Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Gradgrind’s Charter

There was a confusing blizzard of initials, the DfES (Department for Education and Science) decided on the recommendations sent to it by the STRB (School Teachers’ Review Body) on PBR (Payment By Results). Reading the proposals my heart sank they really are a ‘Gradgrind’s Charter’, but it’s the NQTs that I feel sorry for because they will have to inherit the wasteland.

What do the proposals mean?

1) Ambitious young teachers can jump some of the pay scales and get increased pay “based on results”.
2) The 240,000 senior staff will have their pay firmly tied to the treadmill of… yes, you’ve guessed it results.
3) NQTs will only move up the pay scale when they… get results.

For the 280,000 teachers on the main scale there’s a vague formulation that, “all progression on incremental pay scales follow a performance management review and that a teacher’s performance has satisfied explicit performance-related criteria.” In other words enough room for unscrupulous Heads to withhold pay increases. That government poodle the NAS promised that main scale teachers had “nothing to fear” from the proposals - so senior staff whose pay depends on results won’t be putting any pressure on, particularly for SATs and GCSE results? My name is Chris Woodhead and I claim my £10.

The NUT (which was founded in the late nineteenth century to oppose payment by results) usually talk a good fight but do nothing about it, they did a classic spin operation by reporting the progress made for part-time and supply teachers but abandoned the fight for NQTs.

Maybe when we talk about “results” we need a bit of intellectual honesty because even a brain dead chimp could “raise standards”. How do you do it? Simple, narrow down the curriculum, teach to test, constantly test children, focus on the borderline group that will make all the difference and if in doubt cheat, remembering the golden rule – don’t get caught.

In my experience 80% of children don’t have any problem with “the basics” the other 20% are the SEN children who need specialist help. The iron law of assessment is that the higher the learning skill the harder it is to assess. How do you actually measure, love of learning, innovation, creativity or imagination? Yes it’s a real bugger as soon as you try to enter them on a spreadsheet they escape like a ghost. It’s got to the stage now that whenever I hear the words ‘Multiple Choice’ I want to start screaming and head for the hills.

Exactly what sort of teacher will the payment by results proposals promote? Will it be?

Teacher A- who is creative, attempts to enthuse children with a love for learning, is well liked by his pupils and promotes cooperation between them, teaches a wide ranging and balanced curriculum, is always taking his class on trips out, inspires them with a love of reading and has colourful displays with children’s work all over the classroom walls.


Teacher B – a results obsessed, joyless, utilitarian automaton who teaches a narrowed down curriculum, there’s constant testing and the SEN children are on the brink of revolt, his pupils can’t wait to get out of class and the walls are covered with targets for the pupils, class and school, after being fed a constant diet of gruel the more able children are exhibiting the first signs of malnutrition.

Of course I exaggerate for effect, or maybe not.

In all of this my constant question is - what the hell are we doing to our children? See the Unicef report for more details. The other week I was talking to a Year 6 teacher, his Head had finally thrown his hand in after attending another LEA meeting on target setting. The school’s assessments had been ripped up and the scary consultants were asking them to “push more children through the barrier”. They looked at their children in Year 6, who were they talking about? There was the shy child whose confidence was fragile because his parents had just gone through a messy divorce, there was the pupil who had wet the bed during the Year 2 tests and her parents had made it clear “never again” and then there was the boy whose parents thought was a potential genius, yes they could, with a lot of work, get him to Level 5, but for his sake didn’t want to.

Some teachers may choose to worship the devil, that’s a matter of personal choice, but it’s not for me. The proposals on payment by results really are another bleak day for education and our children, slowly, slowly, the light is being extinguished.

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