Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking

For those who wonder why I was on strike today.

This is not an "open letter", I have actually printed this out, signed it and sent it to Ms Morgan, via my MP.

Dear Ms Morgan

I am on strike today, 5th July, along with countless others from my union. We are all professionals with a passionate belief in excellent, creative, stimulating and fulfilling education for the children in our care, and the decision today was not taken lightly or maliciously. It behoves you, as a fellow professional woman, not to present us as trouble makers out to disrupt children’s education; we are not choosing “a path of disruption over negotiation and discussion.”

While I am not obliged to lay out my reasons for striking to you or anyone else, I have thought very hard about this decision.

I am strongly against the forced academisation of schools. I believe that letting private companies with their own agenda run education will lead to a decrease of opportunities for children, as those who do not conform to the agenda will be excluded and marginalised.

Children should not be taught by unqualified teachers. This is a self evident truth.

Children as young as four are not failing. Children as young as seven should not be in tears at school because they are forced to sit in silence to do work that we were not able to adequately prepare them for – the sample SATs papers were not sufficiently similar to the SATs tests administered in May, especially in Key Stage 2. Children going to High School should not be expected to resit tests that they have “failed”. This is a waste of time.

Data released today shows that nearly half of 11 year olds in this country have failed to achieve the expected standard. I cannot believe that this is due to a failure in teaching; the assessments have been far too difficult, and the moving of the bar has been unfair, especially as the current Year 6 have only had one year of the new, much more demanding curriculum, yet were expected to take tests based on learning that would have happened across their four years in Key Stage 2. The political decision to do this suggests that the government are keen to follow the “path of disruption”; determined to show that schools are failing children, and therefore need to be forced to become academies in order to “improve”.

Children as young as seven are experiencing severe stress, and there has been a huge increase in mental health problems in young children. Since September, I have personally recommended referrals to CAMHS of 4 children, all under ten, and am aware of many others in my school who are suffering from anxiety and stress, much of which can be laid at the door of the increased pressure from considerably harder assessments; assessments that are coming at younger ages.

The assessment requirement of “total coverage” has been discriminatory to children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. The spelling requirement means that children with dyslexia will never be able to work at the expected level, and children who do not have the motor control at seven to join their letters will also not be able to work at the expected level; is this really the path we are going down? Your government put in place a wonderful new Code of Practice; this requirement absolutely undermines it and destroys much of the good work you have done.

The undermining of local authorities will also have a detrimental effect on children with SEND, as the local authority supports schools by providing Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Educational Psychologists, Paediatric Physiotherapists as well as specialist teachers and other professionals to help with children with challenging behaviour. Why have you invested so much time and money into nominally supporting children with SEND, when you remove the support the local authority provides?

In real terms, funding has been cut. I am a governor at my school and have passed a very tight budget this year; we are also having to make tough staffing decisions. The Institute of Fiscal Studies in October last year published a report stating that they forecast that school spending per pupil is likely to fall by 8% in real terms, taking into account the increased employer contributions to National Insurance and pensions, as well as a pay settlement of 1%. Having heard you on the Today programme this morning, I am aware that you do not accept this to be a true picture of schools, but I can assure you that it is. I am aware that you speak to school leaders; I would suggest that you need to speak with school leaders who do not share your political views and might provide you with a different picture.

I hope that you will listen to what teachers, head teachers, school support staff, academics and economists are telling you; we are as deeply concerned about the state of education as you are and would be devastated to see it destroyed by policies that can be reversed.

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