School heads 'on brink of joining TUC'

Mood of headteachers is 'angrier and uglier' over education reforms

Britain's biggest headteachers' union is planning to join the TUC, as its leader warns the mood of its members is "angrier" and "uglier" as a result of the Government's school reforms.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the traditionally moderate National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), expects the move to be approved at its annual conference on Friday. He said: "I think the mood is that they are quite close to the brink. The mood is uglier. People are angrier than in previous years." In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, he added: "I think the volume of change and the hardness of the rhetoric [towards teachers] have created a great deal of unhappiness in the system, and I'm not sure how much they can push it until something breaks."

Mr Hobby highlighted two key concerns: attempts to "bully" heads into joining the Government's flagship academies programme, and two tests which they believe are "bad" education practice. These are a reading check for all six-year-olds, which includes having to spell made-up words, while the second is a new spelling, grammar and punctuation test, taken by 600,000 11-year-olds for the first time last week, that heads believe is unnecessary.

The heads' mood ensures Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, will have another tough battle on his hands when he arrives at the conference on Saturday to defend his policies. He already faces growing opposition to his national curriculum reforms from critics who say they will stifle creativity and provoke strike action from teachers.

On the concerns over the academies programme, Mr Hobby cited cases where "academy brokers", who have the job of going into schools and persuading them to become academies, had drawn heads aside in the playground. "It's all off the record," he said, "but they make them offers they can't refuse, such as saying: 'Maybe if you change now you can keep your job but if you convert in a year's time, we can't make any promises.' They try to intimidate them into becoming academies."

The number of calls to the NAHT's hotline for beleaguered heads has doubled in a year to 250 a week. "Ofsted [the education standards watchdog] has contributed to that," he said. "It's not only that it's changed the definition of 'satisfactory' to 'requires improvement'. It's also got a tight control over the definition of 'outstanding'." A school can only be outstanding if all its teaching is rated as outstanding too. "There are reports that they're considering a new category of 'outstanding-plus'."

These changes had increased the pressure on heads, he added. Last month an inquest found that a primary school teacher, Helen Mann, who taught at Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, had committed suicide in her school. The inquest was told one of her fears was that the school could lose its "outstanding" status in its next Ofsted report.

The concerns expressed by Mr Hobby are echoed in the agenda for next weekend's conference in Birmingham, where heads will start by voting on a motion declaring "no confidence" in many of the Government's education reforms. The agenda makes no mention of Mr Gove by name, but goes on to say that "too much power is currently given to one person to determine national policy on the basis of personal preference and ideologically driven assumptions." The motion will be debated just before Mr Gove arrives at the conference to answer questions posed by heads.

A Department for Education spokesman said any allegations of misconduct by brokers would be "treated with the utmost seriousness". He added: "Academy brokers help us to identify the best possible sponsor to turn around failing schools and ensure pupils are given every chance to fulfil their potential." On testing, he said: "The new grammar, punctuation and spelling test will ensure children are taught to understand their language and to use it properly, creatively and effectively."

A strom in a tergcup?

The phrase "you couldn't make it up" comes to mind when headteachers think about the new phonics test taken by all six-year-olds at the end of their first school year. "Who on earth could devise a test where the able readers score less than the weaker readers?" asks Russell Hobby of the National Association of Head Teachers.

The fact, though, is that the Government did indeed make it up.

The test consists of made-up words such as "voo", "terg" and "strom", and is designed to test children's phonics skills.The first year's results show that clever pupils are more likely to spell the words incorrectly, as they try to convert the made-up words into real ones, whereas weaker ones do not. "People think they're wasting their time and there is no educational value in this," Mr Hobby says.

The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, believes the test is essential to end what he calls the "scandal" of low literacy levels in schools.

Richard Garner

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
healthMovember isn't about a moustache trend, it saves lives
Life and Style
food + drinkFrom Mediterranean Tomato Tart to Raw Caramel Peanut Pie
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Boys to men: there’s nothing wrong with traditional ‘manly’ things, until masculinity is used to exclude people
indybest13 best grooming essentials
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

English Teacher- Manchester

£19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities