I don’t find it difficult to imagine education secretary Nicky Morgan’s memo pad just before Christmas. This is what I reckon was jotted down:
- Remind everyone that I'm just like all previous education secretaries.
- Turn all schools into academies if the children smile too much during the day.
- Insist all school uniform is the same colour....Blue.
- Cut teachers' pay by 5 per cent and say it's performance-linked. Massive savings to follow.
- Go back to the "good old days" and have compulsory times tables tests for all 11-year-olds.
It must have been a difficult decision to choose between such a rich selection.
What probably persuaded Ms Morgan to plump for times tables were the political opportunities such a move presented. What better soundbite is there over the festive period than to tell everyone we are going back to the “Three Rs”, and that very soon in every school in the country we will hear the sound of children chanting their 2, 3 or 8 times tables.
While only a tiny minority of teachers would argue with the teaching of number bonds and times tables, what causes displeasure in staffrooms is how the announcement was presented as a failing of the system. Once again we find ourselves compared with other countries and told of the number of pupils who are “failing to reach the expected level”.
What is not explored is the damage we are doing to so many of our children by being one of the most tested countries in the world. These children are already being turned off by this incessant need to politicise our profession.
Of course, no 11-year-olds were asked if they would like more tests and nor were their parents – and, it hardly goes without saying, next to no teachers were consulted either.
Much easier to tell us all, yet again, what is going to happen without discussion.
Not everyone will be unhappy though. Within days publishers will present their new times table test books and programmes in line with government strategy. The mainstream media will yet again be rubbing their hands together at the prospect of schools failing to reach the expected level.
All the while, we will also be faced with another battering ram that both Ofsted and many governing bodies may enjoy employing.
The fact remains that this initiative was presented with little if any discussion with the profession. It is an indicator of where we are at the present time. The start of the new year should be a time of optimism for the challenges ahead, not a time when the teaching profession has yet again been alienated.
Am I the only person who thinks this could and should have been handled so differently?
Colin Harris is headteacher of Warren Park Primary School in Havant, Hampshire