The Department for Education has appropriated a range of technologies to get its message across, following on from the previous Labour administration, the Department for Education has a YouTube site. Its visual appearance is somewhat more sombre than that of it’s predecessor, the DCSF. Perhaps this indicates a greater emphasis on substance, rather than style. Or, perhaps, that is what we are supposed to think.
With the launch of the Schools White Paper, comes Michael Gove appearing on video introducing it. You can watch the video here. It leaves you in no doubt as to what the key themes of the Schools White Paper are.
The White Paper is, as Gove tells us, called The Importance of Teaching.
Firstly, this refers to the quality of teachers. The Government is committed to raising the prestige of teachers. That sounds unproblematic, on the face of it. Note, however, the emphasis on the quality of teachers, not teaching. The White Paper invites us to believe that improvements in schools will be as a result of good quality teachers. Presumably that implies that good quality teachers practice good quality teaching. But this is not merely a semantic point. Good quality teachers will be identified through their degree classification. Graduates will require at least a 2:2 in order to receive government funding for initial teacher training. This might not appear to be a bad thing, after all, we want teachers who know their subject and can demonstrate this at degree level. However, it does suggest that the qualities that are required to become a good teacher, exist, and are fixed before initial teacher training takes place. In reality, given the popularity of many PGCE programmes, this level of selection is likely to have being taking place for some time. However, as a result of these proposals, providers of post-graduate teacher training programmes will now no longer be able to provide a place to a potentially excellent teacher who has less than a 2:2.
Secondly, there is the power that is to be given to teachers. Again, this sounds unproblematic. Teachers will be able “to take control of the learning that goes on” and will be given “new powers to take control of order and discipline in the classroom”. If teachers are important, this sounds reasonable, let them get on with teaching, and, while they are at it they can get on with disciplining children. How very generous of the Government to give teachers power. So, let us problematise this. Can power be ‘given’ to teachers in this sense? I doubt it. Unless the Government genuinely sees that it has nothing to do with education, and will disband the DfE, and never again propose education policies, it still has power, and it can just as easily take back this so called power that it is giving teachers.
Alongside this new power, is freedom. As the webpage for the Schools White Paper states, schools are to be “freed from the constraints of central Government direction“. The Schools White Paper, presumably, should not be seen as an example of that “central Government direction”.
So, there it is, teachers have power, and schools have freedoms, and, there is no “central Government direction”. Except that “central Government” is pressing for the teaching of synthetic phonics, and the introduction of the English Baccalaureate. Testing remains, with a new “age six reading check” to be introduced, inspections remain, and minimum “floor standards” will be imposed on schools. The curriculum is to be reformed, with a focus on “essential knowledge”. We can accept that teachers have new powers, and schools have freedoms, however, they have these as long as they implement this Government’s policy