The teacher voice: why you should vote Conservative

Education has come a long way since 2010 – let's not go backwards, writes Conservative-supporting teacher Steven Mastin

Election 2019: One teacher explains why he is backing the Conservatives on education

This is part of a series in which politically engaged teachers explain why they support the party they do. The rest of the series can be found here.

Many people think the Conservatives are about conserving things. I don’t. When I joined the teaching profession in 1999, I did not want to conserve grade inflation, the tyranny of GCSE coursework, and the reality that children from deprived backgrounds get, on the whole, poorer grades. Since 2010, there are thousands more Conservative-leaning teachers in our schools. What the media think of as a left-wing dominated profession is, perhaps grudgingly, supportive of some things that the Conservative Party has done in government. These teachers are more often than not very quiet about it. I don’t care, so long as they don’t let Labour risk undoing the considerable achievements since 2010. I’ll give you three examples.

Election 2019: Why I'm voting Conservative

 

Exams

Before 2010, my students could resit exam after exam until they achieved the grade they wanted. Years ago, one of my students even remarked to me that she was going to miss my ever-so important history lesson to resit a maths exam because she was two marks away from an A* grade. This exam pressure on young people was wrong and we have reduced the exams burden on both students and teachers. With increasing awareness of the mental health pressures facing our young people, relieving this major source of worry is something of which I am proud.
Coursework grades were often inflated, and many conscientious teachers knew the open secret that other less scrupulous teachers "helped" their students a bit too much. The system was devalued and, therefore, we scrapped it.

Academies

Local authorities would endlessly make excuses about why children who attended sink schools in deprived areas were achieving poor results, instead of making improvements. The Conservatives freed schools to appoint no-nonsense headteachers who did not accept "low socioeconomic background" as a reason for failure. We allowed new schools to set up and challenge old orthodoxies that had come to be accepted as fact. Now you find many impressive schools with tough headteachers in some of our most disadvantaged communities, with high expectations for every single child, and these children are rising to meet that challenge and finding opportunities to succeed.

There is now a serious risk to the state education system from Labour. I’m sure they care about education, but they simply won’t engage with the evidence and prefer posturing over policy. So many headteachers of academies and free schools today set high expectations for every child, regardless of background or ability, and they are succeeding. 

Workload and curriculum

We slimmed down the national curriculum and allowed schools to teach it more flexibly, encouraging a renaissance in subject communities like my own – history.

More recently, we have rightly focused on teacher workload. Senior leaders in schools have the power to create a culture where staff morale is high and teachers leave at the end of the day looking forward to the next one. But some can create a school of drudgery through triple marking (where teachers and students engage in a dialogue in writing to each other about a piece of work), which has tragically driven huge numbers of great teachers out of the profession altogether. If you ask an over-burdened teacher for the cause of their workload, the answer always lies at the door of the culture in that school, not something the Conservatives have done since 2010. 

Ofsted and successive education secretaries and the reassuring presence of Nick Gibb have all made clear that schools should not be doing these things that contribute to excessive workload, but loathsome and counterproductive practices continue. The NEU teaching union also argues against the burden of onerous marking policies but in many schools they persist, driving so much potential away from our state schools. 

The future

Conservative teachers like me must continue to speak out against selection creeping into the system. And to speak out against other "reforms" that could jeopardise so much that has been achieved. 

No one genuinely enjoys being observed by an inspector, but I can’t imagine anyone seriously thinks abolishing Ofsted would be a good idea. (That’s exactly what Labour has said.) Judgements about schools are vital for parents when making decisions. And the direction of travel for Ofsted is encouraging. Amanda Spielman has said that the curriculum taught in schools will now be examined, and this is long overdue. In my career, I have been through five Ofsted inspections and at no point was I asked why I taught what I taught, or how this lesson fitted into the term or prepared pupils for GCSE.

I would like to go further. I would suggest that Ofsted should not observe teachers teaching. Unless, that is, the lead inspector has reason to doubt the judgement of the school’s leaders. Ofsted should look at behaviour, safeguarding, and the views of parents, and compare these with what senior leaders have claimed. If the claims are supported then Ofsted should also trust the leaders’ judgements about teaching and learning. What is the point of inspectors observing short bursts of 30 lessons if there is no reason to do so? 

This is particularly pressing because 10 years ago, when a school was judged to be "outstanding", it was told that it did not need to be inspected again. There might be some "outstanding" schools that have been coasting for too long and may no longer qualify as truly "outstanding" schools. If inspectors do not have to inspect lessons, then they will have the capacity to reinspect these "outstanding" schools.

One final suggestion is that the university degree fees and teaching training fees should be waived for teachers who agree to give eight years back to the state sector. The Armed Forces fund your university placement if you agree to a return of service; I strongly believe that the teaching profession should do the same.

I stress, however, that this should only apply to the state sector. If the taxpayer trains you then you should teach in a school that is funded by the taxpayer. If you choose to train and then get a job in an elite public school – and I have no problem with that – then Joe Taxpayer should not fund your fees. You or your school should pay them back.

Education has come a long way since 2010. Let’s not risk it going backwards. 

Steven Mastin is a history teacher and education consultant. He can be found on Twitter at  @Mastin_SJJH

Later today, Tes will be publishing the results of its pre-election survey of teachers. Watch out for the results here if you want to know who teachers are planning to support in December's poll 

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