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Mapping the Territory: Critical Concepts and Issues in Education Part 2 - Reflection

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Mapping the Territory: Critical Concepts and Issues in Education Part 2 – reflection

Following on from the discussions of performativity in Part 1 of this essay, I would like to consider the nature of performative changes and their impact on my own practice, as well as my own environment in a fee-paying independent school. To do this I will be looking at the changing requirements of me and others as individual teachers, the changes for school leadership, the impact on subject specialisms, particularly my own in History and Politics; the impact on students, and the overall transformation of the education system.

This essay will, by definition focus on the period after 2010, starting with the Conservative-led coalition government, as my involvement in the profession also started in 2010, when I started my PGCE, though there will be some consideration of reforms made under the previous Labour administrations. It is clear to me that many of the changes that have occurred in the sector in recent years have been to the detriment of the profession and of individual teachers I know, as well as negatively impacting students in terms of pressure and changing their learning experience to one that is more rigid and exam-focused. This change has ultimately affected the quality and nature of education that students receive; my school has insulated me from some of these changes, but there has been a clear change in the makeup of the staff body, and the nature of the job does appear to continue to move in an increasingly ‘performative’ direction.

I work in the secondary (11-18) section of a relatively large independent school (with approximately 1400 on roll). As a teacher of History and Politics I teach both subjects to A Level, and History at Key Stage 3 and GCSE. The time that I have spent in school has seen a number of changes to secondary education. Firstly, the academic goals that students are working towards have been affected on several times, primarily through changes to GCSEs and A Levels, namely the changes to a 1-9 system and the creation of linear A Levels. Assessment without levels has also been introduced, but seems to have had less impact in the independent sector, which does not have to follow the same procedures, though often policies are mirrored. As stated in Part 1 of my essay, these changes are designed to improve the rigour of such qualifications and provide additional challenge. Changes in qualifications have continued a broader process in education, which I have seen first hand, with schools having to consider how they can be more than ‘exam factories’; Priestly et al state that there is an “emerging tendency in curriculum policy in the UK… to construct teachers explicitly as agents of change”, contrasting with previous “prescriptive curricula and oppressive regimes”. (Priestley, M, Biesta, G, (2012) Teacher Agency and Curriculum Change ESRC End of Award Report, RES-000-22-4208. Swindon: ESRC)

In some senses the independent sector and my school has benefited from changes elsewhere; the advent of performance related pay has helped recruitment in Cheadle Hulme School, with now the vast majority of staff being comprehensive-educated, and many moving from previous roles in such schools. The ‘crisis’ in teacher recruitment, as claimed by UCL’s Professor Becky Francis, has had an impact at my school, as elsewhere, but certainly to a lesser degree. ((Tes. 2018. ‘We do have a problem with teacher recruitment and retention’. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 10 January 2018].)

From a personal perspective, as someone who came to teaching late with no experience or knowledge of the independent sector, and as someone who didn’t initially intend to stay in a private school, the creation of performance related pay and general pay restraint in the public sector had a significant impact on me choosing to remain in an independent school.( Needs reference! ) Pressure has been added to some schools in the independent sector by the strong improvement in standards in recent years of many state schools, with a number of independent schools changing focus or status, such as becoming free schools or grammar schools. This has had an impact in my school, and although numbers remain strong pressure remains on results to maintain large year groups. These changes have had an impact on me and my teaching; as someone who went into teaching, in common with many others, for socio-moral reasons, it is fair to say that I have found several aspects of these policies difficult to reconcile, (where Ball says that “teachers, as ethical subjects, find their values challenged or displaced”). (Stephen J. Ball (2003) The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity, Journal of Education Policy, 18:2, 215-228,).

Working in a private school fundamentally goes against many aspects of my and other teachers personal views, but to quote a colleague, who is also a head of department, “if I had remained in state education I would have been forced up or forced out.” In a way I feel that, whilst aspects of performativity make our jobs more challenging, and we are held to scrutiny based on results and performance, CHS has effectively insulated teachers from some of the more challenging aspects of the policy.

One of the features of the ‘performative’ changes in education has been the growth of stress-related issues for teachers, an increasingly adversarial relationship between the education sector and the government, and both an increase in teachers from the profession as well as a decrease in numbers applying for teacher training. (Parliament: House of Commons (2017), Teacher recruitment and retention in England, (7222) London).

