“Knobjangler,” someone fired off in to the social media miasma. As Twitter abuse went, we were entering new and uncharted territory.
At TES Towers we’ve grown almost used to the phrase “cockwomble” (origins: uncertain; first published in our pages to describe a certain former secretary of state: 2014), and, as such, we were less surprised to see it crop up twice in our Twitter stream on Wednesday evening.
What could possibly have stirred the normally dignified teaching profession into such unseemly outbursts? The answer, of course, was the pronouncement earlier this week from schools minister Nick Gibb that “there has never been a better time to be a teacher”.
Cue spluttering from the teaching profession. How could he possibly make that case, some questioned. Others stated he was raving mad. Unsurprisingly, quite a few pointed to NUT research that found half of all school staff are considering leaving teaching within the next two years. The angriest among our correspondents dusted down their most innovative cuss-words (see above).
Many simply assumed that the schools minister was trolling them, to use the lexicon of the social media era: there was no way he could be so out of touch to actually believe such an obviously stupid statement.
But here’s the thing. I am in no doubt that Mr Gibb believes what he said to be true. How could that be, I hear you ask?
Let’s start by looking at exactly what he said:
“The opportunities are greater now than they ever have been. Teachers now have the opportunity and ability to set up their own schools. Teachers can go into practice on their own or with other teachers and set up a school in the state sector that the state will pay for.
“This government is on the side of teachers, giving them the freedom to teach as they see best. And we will return teaching to be the pre-eminent profession. More top graduates are coming into teaching and I believe the prestige of the teaching profession is increasing.”
Setting to one side that esteem doesn’t automatically equal morale, what Mr Gibb’s arguments come down to is freedom. Freedom to practise and teach as you see fit. No doubt he would namecheck, among others, these policies as key:
- The government has abolished the straitjacket of levels.
- The government has freed teachers, albeit mainly in academies and free schools, from the mandatory national curriculum.
- Ofsted has made it clear that there are no prescribed teaching styles.
- The government has abolished the national strategies.
- The government has allowed teachers to break free of the restrictions of a mandatory pay scale, allowing them to earn what they deserve.
Set in isolation, a case can be made for each and every one of these policies. But what is interesting is Mr Gibb’s special kind of dissonance that allows him to ignore the evidence before his eyes: a cap on pay; a workload spiralling out of control (as often highlighted by his boss); funding cuts facing almost all schools; class sizes rocketing due to the demographic bulge; a deepening recruitment crisis.
Mr Gibb no doubt thinks that teachers really have never had it so good. The trouble is that both the evidence and empirical observation point in very much the opposite direction.