As a piece of writing that was responding to a current news or topical event a class of year 10 students at Passmores were asked to use my open letter to @nickymorgan as the stimulus. I was not aware of this until I got emailed some of them. I have included some below – all completely unedited as you will see.
I am a student attending Passmores Academy going into my last year of secondary school. Yes, I am part of the next set of national statistics for the academic year 2015 to 2016 which you will be arguing about in a year’s time. I am aware of the blog regarding you and the issues with education at this present time. This letter is my own response to problems highlighted in the blog that my peers, my teachers and I are imminently facing. By this I mean: making sure that the idea of child-centered education rules instead of indulgence in never-ending policy debates; my school being able to recruit new staff to support me in my last year and the class the year after me; money for updated resources and new courses; my teachers being trained to help my peers and I excel with the new specifications on exams. In addition, my concerns span Mr. Goddard’s diminishing ability to create a less stressful environment, for me and the staff around me, and finally, underpinning the problem, the unpredictable and destabilising changes from Ofsted for the present and future generations of head teachers and students alike.
The first point highlighted in Mr. Goddard’s blog is the fact that schools need to be, “focussed on the needs of the young people.” As an experienced head teacher, Mr. Goddard understands that the focus should not be on students facing our exams and being stressed over Ofsted. The CfBT Education Trust website also agrees that, “Ofsted has become too pervasive an influence for schools.” Their March article insists, “What would Ofsted say? is too often the key question asked when making a strategic decision in school.” Having a child-centered education system means that children like me can develop as a whole person; it means we can focus on all of our skills instead of narrowing it down to the ones that are ‘Good’ by Ofsted’s standards. Graeme Currie, a blogger posted onto Mr. Goddard’s letter while he was at the Hay Book Festival saying that people were asking the question, “What is the point of any society if its first concern is not the upbringing of its children?” Then writer after author after researcher at the festival went on to point out how politicians have somehow forgotten this. This quote emphasizes that child-centered education is becoming a thing of the past when in fact it should be a squarely central feature of education.
Continuing from that point, we couldn’t have a child-centered education system without qualified teachers that enjoy and are stimulated by the job they do. Finding these kinds of teachers takes time and money, and as it reads in the blog, “recruiting new staff becomes a real focus”. This is true. Figures from the Department for Education show that “in the 12 months to November 2013 (the most recent year for which statistics are available) almost 50,000 qualified teachers in England quit the state sector. The problem was emphasized by the fact that more than 100,000 potential teachers have never taught despite completing their training.” These figures do not make the teaching profession look attractive or even slightly compelling as a career choice. In the comment section below the letter, “Hopefully you are not one of the Academies employing unqualified teachers,” telling us how bad the situation is becoming.
As I mentioned in the paragraph above and as Mr. Goddard mentioned in his blog, money is also spent trying to find the best possible teachers for us students. Due to the absence of many teaching staff in Britain, schools are left with little option but to pay the price, “schools pay firms up to £50,000 to find leaders,” reads the title of a June 2015 Guardian article. You may ask where the schools get extra money to pay for things like this…they don’t. This money is taken from breakfast clubs, extra revision materials for year 11, etc. So, recruiting and then holding on to staff becomes increasingly difficult. Furthermore, after the school has spent the money recruiting new teachers, they then have to train them. “Please tell me how I can continue to grow and develop the three schools with less money and it being almost impossible to recruit with any certainty?” Mr. Goddard vociferates. The only certainty at the moment is the inevitability that endless change makes things worse.
I can only imagine how stressful this is for Mr. Goddard and damaging to his hopes for us ‘to improve upon our best’, our school motto. Mr. Goddard swears by this and, as he says in his letter, one of his main jobs is to, “create (positive) energy.” How can he continue to inspire and keep us – especially year 11s – positive when his own positive demeanour is slowly fading. However, it’s not just the students that are yearning for a more stable system, my teachers are losing hope which you can see with from the official resignation figures in paragraph three. How can this continue? Soon there may not be any teachers left.
