'Nicky Morgan wants me to be positive. I am positively disdainful about what's happening to children's education'

30th March 2016 at 11:07
positive, nicky morgan, nasuwt, white paper, academies, colin harris
Teachers are going to fight all the way to ensure that the education they provide is not dictated by political motives. But, says this renowned headteacher, he'll try and be positive about it

What a week I’ve had. I’ve had three parents’ evenings, two assemblies and an end-of-term disco. But I’ve also been featured as the main item on the local TV news. BBC Radio Four turned up to do a story. Likewise, The Observer wrote a piece for Sunday's paper.

Why? Well, as head of a double-outstanding school, I am showing a little concern about this government’s White Paper, especially with respect to all schools becoming academies.

However, I have to be careful when writing this. Nicky Morgan has challenged us as teachers to be far more positive.

Accentuate the positive

So I am going to try to be positive – and not just positively disdainful about what is happening at the moment.

Let me take you all back to Nicola Morgan's first party-conference speech as education secretary in September 2014. You may remember that she had replaced the wonderful and adored Michael Gove, who had previously held that post. (I’m being positive, here.)

At this conference in Birmingham, she spoke of teachers as “heroes”, marvelling at their dedication, and claiming that she cared for each and every school in the country. She even cared about our wellbeing, as she came out with the infamous line, “I don't want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do well.” What a lovely thing to say. And I am sure you would that agree it wasn't just a politician’s rhetoric. (Remember that I'm trying to be positive.)

Let's fast forward 19 months. Do I detect a different slant to everything she says? Her talk to the NASUWT teaching union conference last weekend was interesting, to say the least. Her claim that education was “in much better shape than five years ago”, if true, is thanks to the dedication of every teacher, headteacher, teaching assistant, governor and child up and down the country, not to this government, as was implied.


Another comment that interested me was when she used the term “vision”. A vision that makes every school an academy by 2022. In almost Margaret Thatcher-style terms, she stated: “I want to be clear there will be no pulling back from that vision, no reverse gear when it comes to education reforms.”

What I want to know – in fact what I'm sure we would all like to know – is what this vision is. Is it to save lots of money by privatising education? Or is it truly to improve schools?

If it is to improve schools, then, Ms Morgan, please present to all teachers, parents and governors the evidence base for this decision. As I see it, there is no factual evidence.

In the room with the Radio Four presenter and me was the Conservative leader of my local authority, who eloquently presented his disbelief at this vision.

But I have to remain positive. Therefore, all schools will become academies and we will save millions of pounds from the abolition of local authorities. This will immediately be ploughed back into schools. I think we all know whether or not that will happen.

Challenge accepted

Ms Morgan then stated: “Teaching unions have a choice: spend the next four years doing battle with us and doing down the profession they represent in the process, or step up, seizing the opportunities and promise offered by the White Paper and helping us to shape the future of the education system.”

How, you may ask, can I respond positively to such a challenge? Well, I haven't worked all these years in education not to be able to accept a challenge.

Yes, we are going to seize the opportunity. And, yes, we are going to shape the future of education, because we are going to fight all the way to ensure the education we provide for our children is not dictated by political and financial motives. And, yes, we are going to do this in a very, very positive way.

Colin Harris is headteacher of Warren Park Primary School in Havant, Hampshire 

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