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Don’t let the politics get you down

Sue WilliamsonLast Saturday Schools Minister Nick Gibb savaged much of today’s education, including: concepts such as learning how to learn and using ICT to enhance collaboration and creative learning; a serving headteacher; and the SSAT. Sue Williamson explains why we’re staying cool…

It’s hard not to get hot under the collar when politicians – of any hue – pontificate about education.

And, sure enough, Nick Gibb’s speech at last weekend’s truly excellent ResearchEd conference successfully wound me up.

Was it the inaccuracies? The contradictions? The selective use of research? The unjust depictions of some fine teachers? Or was it simply that he described the SSAT I was proud to be part of a decade ago as part of a ‘bloated panoply of quangos and ancillary bodies’?

There was certainly plenty to get steamed up about. But, a week on, my chats with colleagues and SSAT members have put things in perspective. This speech is about politics, not education.

In many ways it is an object lesson in rhetorical technique – full of artificially imagined enemies of Mr Gibb’s way of thinking which he then goes on (heroically) to demolish.

a week on [from Gibb’s comments], my chats with colleagues and SSAT members have put things in perspective. This speech is about politics, not education

His central point, that traditional teacher-led classes are better than classes where teachers prioritise the engagement of learners, may throw up some provocative soundbites.

But the reality, which we all know (which Mr Gibb himself knows) is that the best schools use a mix of techniques to do the best for their students. No teacher, even in the most traditional context, was ever successful without in some way engaging students as well as imparting information.

The real object lesson for me here is that we educationalists need to learn to screen out the tough talk and grandstanding that the policymakers are fond of.

we educationalists need to learn to screen out the tough talk and grandstanding that the policymakers are fond of

In recent years we have been far too easily demoralised and distracted by this kind of thing. It makes us unhappy. As I know from my discussions with many heads and teachers, we feel dumped on and disrespected.

But if we keep a cool head, we can achieve two important things.

First we can focus on developing a clear voice on those actual government initiatives and positions (as opposed to the rhetoric) that are causing us concern. EBacc for all, for example, or the painful realities of teacher recruitment.

Secondly, we can take control of our own destiny and focus on what we know will be the best for our students. Teachers, not politicians, are the people who drive up standards and change young people’s lives.

Teachers, not politicians, are the people who drive up standards and change young people’s lives

Actually I think that’s one thing Mr Gibb does agree with.


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