The recent slump in teacher morale documented by a YouGov poll published a few days ago represents a severe indictment of Michael Gove’s education policies. Largely the extreme logical conclusion of a quarter of a century’s education policies his policies started with Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Education Act and were carried on by a Blairite government too timid to change them.
These right-wing education policies have continuously relied on assertions that applying toytown market reductionism and simplistic MBA-style solutions to schools will achieve improvements. The problem for those advocating these right-wing policies is that they have almost always relied on unsupported declarations and failed to include any serious data or even arguments to support their claims.
Now everything is starting to fall apart, the core of Gove’s policies; fragmentation through academies and “free” schools, top-down imposition of performance-related-pay, greater centralization of the curriculum, giving heads too much power, abandoning initial teacher education and over-reliance on exams and testing. The head of Ofsted’s idiotic comment "If anyone says to you that 'staff morale is at an all-time low' you know you are doing something right." Is now threatening to make him look even more out of touch than his boss.
The problem is that as teacher morale decreases (and resulting industrial action increases) the status of teaching decreases and this hits recruitment and retention of teachers. Already, despite a severe shortage of jobs for graduates and young people, recruitment is starting to suffer, and disillusionment of teachers is falling.
The problem has been that pretty much every right-wing education initiative imposed on schools since May 2010 has been based on untested assumptions, or even, in some cases, assumptions for which there is significant evidence to the contrary – such as “free” schools.
Just one example of such an assertion is the claim by Teach First that sending barely-trained graduates into schools for a couple of years while they wait for a job to come up in banking or accountancy will “raise the status of teaching”. Brett Wigdortz, the head of Teach First has repeatedly made this assertion but has never supplied any justification for it. Indeed he has never even supported it with any serious argument, never mind any data. The decline on the status of teaching associated with the figures for teacher morale now gives lie to his vacuous assertions, repeated, Goebbels fashion to make them true.
This reflects one of the defining features of those advocating right-wing education policies has traditionally been the substitution of anecdotes for data, and unsupported assertion for actual evidence; something which runs through the entire New Educational Establishment (NEE) from Katherine Birbalsingh and Toby Young to Joel Klein and Michael Wilshaw.
In fact the British NEE is but a subsection of the GERM (Global Educational Reform Movement) as Pasi Sahlberg has Christened it; a barely-disguised corporate-run Astroturf movement dedicated to educational privatization, increased testing, and subjecting children to greater regimentation and conformity. Yet it uses the language of educational improvement to disguise a reduction in educational quality for our children.
Every school a crammer, is now the effective policy, one that was probably inevitable from the start of the current right-wing education “reforms” in 1988. Ofsted used to say that, “if pupils are not learning, teachers are not teaching.” Well this logic has now come full circle. Dr Tony Wagner has shown how rote memorization of test answers has effectively replaced real learning, and Prof. Paul Dowling and Prof Andrew Brown’s research in secondary schools has shown that many secondary school children now regard the curriculum as little more than a ticket to the next level, like a computer game. Learning has been replaced by information to be memorized for exams but useless for anything else and soon forgotten. The children in our schools learn nothing more than to pass exams and schools have become adept at producing good exam results without actually teaching the children anything useful.
So what is the motivation behind the GERM? The cat was let out of the bag by a Tea-Party pundit during the American election who admitted that people are more likely to vote Republican the wealthier they become, but that this is reduced significantly if they are well educated. The problem is that the more educated people are the better able they are to see through the unsupported assertions, hyperbole, propaganda and outright lies of right-wing parties.
The problem is that no-one is going to win any election by telling people they are going to make education worse, so a systematic dumbing-down of educational has to be dressed up as educational improvement, with the full force of the right-wing propaganda machine behind it. Some people have suggested that it is Gove’s background as a journalist that has resulted in him being given an easy ride by the media. This is probably an oversimplification. They are doing it because they need to maintain the myths upon which his policies are based in the face of considerable evidence on the ground to the contrary.