The tone of your editorial (24 January) about Michael Gove’s education reforms brought me to tears. I’m retiring (a few months early) in July and can’t wait to get out. I shall miss the students and the daily immersion in my subject – English – but I shan’t miss the constant barrage of criticism which has brought morale to an all-time low.
Your criticism that we have accepted or promoted mediocrity cannot go unchallenged. Results have not “risen” because of Gove’s reforms, but because teachers in many schools are driven, by leaders fearful of Ofsted, to aiding pupils beyond what would once have been acceptable.
School leaders can’t afford to let their figures drop, so students are coached, pushed and tutored to a ridiculous extent, with teachers working far harder than the students to achieve results.
One consequence has been many young people who are unable and unwilling to work for themselves, because they’ve never learned the skills or the need – they can’t be allowed to achieve what their own efforts would see them achieve. And yes, I do know of schools where teachers cheat too – again, with coercion or complicity from leaders.
The school at which I work became an academy simply because of money. And the majority of schools which converted did so for the same reason: budgets would be cut if they stayed with the local education authority.
And where did much of this money go? To lawyers who set up the new contracts, and on rebranding and marketing. In addition, staggering sums (tens of thousands of pounds) were spent entering students as many times as possible for exams, to get grades up.
But you can’t blame the teachers for this – it has been driven by league tables and by school leaders desperate to push up grades. It has never been driven by a desire to do better for children.
Your editorial lauds the EBacc – but at what cost has this been achieved? Other subjects have been marginalised because they don’t “count”.
Many newly qualified teachers are swallowed up by schools that are driving to become “outstanding” and are driven mercilessly to achieve this aim. Then they leave, burned out and demoralised.
I love my students and I love my subject. My results are good. Many of my students choose to study the subject at A-level because, I’m told, I’ve inspired them to do so.
I’m a good teacher. And I’m going because I’ve had enough of the exhaustion and the morale bashing.
On the day after my students finished a 2,000-word essay comparing the whole of Romeo and Juliet with 16 (quality) poems thematically linked with it, Gove was on TV telling the country that children would “no longer” be able to leave school without being able to write at length and without studying a whole Shakespeare play.
I’m sad and bitter and feeling very fortunate that I’ll be going this summer. Please, don’t lament teachers’ low morale in an editorial that contributes to it.
Knowle, Solihull, West Midlands
It seems you have given Michael Gove an A grade for his EBacc exam scheme, when he has made some elementary mistakes in his history.
The baccalaureat was brought in by the French under Napoleon as a school-leaving exam to fit young people for higher education, life and work in a democratic society. It has always included philosophy, maths and science and now extends to take in technology and vocational subjects such as business studies and agriculture.
It is most unlikely that the French government or other European or international Bacc users will accept Gove’s version as equivalent to their own or as a key to their higher education.
So your leader writer should revise their eulogy thus: “Well done, Michael, you have shown promise. But you should now aim higher for the next two years and rename your EBacc as a PreBacc – and also include philosophy and the performing arts.”
Hampton Hill, London
Headline statistics reveal very little of the true picture in our schools.
The desire to bring up compassionate young adults who are capable of thinking and who have a sense of perspective has been sacrificed. In its place are a testing game, near-constant change for minimal benefit, rampant careerism, and damaging levels of insecurity and pressure. This has been true for years, but is more so than ever under Michael Gove.
State education remains primarily a political football, rather than a vehicle for public good. Experienced teachers are increasingly seen as an irrelevance and children are being brought up to see passing exams as the sole purpose of school.
These long-term cultural failures will prove far more significant than Gove’s claimed success.
Teacher, London N6
Congratulations to the vice chancellor
I am pleased to see that the vice chancellor of Sheffield University has secured himself a good salary increase (“£105,000 pay rise for leading university boss”, 25 January) to bring his pay up to nearly treble that paid to the Prime Minister.
I’m sure students at the university are pleased their tuition fees are being put to such good use and will not in any way resent paying back their £27,000 debts, plus interest, over the next 30 years, or the Coalition’s help in his achieving such a package. An excellent result for all concerned.
Extended families could be our future
Hamish McRae (22 January) writes that inequality is changing. In developing countries, the employed are getting less poor. In developed countries, the employed are getting more poor. He also raises the probability that technology will eliminate more middle-management jobs, particularly in the West. He wonders if there can be a natural conclusion to these developments.
In Britain, a sensible solution could be that we give up the expectation of every generation owning an individual property. We probably need to revert to living in supportive, three-generation family groups, where each individual has a role in maintaining the family unit. Unfunded pension costs, child care, care of the elderly and irregular employment can better be managed in extended family groups.
Hunger for food, not democracy
The best help that the EU can give to Ukraine is to say that it is not welcome, since few of the rebels believe in democracy.
Rioting and armed revolt are attempts by force to gain food and the luxuries that other people have. I suggest that anti-government feelings in Libya, Egypt and Syria are more due to dear food caused by the great growths in population than to a wish for democracy.
church must speak out against barbarism As a matter of urgency, the Most Reverend Justin Welby and other Christian leaders in the UK must speak out against the worsening holocaust against gay people in Nigeria. Silence is the voice of complicity, and complicity with such barbarism will discredit the church forever.
Dr Daniel Emlyn-Jones
Worst combination of greed and red tape
We are living in worryingly ingenious times. Example: I have just paid £50 to a large profit-making corporation, subcontracted by the local council, for them to issue me with a certificate, in order for them to collect my non-clinical refuse.
They know that my clinical waste is disposed of by another (non-commercial) agency. Because I am a GP, I am posed certain questions to certify my good citizenship and thus guarantee public safety: I must answer that I will not put such things as used dressings, sharp surgical instruments, excised body parts, unwanted organs, bodily fluids or dead babies in the general waste.
They will not collect my waste without their (my) certificate, which I can only purchase from them. They do not check the accuracy of my answers. This is a brilliant conflation of venal, opportunistic, corporate capitalism and leaden, vacuous, officious bureaucracy: it exemplifies much that is most specious, profligate and foolish in our commercially injected welfare services.
Whatever happened to medical office effluent before such corporate safeguards were there to protect us, and certificates issued to “prove” it?
Dr David Zigmond
Hail, King Alex of Scotland
Alex Salmond’s outrage that anyone should dare ask him to provide details of how he personally spends taxpayers’ money indicates his new self-image. In his own mind, perhaps he has become, with the thistle and the deep-fried Mars bar, a Scottish icon, and, like his “auld ally” Louis XIV, truly believes: “L’Ecosse, c’est moi.”
Dr John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife