Thursday, 16 January 2014

An open letter to Mr Tristram Hunt

To the Rt Hon Tristram Hunt MP,

It was the start of 2014, I was beginning to feel more positive, I read this opinon piece, which confirmed that this optimism was widely felt and might garner political change:

I had also been directed towards the Ipsos MORI survey that showed how highly teachers are rated by the general public:

It was cause for celebration, because I had had a really hard first week back at school, where I had been talking with my headteacher regarding the GCSE Options to be offered to our current year 9's, who will take their GCSEs in the summer of 2016.  This was harder and more fraught than usual because of an article, which was published on Sunday 27 October 2013, outlining a less than positive view of my subject and its future:

Life had been pretty relentlessly hard as a drama teacher in our school since then: we were facing a level of scrutiny that tore at the very heart of what we do as teachers of practical subjects, despite being departments that had achieved outstanding results in an outstanding school.

We as a school were trying to work out what was best to offer these students?  What would suit them and fit with the new 'Measure 8' performance table changes for the school?  The head teacher proposed a view that GCSE Drama was now considered a 'less valuable' qualification, due to the 'high level of practical' work involved and stated that it would not hold 'high value' by 2016. 

I forwarded the letter that Elizabeth Truss sent to National Drama:

We went over the DfE information together, including the information on Measure 8 for 2016, the advice on vocational qualifications and the advice to exam boards applying for re-certification.  We looked at Section 96 and the information provided there.  We found no certainty in anything we read.  We speculated in this void; we held to our principles as a school committed to offering a broad and balanced curriculum.  If we have to move to a different qualification, we will.  This will mean a huge amount of work for me as a teacher; rewriting schemes, plans and lessons to fit different assessment criteria, which is already in place for GCSE Drama.

In the middle of that week, I found and shared the chief regulator of OFQUAL's blog:

The opening was key to me feeling much better, it reads:

'Hello all and Happy New Year. I wish you all the best for 2014.

Like many of you, we are facing another busy and challenging year. Qualifications reform will continue to be a major priority, of course. We will begin consultation and discussion soon on how we are to set performance standards for new GCSEs, and we will consult as well on the principles we suggest for determining what subjects should carry the GCSE brand in future. Here I know that people are concerned about PE and Drama, but they need not be. Our interest is in making sure that we know where to draw the line in future, and large volume, established subjects like PE and Drama are not at risk.'

The school's commitment to providing a wide and enriched curriculum is clear, OFQUAL's commitment is clearer, but the government's and politicians' is less than clear and likely to change.  Education holds political sway and an election approaches.  There are rumours that 2016 will see GCSE's split into 'high value' subject areas and low value.

Longterm as a drama teacher and parent, this makes me worry - do I have job stability anymore?  Will I, in the years to come, be able to find opportunities for my children to study drama, the arts or any other practical subjects?  As I begin to focus on my career progression again, will there be any opportunities?  I am a dedicated and hard working professional.  I achieve outstanding results with the students that I teach; not just in the league tables, but also in terms of the personal and social learning gains that they make.  Despite this, with no consultation or audit into the value provided by such qualifications, they are to change on the whim of a politician with no direct teaching experience.  Mr Gove has decided that GCSE Drama's existence weakens the brand:

  • Where I wonder does this concept come from? 
  • Where is the evidence to support it? 
  • Has he even watched a drama lesson be taught?

It is hard not to feel utterly defeated.

Then in the midst of this low, this weekend you announced your 'licensing' policy for teachers.  I watched the coverage: I engaged with your words, I sought them out in print and on recordings, so that I could be clear of what is being proposed, how it will be implemented and why it is felt necessary.  I found no details that sated my need for clarification from you or the many commentators, who reported the policy.  Worse I found no concrete evidence being used to support the policy being introduced: like performance related pay, there is no established success with such a policy.  

You will, I suspect, cite other professions at this point, but teachers have extensive accountability measures  in place; our Professional Management Targets are linked to our Continued Professional Development plans, which in turn are linked to the School Improvement Plan.  These measures are developed annually to suit our needs, our students' needs and our schools' needs.  Your proposed policy at best mirrors this process - it has not been connected to this or any other existing school systems and feels like another bureaucratic measure of accountability from a politician and party, who simply do not know existing school systems well enough.  It will take up our time and unless supported by significant funding for professional development, which is the issue with the current measures, yield no results.

There are many areas of education that urgently need your attention.  The offer of a broad and balanced curriculum through a well constructed National Curriculum and well structured qualifications within year 11 and year 13 are uttermost in my mind as a drama teacher.  Why was your opening policy this?  It cried out, 'We'll get rid of the uncommitted teacher',  to the voters.  Whilst offering little to the committed teacher: cue tag line, 'If you are committed, you've nothing to fear...', but, as the survey above shows, teachers are rated more highly than politicians.

Yet, teachers have been denigrated by Westminster under the leadership of the current Secretary of State through soundbites, tweets and leaks as much as by policies; such as those that suggest no initial teacher training is needed to teach.  Any policies you propose in opposition will meet a weary profession.  They need to be considered much more carefully in light of this.  I'm not sure your MOT did this and worse, I'm not sure its even necessary; strengthening what it is already in place makes more sense both in finance and effort. 

Perhaps you'd like to come and see a drama lesson?  You'd be welcome.

Rebecca Tulloch

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