It is obvious to see where the problem lies: within the Ofsted grading system. Ofsted are, and rightly so, focused on improving education within schools. Despite this, their approach is somewhat blunt and in some cases thoroughly demeaning. You may argue that the education system needs a no-nonsense approach but this stressful and intense way of judging schools only affects our school negatively.
How so? When last inspected by Ofsted in November 2008, Passmores and Mr. Goddard’s leadership were judged to be outstanding. Yet in October 2013, Passmores Academy was downgraded to ‘Good’. Same leadership, same ethos. According to the Harlow Star in 2014, “Passmores Academy celebrated a successful year of GCSE results with an eight per cent improvement on last year. It is the school’s second-best results it has ever had with 60 per cent of students achieving five or more A*-C.” Yet, Mr. Goddard is still worried, still wondering if he will be judged as inadequate, still in the position where he feels as if he needs to defend himself and his results. As he says in an uncharacteristically negative way, “no matter how much we all work…you will just redefine what that means to make us feel inadequate again”. How unlike our positive and ever-cheerful leader!
This quote shows us the extent of the problem. How can Ofsted come to a downgraded judgement on the same school, with the same leadership and almost the same pupils? How can good teachers, head teachers and schools cope with the increasing downward pressure of Ofsted judgements? The simple answer is that they shouldn’t be coping with anything except getting their students exam-ready and life-ready. I don’t want a school where my teachers are too stressed to think about what I need. Because in the end, it is my life, my future and my dreams that are at stake. Come to think of it, Mr Goddard’s dreams are at stake, too. As he says, he feels ‘ vulnerable’ to losing his livelihood and the job he ‘loves’. Perhaps I was wrong about Ofsted being unpredictable as well as destabilizing. They are increasingly, predictably negative and are arguably driving down standards, yes, destabilizing the very profession they are supposed to be supporting.
Dear Nicky Morgan,
I am writing to you as a student at Passmores Academy as a response to what my Principle, Mr. Goddard, wrote to you. I am about to start my final, most important, year of secondary education.
My school works with our two nearest primary schools that were given the statuses ’Special Measures’ and ‘Requires Improvement’. When I started in 2004, my primary school was rated as ‘Good’ by Ofsted but during my time there, it went down to satisfactory and then in-between the time I left in 2011 and when my younger sister left in 2014 the school was in ‘Special Measures’ and the students’ education was suffering because of it. As a result, I know how a primary school that is in need of major help and improvement can affect how well students do in the SAT tests and subsequently the impact that it can have on their future schooling.
Mr. Goddard spoke about the stress on teachers to make sure results are high and that students are meeting targets. I know about this first hand as my mum is a Primary School Teacher and my dad is a Secondary School Maths teacher. I have a number of other family members that have worked in a wide range of jobs in a school ranging from a Head Teacher to an Examination Officer and a Science Technician. One of the most recent things to affect my family life at home was when my dad stepped down from being the Head of Department at his school because of how the stress was affecting his health. I can honestly say I have seen such a drastic improvement in the quality of our family time. For example, just after my dad made this decision my entire family were able to sit down and eat dinner together. There was such a relaxed atmosphere that we all knew things were getting better and we were closer as a family than we had been.
It is not only the teachers that are suffering from this target-driven culture. The changes that are continually being made to the education system have also increased the stress levels of the students. As part of the group of students in my school that are aiming for A/A* in most subjects, knowing that the possibility of getting these grades is being made increasingly difficult due to the government wanting to prove the success of their changes, adds further anxieties to an already stressful time. Although I do not deny that a strong literacy and numeracy skills-based timetable is a good idea, I suspect the government will suffer the consequences in 6-7 years’ time when it is my cohort finishing university. These are also the students that will need to be future teachers, doctors and workers, however, how are we supposed to look forward to the next step in our education knowing that the stress of doing A-levels or degrees is being added to day in and day out by the government? The politicians, that are supposed to be helping the nation, are merely making it harder for themselves. When the next General Election comes around (which will be the first election that my peers and I will be eligible to vote in) there will be a nation of 18-22 year olds that are going to be finishing university knowing that it was this government that made their school life harder and therefore added unnecessary stress. Our Prime Minister and his government did not think about the future of the UK but only short-term solutions. We know from history that the best way to improve the prosperity of the UK is to help the people that are going to be the leaders.
