Review of the year

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27 December 2014 by ATL
The major educational event of 2014 was the sacking of Michael Gove. Joy was unalloyed among the vast majority of teachers and school leaders as this most ideological of politicians was shown the door.

His successor, Nicky Morgan, moved quickly to repair relations with teachers and launched the workload challenge. Just in time before an election, the government remembered it had a duty of care to the teaching profession. Over 44 thousand teachers (nearly one in ten) responded to Nicky Morgan's invitation to tell the government what is driving them to an average 60-hour working week.

The government has promised a major policy response to workload in 2015. We wait to see whether politicians understand and acknowledge the scale of the problem which has increasingly blighted the professional lives of teachers for so many years.

No one should be surprised that the workload challenge has put Ofsted in the dock, charged with being a major driver of the excessive and unsustainable workload piled on teachers and school leaders. 2014 was, also, the year Ofsted’s critics finally began to get their arguments heard more widely. Ofsted found itself in the unusual position of having to defend the accuracy and reliability of its inspections. School leaders and teachers began to bite back. A debate about the quality and consistency of Ofsted’s school inspections was held in the House of Commons.

The big question about Ofsted can no longer be ignored. Does Ofsted, an agency which inspires fear and terror in school leaders and teachers, have any place in a high performing education system?

The Labour party has committed itself to reforming Ofsted. Speaking in the House of Commons Kevin Brennan, the Shadow School’s Minister, said: “Labour believes that the role of the schools inspectorate needs to be examined. In government we will ensure that the inspection process is more collaborative and that school improvement involves schools reviewing one another, and monitoring by the middle tier.”

2015 will see more ideas for reform of the inspection and accountability system, including, in February, a major statement by ATL about reform of the inspection system.

In 2014 several high profile, entrepreneurial, head teachers who were previously lauded and visited by Michael Gove and David Cameron, were exposed. The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) required senior civil servants to appear before it to demonstrate that academy trustees, whose companies charge for services provided for the schools they govern, do not have conflicts of interest. The answers given did not convince Margaret Hodge, the redoubtable chair of the PAC. This issue is not going away - expect more exposure of the misuse of school finances and unethical school governance in 2015.

2014 saw a tsunami of change hitting schools in the form of qualification and curriculum reform. Primary teachers are living with the loss of levels (without any real thought from the government about what should replace them) and hugely increased demands in terms of subject knowledge (eg computer coding) without the investment or training needed for successful implementation of the new curriculum.

Secondary schools face a four year rolling programme of changes to GCSEs, AS and A-levels which is proving to be chaotic in its implementation. Teachers are faced with a period of huge uncertainty – unable to tell pupils or their parents what they need to know to make wise subject choices.

In 2014 it was finally concluded that, after a decade long obsession with school structures and a proliferation of school types, what actually matters is the quality of teaching and leadership. This realisation has come simultaneously with the realisation that we are heading for a teacher recruitment crisis just as pupil rolls soar. Ofsted has warned that the number of new teachers has dropped by 16% over the last five years, with 8,000 fewer trainees in secondary schools alone.

And finally, the third series, this time Educating the East End, made for compelling viewing – showing the public just what a complex, demanding but ultimately rewarding work teachers do with young people. All three series (the latest preceded by Educating Essex and Educating Yorkshire) present schools as positive, life affirming places. I have been completely hooked and look forward to Educating in Wales in 2015.

A version of this article first appeared in Academies Week.

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