Since I have been in my current school there has been a high degree of staff turnover, particularly amongst older and more experienced members of staff, though on an anecdotal level there are a large number of teachers who do no see themselves staying in the profession permanently. However once again there is a degree to which independent school teachers are somewhat protected from those changes; whilst there is reported to be a large scale departure from teaching in general it is clear that a lot of teachers move from state to private schools, attracted by the improved pay and conditions (Machin et al, Competition for private and state school teachers, Journal of Education and Work, 21(5) pp. 383-404). The level of job stress on current teachers is massive, and is cited by many as their reason for leaving the profession, yet for me much of the pressure of the job comes not from inspection or school management, but from time constraints and parents. (REFERENCE) Generally my school are very supportive when it comes to such problems, recently signing up the school to a teacher’s charity to provide financial support and counselling (WHAT CHARITY?).

One of the major factors that teachers cite in causing them stress is that of Ofsted, and this is a further instance of where independent schools are open to less frequent review, and to a far lesser extent. A current colleague said that the frequency of lesson inspections in state schools, ostensibly to prepare for Ofsted, created what Winkley calls a culture of fear inside and outside of the classroom, and is far in excess of my current, independent school, where some members of SLT may never come to see you teach, and even in that case will rarely take remedial action. (Winkley, D., ‘An Examination of Ofsted’, An Inspector Calls, 2013, p.44)Where the stress level in the state sector is leading to huge turnover of teachers, these numbers are less pronounced for the independent sector, with teacher numbers increasing despite a general concern about the current problems of teacher recruitment. (Worth, J., Bamford, S. and Durbin, B. (2015). Should I Stay or Should I Go? NFER Analysis of Teachers Joining and Leaving the Profession. Slough: NFER) (Holmes, E., (2017) ‘Independent Schools Council 2016/17 key figures’, London: Independent Schools Council).

A colleague of mine who was a head of department in a state grammar school claimed that my current school would be in special measures if Ofsted came, not because we are a bad school, but because the specific criteria and lesson structures as well as focus on student progress and targets required by Ofsted are not enforced at CHS. Still, there is pressure on this front in my school, and it comes primarily from comparison to other schools in our area of a similar type (state and private) rather than from official league tables per se. A head of year colleague expressed concern that students ended up being reduced to numbers, with scores for value added or expected grades, rather than a more nuanced or qualitative approach to student development. This is also a feature of state schools, though with moving goalposts, with regards to accountability for, previously, Free School Meal students and now Pupil Premium (Teacher Support Network).

A final factor that I find to be personally impacting on my ability to return to the state sector is the decline of History in schools, with a significant decline in both GCSE and A Level uptake, partly attributable to the increase of schools teaching Humanities, perhaps due to the perceived difficulties of History academically and the pressures schools are under with regards to results. (Ofsted – ) I am able at my school to teach good numbers of students History and Politics GCSE and A Level, though we are not immune from these changes, with a decline from 5 to 4 GCSE sets and 4 to 2 A Level sets (although the latter is offset by an increase in Politics A Level numbers). A March 2011 Ofsted report found that “whole-school curriculum changes were having a negative impact on teaching and learning in history at Key Stage 3. Some of these changes included introducing a two-year Key Stage 3 course, assimilating history into a humanities course or establishing a competency-based or skills-based course in Year 7 in place of history and other foundation subjects, ” and, compared to 48% of students in independent schools, 30% of students in maintained schools and only 20% of students in academies take the subject at GCSE. (Parliament: House of Lords (2011), ‘To Call Attention to the Teaching of History in Schools’, (LLN 2011/030) London)

Once again, I find myself in the position of having to contrast my position in an independent school with that of teachers in other schools. Whilst the performative changes to education have clearly impacted on teachers in my school, in particular with the challenges from new curricula and academic changes, it is also clear that the brunt of these changes are felt by teachers in comprehensive schools where the pressure of inspection is far greater, and the impact of performance related pay on motivation and staff turnover has been more acute. My initial desire to leave the independent sector has been tempered by these changes, and the pressures around pay and conditions, meaning that, despite the not-inconsiderable performative changes in my school, it makes it very hard for me to consider returning to the state sector.School leadership in private education seems to have a somewhat different approach to the ‘performative’ culture than that which now seems to exist in the maintained sector.