Another comment that my principle mentioned was regarding Ofsted, and the idea that Mr Goddard’s hard work and inspiring leadership isn’t enough. These inspections are an example where authority believes that only academics can do a job that I feel could, and should, be led by the students. The purpose of an Ofsted inspection is to make sure that a school is working to the best of its ability to help its students progress in their attainment. However, when it comes to an Ofsted visit Inspectors go into classrooms, judge our teachers and the way they teach and give the school a rating based upon what they see. Except, how can you give a school an honest review on the way they are teach and look after their students if you don’t ask the students what they think? Although I realise a few students may be given the opportunity, I don’t understand why the rest of the students, especially some of the most respected and mature students in the school, don’t have a way to express their opinions. I feel that if Ofsted and Inspecting Bodies did ask about what we, as students, thought they would find that schools, like Passmores, not only deserve Outstanding, they would also learn we have an outstanding Head Teacher that does his absolute best for all the students he looks over and that our school would be no where close to the standard it is now if it wasn’t for him and the amazing staff.
So next time you are thinking about changing the way we learn or you are judging a school, choose to do it not only by what you see but also by opinions of those people that matter – the entire student body. Equally, when you are thinking about the future and what you want it to be like, if the UK is to have a brighter tomorrow, you need to be considering the generation that are going to be leading the change.
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing to you in response to an article I read written by Vic Goddard, Head Teacher of my school. The overview of the article addresses the unbalanced relationship created between expectations and achievable grades: by this I mean what you want us to achieve and pressure us to achieve compared to the plausible grades of our year 11’s.
As a student I feel that the letter written to you didn’t just express the ever-rising expectations of my school but also the pressure upon the students. I agree that every year you raise the average you want us to achieve but these achievements just make students and teachers alike feel inadequate compared to the education system; the system we should all work to create. The point made by Vic Goddard is that this system we all work for “for the system that you have helped create” is one that should fit and work for each school. The grades raise each year while student’s confidence in their grades and exams drop mainly due to the pressure created, this isn’t beneficial as our school and many alike have funding taken away which could be used to effectively help the students: “Please tell me how I can continue to grow and develop the three schools with less money”. Mr Goddard uses the words “develop” and “grow”, these words are what we should be aspiring for as students. The grade at the end of our time at secondary is very important but what our character is like when we leave is just as important; it may even surpass it.
The letter goes on to discuss how Mr Goddard is a “shield” to the community, I believe that the community wants to be aware of the rising pressures and not protected with “the stick on grin”. As a new year 11 I want to discuss a more logical and pragmatic approach to the unrealistic expectations of my peers and now our education system. I believe that this article is a step in the right direction to correcting these worries and working together in creating a suitable environment for all – I insist you take up the offer of a latte – not just for students but for people like you who have a wider understanding of our education system.
In 2014 our schools year 11’s achieved outstanding marks with 68% of students getting 5 A*- C’s, this is amazing for a school in our area, of course other schools like Burnt Mill did better but instead of dwelling on this we should consider this a victory.
We should also begin to consider that within Ofsted and the dialogue between you and Mr Goddard there is no Student Voice. Don’t you think that when discussing the future of young people you should communicate with them to find a way to reach the grades while improving their outlook upon our education system: the system that is supposed to be for all students? If we incorporated more student voice within Ofsted I think it will have a positive correlation between involvement in the system and grades – give students more responsibility and they work harder to sustain the responsibility – consequently I think this would be a big change and maybe we should be the ones to take the first step. By taking the first step it would be a victory amongst not just students but teachers too, as they will see more classroom environments where students are confident and comfortable.
