Politicians can’t do right for doing wrong, can they? Admittedly, this is often their own fault: they do seem to manage to get a lot of things wrong. But how often do we complain about the decisions they make and then do nothing about it? How often does the average member of the public contact their MP, or try to effect change in the corridors of power? It’s easy to say “It makes no difference” and “They never listen”, but that can’t always be true.
That said, as someone who has written to his MP (on more than one occasion), it can be frustrating to deal with stock replies that fail to answer points raised, or give the impression of being dismissive. But we oughtn’t let this put us off completely.
This autumn, teachers have been given an opportunity to feed into the democratic and political process right at the core, and to guide the future work of the Department for Education. When the Commons Education Select Committee announced an inquiry into primary assessment, it might have sounded like another sham consultation, but this one could prove to be different.
Select committees have a privileged position in our Parliamentary democracy, in that they can draw on a wide range of evidence, they can call ministers and civil servants to appear before them and they can make recommendations to departments about changes that need to be made. That’s not to say that those recommendations are always heeded, but certainly these committees have considerably more power than the typical backbencher. And so, colleagues, we should not let this opportunity pass us by.
Clear ways to reduce workload
It’s worthwhile remembering that when 44,000 teachers responded to the Workload Challenge consultation, the DfE listened. It still isn’t perfect, and heavy workloads certainly haven’t disappeared, but the department does works on projects intended to reduce teacher workload where it can. The workload reports earlier this year set out some clear ways that this could be achieved.
Primary assessment is another topic that always raises much consternation from colleagues, so we should take this opportunity to explain to the politicians why this is. Not to Justine Greening or Nick Gibb, but to the committee that can help hold them to account. This is your opportunity to get off your chest all the complaints you may have about how the changes have been made, or the impact of the tests on learning in your school, or the very existence of statutory assessment at all if you wish. What’s more, it’s your opportunity to say what primary assessment should look like.
And rather than shouting into the wind – or ranting on the TES forums and social media about it – you can send your message direct to the centre of power. The committee has put out its call because its members know that they aren’t the experts: we are. They’re asking for our advice and guidance on how we can make the system better for our pupils, teachers and schools.
Like so often with democracy, if we fail to participate, then we lose some of our grounds for argument. If we say they won’t listen, then we lose the right to be heard. If we say there’s no point, then we are presumed to support everything that has happened.
So take 20 minutes over the next couple of weeks – before the consultation deadline on 28 October – to jot down your thoughts. It doesn’t need to be lengthy; it doesn’t need to be formal; it doesn’t need to address every point. Just take the chance to tell the people in power what should be different, and make sure that they’re drawing on the evidence of the experts. That’s you, by the way.
Michael Tidd is deputy head at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire. He tweets as @MichaelT1979