Today at the Wellington Festival of Education, Sir Michael Wilshaw denigrated Tough Young Teachers. He then continued to viscerally demolish the portrayal of education in the media, arguing that it is shown in a negative light.
I’m saddened that the chief of the organisation responsible for the quality assurance of schools has the audacity and unprofessionalism to criticise the risk that six young, idealistic teachers took at the beginning of their careers. There are many areas of his critique that I would like to address.
The first is the challenge that new teachers face. The Teach First programme places graduates and professionals in challenging state schools to address educational disadvantage. In some of these schools, these new teachers face real behaviour challenges in the form of Jack the Lad and Sally Show Off, as Sir Michael so plainly put it. This is reality. Michael’s role is to ensure that the quality of teaching in our country increases and to have exceptional knowledge about the challenges that exist in schools. He should not be pining for a portrayal of schools where everything is all-singing and all-dancing as that would not represent the challenges that new recruits face. How can we address those challenges if we don’t accept that they exist?
We need to ensure that the public is aware of the realities of some state schools and the behavioural, emotional and social issues that some of our young people are dealing with. What’s more, we need to see how incredible the teachers and support staff are in helping students with these issues. Educating the East End did a fantastic job of demonstrating the care and attention that teachers provide to students who are at risk. Such issues are often are the reason for the displays of bad behaviour that appear on television but they are not nonsense, Sir Michael. They are reality.
Sir Michael is concerned about raising the status of teaching so that it is a more valued profession. Again, how can we do this if we aren’t candid about the monumental challenges that teachers are facing and, how, against the odds, they do their best to overcome them? Yes, Sir Michael, we struggled. I struggled so much I wrote a bloody song about it, but I felt it was so important to share this struggle with my peers and the public, so that they are aware of the complexity of the profession that I care so much about.
Painting an honest picture of life in some schools is important in recruiting the right teachers for these schools. If we mask the reality and only see well-ordered institutions then the teachers who turn up on Day 1 – coruscating with glee for the adventure about to begin – will be out of the door before the first plenary.
Although this struggle is real, I must point out that most Teach First participants that I have worked with have became outstanding teachers at the end of their time spent on the Leadership Development Programme. We may struggle at first but we receive a plethora of support from our tutors and leaders in school. Surely Sir Michael, as a vocal supporter of Teach First, should be more on message and champion the decision that the six of us took to try to raise awareness of the challenges of teaching and the impact that teachers have on children’s lives.
Crucially, this all comes back to the reason why I’m still in teaching. And that is to make a difference to the lives of young people. In order to make a difference on a national scale, there must be transparency around the difficulties that some teachers are facing in schools. I’ll admit that these TV programmes do add a touch of drama as it pulls in the viewers, but that drama is real. For us to successfully address educational disadvantage, the challenge has to be out there for the world to see. Sir Michael should have his head in his hands – not because he is watching young people trying to make a difference, but because there is still so much to be done.