a teacher. They are encouraged to make formal complaints about teachers, perhaps because they disagree with a teacher’s teaching style or perhaps because they simply dislike the teacher’s manner (which is common from my experience). This hands power and authority over to the children. They see the classroom as their domain, the space over which they exert control.

Schools are also increasingly resembling miniature prisons. They require staff to wear identification on site at all times, and any visitors must sign in and out, as well as wearing visible ‘visitor’ badges, lest they be suspected of being a paedophile or deviant. Is it any wonder, then, that many are running from a profession that views adults’ interaction with children with suspicion?

However, teachers face an even bigger problem. The state no longer trusts teachers to teach. They are not trusted to impart the knowledge and wisdom they have obtained through study and experience to their pupils. Education, in the British state sector, no longer has a moral purpose. The national curriculum and exam procedures strangle teachers’ freedom. Instead, teachers must concern themselves with helping pupils obtain the ‘gold standard’ five A*-C grades at GCSE level, which it is assumed will eventually help pupils get a good job. Constrained by the bureaucracy of a state that is obsessed with stats and data, teaching has been emptied of any ethical purpose – it has become a tick-box exercise.

What the education system must do in order to attract ambitious and passionate new recruits is to provide teachers with freedom: the freedom in the classroom to take risks; the freedom to design a curriculum that will deliver the best that has been thought and said, and help budding young minds make sense of the world; and the freedom to disregard dry targets and data. Without granting teachers the freedom to do these things, the Department for Education will continue to fall short of recruitment targets. After all, who would be a teacher today?


Chaotic British school to be taken over by Muslim group

Parents have voiced their anger that an Islamic group is to take over a secondary school where less than 2 per cent of pupils are Muslim.

A petition was started after it was revealed Tauheedul Education Trust (TET) is taking over Highfield Humanities College in Blackpool, Lancashire, which is in special measures.

The trust, which has faced controversy in the past, oversees the running of ten Muslim Schools in the northwest, West Midlands, and east London.

Many parents are concerned about its takeover of Highfield, a secondary school that has failed to improve since it was deemed 'inadequate' a year ago, and claim governors were 'railroaded' into it by the government's regional schools commissioner.

According to Sian Griffiths and Julie Henry at The Sunday Times, some parents are confused why a largely white school is to be run by a sponsor that heads up Islamic faith schools.

TET insists Highfield will retain its non-faith character but many parents are still worried, with a petition calling for the takeover to be postponed attracting more than 1,000 signatures.

Spencer Shackleton, whose 15-year-old son is a pupil at Highfield, said: 'It is shocking. TET sponsors Islamic-faith schools and Highfield is... in a town where less than 1 per cent of the population is Muslim.'

On the petition, Esther Paiva wrote: 'I think it is awful parents have not been consulted on this. Seems they have already made their minds up whether the parents like it or not.'

Simon Humphries said: 'I chose for my kids to go to a non-religious school for a reason and I don't want that choice to be taken away from us now!'

Others support the takeover, however, and hope it can improve the situation a Highfield.

Parent Louise Graham told the Sunday Times: 'The school needs change and needs to be taken forward and I think TET is the right organisation to do this.'

Elsewhere, TET runs the strongly-performing Tauheedul Islam Girls' High School in Blackburn, Lancashire, although the school was criticised for requiring pupils to wear an Islamic headdress.

Since this came to light two years ago the school has scrapped the rule.

At another TET school, Olive Primary, Channel 4's Dispatches exposed staff describing music and clapping as 'satanic' in undercover footage.

But since then Ofsted investigations of both have led to positive feedback.

TET said: 'TET is one of the most successful multi-academy trusts in the country... We have a long history of working with non-faith schools to support real, long-lasting improvements.

'We are committed to bringing this expertise and experience to Highfield.'


Seventh grader wearing Star Wars t-shirt is told by school administrators that it is BANNED 'because it has a gun on it'

A Texas seventh grader who wore a Star Wars t-shirt to school was told it has been banned because 'it has a gun on it.'

Colton Southern from Rosenberg had worn the shirt to school on Thursday which is emblazoned with the Star Wars: The Force Awakens logo and features a Stormtrooper holding a gun.

Administrations at George Junior High School told him to cover up the shirt, which he was told was banned because it has a picture of 'what in the movie is a weapon,' KTRK reported.

'It's political correctness run amok,' Colton's dad, Joe, said.  'You're talking about a Star Wars t-shirt, a week before the biggest movie of the year comes out. 'It has nothing to do with guns or making a stand. It's just a Star Wars shirt.'

The district's secondary school handbook apparently details potential violations of dress code, which includes 'symbols oriented toward violence,' a Lamar Consolidated Independent School District spokesperson said.

Administrators said Colton was not reprimanded and was only required to zip up his jacket.

However, they told KTRK that they could have required him to change, assigned him in-school suspension or have had him face other consequences.

On Thursday, following the incident, Colton's dad posted about it on Facebook and called the whole thing 'absurd'.

He wrote: 'Star Wars shirt banned at school! My son came home from George Junior High School in Rosenberg, TEXAS, and informed me he could no longer wear this shirt to school (which he has many times) because the Stormtrooper has a gun! How absurd!'

Joe Southern said to him the incident is a violation of the first amendment and that the weapon shown on the shirt and the character holding it are both fictional, according to KTRK.

He added that any implication that his son would hurt anyone is incorrect, saying there is not a violent bone in his son's body.

'He's a Boy Scout, active in church, volunteers at Brazos Bend State Park. There's not a violent bone in his body. He's just an excited kid for the movie,' he said.

The next installment in the Star Wars saga, one of the most highly anticipated movie releases of the year, premieres in Los Angeles on Monday for VIP audiences in three separate theaters amid tight security.


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