My husband is so glad I am writing this; that I am here with Rescue Our Schools, blogging about the current concerns many parents are raising since the recent education reforms. His joy comes from the fact he is not always going to be my first point of call for a good rant about education. Don’t get me wrong, he is equally bothered, but as the other half of my parenting team and as a teacher he is not only the converted, he is the afflicted. At least now, he might get a diluted form of my diatribe against those who are, in my opinion, bringing the system to its knees.
So, let me introduce myself. My name is Charlotte Wolf and I am the parent of two young boys, an eight year old and a six year old. I am also a teacher. Well, I was until December 2017, when I had to leave a profession I no longer identified with. I recently completed a Masters in Comparative Education at the Institute of Education. Or as Michael Gove might call it: The Home of the Blob (The Blob: academics who criticise Gove’s reforms so, along with all experts, must be ignored). I focused on the impact of the neoliberal agenda on education reform. Why pursue the marketisation of education? Does removing the state really improve schools and create greater opportunities for those usually left behind?
So, I have three very defined angles from which to watch and comment. Joining the teaching profession was a decision I made in my late twenties. I had taught English as a foreign language in Spain to pay my dance training – yes, I studied flamenco in Madrid. But weirdly, teaching grabbed me. Teenagers are humans in their rawest form; bodies in turmoil as hormones, emotions and physical growth tear them every which way; so unpredictable but so curious, even in the depths of adolescence, they still manage to grunt some signs of aspiration. The memories of laughter certainly outweigh those of frustration. As a diligent NQT, prepping my lesson for a C/D borderline year 11 group, essay plans were on each desk. Abdi arrived, glanced cheekily at my beautifully colour-coded document and said “What’s this crap now?’. ‘Let’s hope I don’t say the same thing when I see your essay next week!’ I responded. The room exploded with those roars only teenagers can make. However, in that same group was a bright young woman, who appeared aloof throughout. As the exam season started, she told me a man was arriving from Afghanistan in May whom she was to marry in July. She had realised she could have more. And she wanted more. That conversation led to her moving into a refuge and glances of her in my local shopping centre suggested she had started to explore the more she wanted.
Teaching was about connection; about knowing, engaging and guiding the individual. But the culture has shifted. Schools are places of rigour and tradition – words Gove and his successors placed at the heart of their reform. With more challenging curricula and tougher assessment, the sadly ironic effect of the free school programme is the cloning of schools, not a choice from which parents can select the most appropriate for their children. Instead, uniforms are becoming more formal, corridors more controlled and lessons more formulaic. As a teacher, I no longer understand my role. As a parent, I struggle with the onus on assessments and weighty blazers whose piping determines the quality of the school. I fear the onslaught of an ideology that values competition and risk. Students aren’t experiencing freedom, just chaos.
There is a lot to discuss and the debate needs to be widened to the parents who are often actively excluded from the decision-making process. I hope that this blog plays a part in challenging this and offers you a platform for comment. I hope that through the platform of Rescue Our Schools I can provide a parental perspective to which you can relate, but also offer an insight into the professional experience of how damaging these reforms have been for education since 2010. I really look forward to the conversation ahead.