According to Kogan and Maden “[Ofsted] inspection dominates the thinking of most… of those in schools, local authorities and professional associations… Its prominence could be described in the end of the corporatist bargain with public professions in which the State conferred resources, trust and legitimacy to work with their clients.” (Kogan and Maden, ‘An Evaluation of Evaluators’, An Inspector Calls, 2013) It would be naive to believe that these changes had a negligible impact on independent education, but the extent of that impact at my school appears to somewhat lessened from my experiences and those of others in state schools. Still, performative educational culture has been inculcated by the Senior Leadership Team in my school in several ways. A member of SLT commented that the changes in schools inspection in the 90s was the single biggest change other than the creation of GCSEs and league tables in his time in education. Recently the school has changed its internal structure from being pastoral to ‘pupil progress and welfare’, and with it a tacit change in the role of ‘pastoral’ staff and, in fact, all teachers to a data-driven analytical approach to pupil success, impacting heavily on me and my role as a head of year.

A further change that has been driven by the school’s SLT has been the creation of ‘departmental reviews’ to simulate inspections, and to increase the number of lesson observations. Still, though not quite to the extent of the anecdotal accounts of some who claim to never or hardly ever be observed, observation by management and Heads of Department is rare in my school. Recruitment should it go here?The school has been placed under some pressure by the increasing success of local maintained schools, and such success means that weaker students and students with specific learning support needs are more likely to be admitted than previously. As such, SLT has had to increase the focus placed on Learning Support, differentiation, and accessibility and lesson resources, as well as on the ‘co-curricular’ programme and quality of our facilities. Still, a primary difference is the extent to which we at the school are held to account over such changes; whilst Ofsted expects students with Pupil Premium to be specifically accounted for and supported, similar arrangements are not an explicit focus in my current environment. (Department for Education [DFE], Evaluation of Pupil Premium Research Report, 2013, p17) As such, whilst school inspection and the pressures of governmental changes have a significant impact in maintained schools and consequently mean that SLTs have to enforce performative systems in those environments, such changes are surprisingly absent from my experience of the independent sector.

Finally, I wish to consider the impact on students from the recent changes to the education sector, being the primary reason for me teaching in the first place, especially considering the increased pressure and changing qualification structure put in place. The changes in tuition fees have certainly had an impact on the uptake of arts subjects, with a huge increase in our school’s proportion of students taking single sciences at GCSE and taking science or maths courses at A Level. We have very much seen the national changes regarding the uptake of History and Geography reflected in our environment, albeit to a lesser extent than the national percentages.

A major change has been the changes to the History curriculum that took place under Michael Gove, requiring a range of 200 years to be present through A Level module, making the subject harder to ‘sell’ in an increasingly competitive context. Similarly, the Politics course now has a series of specific historic aspects that students need to know, such as the Magna Carta and the Chartists, which previously were not part of what has always been a course focused on more recent events. The increasing pressure on the level of content expected to be taught in Gove’s new, more prescriptive National Curriculum is likely to fail to address many of the reasons History is already suffering from low student uptake, such as a perceived preoccupation with dates and too much essay writing. Still, independent schools can, and do, opt out from this, and throughout most of the school students are able to enjoy History and other subjects without being over-examined, and like many other similar schools we choose to do an IGCSE course (though they are also, belatedly, coming over to the 1-9 grading system). Still, despite the ability of independent schools to shield students (and themselves) from many aspects of performative educational culture, I have still witnessed an ever-increasing workload on students, on whom the expectations are immense. It is clear that performative logic and educational changes have had an impact on the diet that students receive in the classroom, the subjects they take, and the pressure that they find themselves under. This in turn, adds pressure to teachers and pastoral staff to manage their own expectations with regards to results whilst safeguarding the welfare of the students in their care.

THIS PARAGRAPH HAS NO REFERENCES the 0advantages of private schools TO BERNIE / CAROLINEQuestions about intake quality, tuition feesI was unsure about how to reference this according to the guidelines, so I have included the link and the reference, which I got from the ESRC research catalogue.Priestley, M, Biesta, G, (2012) Teacher Agency and Curriculum Change ESRC End of Award Report, RES-000-22-4208. Swindon: ESRC.

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