Now here’s a peek behind the Westminster curtain that you’ll find either amusing or dispiriting, depending on your mood. It’s a presentation delivered by a union delegation at the Department for Education this week, which Coffee House has got its hands on. You can read the whole thing above.
We’ll get onto why it’s amusing (or dispiriting) shortly, but first a bit of background. Various school unions are invited into the DfE each month to meet with a minister or two, as well as with their advisers and civil servants. The idea is that they’ll talk policy; presenting problems and solutions in a way that ought to be mutually constructive. This is why the Association of School and College Leaders and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers were brought in this week to discuss the increasingly prominent subject of teacher performance — to talk through the policy.
But what the unions produced is the above: a presentation that does little more than quote minister after minister speaking out against, erm, bad teaching. The point that it’s trying to make is that ministers should be less hard on teachers, lest they demoralise them. What it actually comes down to is a photo of a cat, peering into a glass, with some cutesy text about optimism and
pessimism. I kid you not, etc.
DfE sources I’ve spoken to certainly found it equal parts hilarious and depressing. ‘The unions live in a parallel universe,’ said one, ‘in which the ever rising exam numbers reflect genuine progress. Their main desire is that Gove stops talking about real problems and just tells everyone to believe the GCSE results. If they ever spoke to a professor at a serious university they would realise they are wrong — but they don’t.’
Sure, this may only be one presentation, but it’s indicative of the oppositional mind-set that stands athwart much schools reform. There is certainly a sensible debate to be had about teacher performance and morale and all that, but it’s not going to come so long as one side treats it as a lazy exercise in ‘he said, she said’. Little wonder why the editor of the Times Educational Supplement concludes his latest leader column with this attack on the unions:
‘Inevitably, they are seen as the refuge of the bad teacher not the champion of the good. The profession deserves better.’
As for the government, they released their detailed case for
reforming teachers’ pay not long after the unions’ presentation was delivered. In an ideal world, that would be more than enough to win them this scrap. But it’s never an ideal world, is it?