Overall, I want you to see and understand that as more responsibility is put on us to choose colleges, pay tax, get jobs and to live our lives, you don’t give us a say in the first 11-13 years of our education when these are the ones that shape our choices. I think Mr Goddard’s letter hits the nail on the head, that all of these factors affect the teaching at school and the environment we have worked hard to achieve, “give young people the best possible start in life”. I’m sure you want the same thing in your position. Please take the offer of a latte. As a student I would love to participate in a discussion on what the next step is, to stop these conditions which are detrimental to us as students.
Dear Nicky Morgan,
Having read Vic Goddard’s ‘A Letter to the Secretary of State’ it has made me conscious of the state of our education system. As I am a Year 10 pupil at Passmores Academy and have the privilege of spending my secondary school years with Mr. Goddard as the principal, I am somewhat aware of the issues he stated such as the partnership between our school and two local primary schools and the struggle to recruit teachers.
As I have been at the school for nearly 4 years, I have been taught by a variety of teachers and have seen many join Passmores and many leave. However, I never knew the severity of the process and money spent on this. In the blog Vic Goddard states, “Please tell me how I can continue to grow and develop the three schools with less money and it being almost impossible to recruit without certainty? Three months of advertising for maths teachers and then we rely on those being produced in other countries. This really is the outcome of the decisions around initial teacher education over the last few years.” I completely agree with what he is saying here and it has been recognised globally as a major issue. For example, it was addressed in The Guardian article ‘Teacher recruitment falling short for third year straight’; the author Daniel Boffey stated, “Although the country will need more than 52,000 entrants to the teaching profession each year over the next three years, the latest figures available show that 44,107 teachers entered the profession in 2011-12. If the same number of teachers entered the profession each year until 2017, there would be 132,321 entrants to teaching between 2015 and 2017. This would be nearly 27,000 short of the 159,300 teachers the country needs over this period, according to the government’s own forecasts.” This would mean more schools would have to follow along the line of overseas recruitment as Vic had already said.
Despite this, having multicultural/lingual staff can be seen as an advantage, encouraging equality and respect in the wider community but can also been seen as a language barrier; this could be a benefit in some subjects such as languages but not in others where the different pronunciations/accents could cause a struggle.
Not only do I agree with the fact that there is a major teacher recruitment crisis, not only costing money, but affecting the standard of learning for the students, but as Vic said, “I still feel no matter how much we all work, for the dream of every young person being in a good school, you will just redefine what that means to make us feel inadequate again.” The way he addresses it as the collective of teachers empathizes the voice of the people who want to speak out: “I genuinely don’t disagree that we should focus on the basics of a timetable based on strong literacy and numeracy skills within the context of a basis of traditional subjects”. By using this collective voice it creates a powerful, strong opinion that flows consistently throughout the article, which really projects the importance of the words being spoken. It is quite clear teachers from all around the country work hard for the benefit of the students and their educations but this can have a major effect on the teachers themselves. Research by the Teacher Support Network in 2007 found that 71 per cent of Scottish teachers felt their job was ruining their health, with stress, exhaustion, mood swings and poor sleep patterns common. Also, studies show that half of all teachers have thought about quitting because of stress. Lack of respect from pupils, heavy workload, and dealing with ‘pushy parents’ are all blamed, according to a YouGov survey in 2007.
Now I am not saying that this is entirely the government’s fault, but we need to think about what is right for everyone; what is best for the students so that each and every young adult has a good chance at life, what is best for the teachers as they have an incredibly important role of teaching knowledge and skills to the next world leaders, prime ministers and important people who will shape the world in the future, which should not be seen as detrimental but an opportunity which should be seized and enjoyed. And finally, what is best for our country as a whole.
Our education system is flawed as Mr. Goddard speaks about in his article, but it will only improve if we all appreciate that our education isn’t something that we can frequently alter because small changes can ripple through and disrupt students’ learning. We cannot stop the fact that eventually we will have the responsibility of running the world, resolving global problems, and ultimately… teaching the generations that come after us. “I stand by every word but I could do with some help from you to convince others it is a good career choice,” this is what Mr. Goddard said about teaching and it is something more people should know. I believe teachers have a lot of responsibility within the world and nobody would be where they are today if they hadn’t had the education/teachers they had when they were young and not enough people know it.
