Editorial: I keep thinking no one can hear me, Dr Crane

13th March 2015 at 00:00

"I'm listening", for those unfamiliar with 1990s US television series, was the catchphrase of talk-show psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane. It is safe to say that it was not a phrase associated with former education secretary Michael Gove.

So when Nicky Morgan swept in with her claim that "I really want to listen", teachers, despite their bruising experiences with her predecessor, gave the new minister the benefit of the doubt.

And the initial signs were good: when Morgan, along with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, asked teachers about their workload problems, she was warmly received. So too were her promises not to introduce changes during the school year.

But the government's record on listening - to primary school teachers especially - has been decidedly mixed. It listened when teachers said they were against proposals to rank pupils by decile, but it pressed ahead in the face of opposition with phonic decoding and baseline testing for children starting in Reception.

If it had chosen to hear what primary teachers had to say on the replacement of the flawed levels system for assessing children's attainment at ages 7 and 11, it might have avoided the mess we now find ourselves in. Instead, it asked a panel of 10 experts - almost all of whom were educational consultants, with not a single practising teacher in sight.

These experts came up with a system of performance descriptors which, as was pointed out during consultation, were just levels in disguise but even more complicated and confusing.

Ministers agreed to a rethink, saying they would keep to the same timetable and have something ready for this September (they will have to move fast not to break that pledge on inyear changes).

They promised to put in place a teacher-led commission to look at all internal assessment and help come up with a more palatable solution for the crucial end of key-stage assessments. Great news, thought the primary teachers, now we'll get our voices heard.

Unfortunately, they have once again been overlooked. The composition of the commission announced this week has proved heavy on high-profile educational figures and light on practising classroom teachers. If that's not insulting, I don't know what is.

On the up side, it does feature headteachers - including a former head to chair it. On the down side, the two headteachers are the only primary sector representatives in an eight-strong panel.

So what we have is a commission looking at assessment in schools that has little representation from those who actually have to make it work. Of course, secondary teachers are as poorly represented as their primary colleagues, but for them the proposed changes are more of a tremor than the seismic shift they threaten to be in primary.

The decision on the panel make-up infantilises primary teachers and sends out the message that they can't be trusted to be involved in devising the very system of assessment they have to administer.

Sadly for primary classroom teachers, they are in danger of being like Maris, Frasier's sister-in law in the series: often talked about but never seen or heard.



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