Thank you for taking the time to read my letter and I hope it gives you an insight into how I and many other students around the world value our education.
Dear Secretary of State for Education,
I write this in response to an open letter written by Vic Goddard, Principal of Passmores Academy. As a student of this school I felt particularly compelled to give my two cents on the issue detailed in Mr. Goddard’s letter and possibly address some of the points he made, while also giving my own thoughts and opinions on the topic.
One of the things that really struck a chord with me, and likely a number of students and teachers alike, was the emphasis placed on the pressure teachers (Head Teachers in particular) are under. Whether this is the pressure to meet the ever changing expectations put on schools or to strive to give students the best start possible in life, it can be crippling to health, attitude and personal well being in general. Mr. Goddard addresses this with a touching and raw anecdote, talking about his and his close family’s experience with this stress first hand.
He also talks about the vulnerability he (among other teachers) feels about the security of his job despite working hard to make progress in Ofsted inspections and pouring energy and time into matching the local and national government’s standards for schools. These feelings are reflected in what Christine Blower (the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers) had to say about Nicky Morgan’s pledge to convert up to a thousand failing schools into academies, calling it “as impractical as it is irrational”. She was sympathetic towards the problems with recruiting new teachers and the fear of losing their job – Head Teachers are already in short supply, so the promise to sack more of them will simply exacerbate the problem. Where does Nicky Morgan imagine that new teachers and heads will come from?
As previously mentioned, the open letter also talked about how the standards required for schools and the definitions of failing, coasting and excelling schools shifted continuously. This unpredictable threat of being inadequate looms over educators and the ambiguous criteria for coasting schools set by Nicky Morgan doesn’t help matters. Secondary schools that fail to have 60% of students leave with at least five ‘good’ GCSE’s will be declared coasting and be required to create a plan for improvement, states an article from the guardian. If this plan is deemed ‘not good enough’, something these schools will have been hearing for quite awhile, they will be turned into academies and taken over. While I believe that setting higher standards (thus being more likely to have schools achieve them, if given the correct support) is paramount in improving this country’s education system and properly equipping young people for the rest of their lives, Nicky Morgan’s criteria can be seen as unspecific. According to Brian Lightman, General Secretary of School and College Leaders, Morgan’s announcement is premature and muddled, apparently not stating the criteria for a coasting school with enough clarity.
Another problematic element of her announcement is the idea that turning schools into academies is an infallible and adequate final solution to the myriad of reasons that some schools might be coasting in the first place. In my opinion suggesting that any single proposition will be the right solution to a problem with so many different reasons, each one specific to their particular circumstances, is inherently flawed.
As previously mentioned in this post and in Mr Goddard’s open letter, Head Teachers of ‘coasting ‘ schools – even those that were previously considered good by Ofsted – will be under threat of losing their jobs. These new changes will not only be endangering the security of a number of people’s livelihoods but will also narrow the already limited curriculum, threatening to disengage students.
Another main point at the heart of this debate is the issue of recruiting new teachers. The concerns about recruiting well qualified teachers is one detailed in Mr. Goddard’s open letter and is shared by a variety of other experts in the field, such as Kevin Courtney, Christine Blower and Brian Lightman. One of the central issues surrounding recruitment, and by extension the effect the Education and Adoption Bill will have on people wanting to enter the profession could exacerbate an already substantial problem. The bill will put even more pressure on teachers and possibly discourage others from pursuing a career in teaching. It will also cause the sacking of a number of Head Teachers and management of failing schools, just adding to the existing issue of a lack of qualified staff.
Overall, I believe that while not all points of the Department for Education’s bill were damaging to schools and teachers, they certainly aren’t perfect. Far from it in fact, with many of the points having repercussions on the daily lives of teachers and Head Teachers and also affecting the curriculums that young people will have to follow.