How to stop a bulldozer and not be crushed

8th July 2011 at 01:00

I am cross. Very cross indeed. Combine the pensions debacle with the frequent pronouncements from the education secretary about how much harder GCSEs should be, then add on the warnings that the new Ofsted framework will "raise the bar" once again, the fact that secondary school floor targets are being raised to 50 per cent and the 200-plus "failing" primary schools that are going to be taken over by academies and you can see what is making my blood boil.

Schools are facing a barrage of policies and threats designed to make us all shape up and become academies and free schools - "or else". Well, they are not having the desired effect on me. I refuse to give in. As a headteacher I have a duty to do what is right for my school and pupils.

The problem is how do you stop or slow down a bulldozer? If we just lie down, we will be crushed.

The coalition Government seems hell-bent on introducing a range of policies that are either unworkable, too expensive or are to be implemented without any reasonable explanation of why they are needed. If evidence is presented, it is sketchy and hand-picked to fit a particular ideology.

There are so many consultations going on at the moment that it would take at least three weeks to read through them and respond in any meaningful way.

The unseemly haste to move these consultations on and implement the changes means we have little time to talk to other professionals and debate the issues. To me, that seems intentional.

So I have at last become an active member of my professional association.

I have always been a member of a union, and since becoming a head I have belonged to the two head teacher associations. But although I attended the odd conference and read the regular information they sent me, I didn't really get involved. I left it to others to fight on my behalf.

My attitude has changed. Part of what changed my mind was the work unions can do to scrutinise all the changes that the Government is thrusting on us, supposedly to make schools more "autonomous and free from bureaucracy".

Since being nominated to serve on the national executive of the NAHT I have been working closely with colleagues to try to keep track of all the steps being taken to dismantle the education system. I find this experience fulfilling, and at last I feel like I am doing something to contribute to the discussion about what will make things better for pupils - and indeed for school staff.

As a head, I know that unions can be a thorn in a school leader's life. We all dread the request for a special meeting and can dislike many of the "motions" presented to us. However, I do believe it is important for all our staff - and not just teachers - to belong to a union and to be able to be part of a democratic process.

It is particularly important to have the protection of a union when there are problems that affect the individual as well as a whole group of colleagues.

However, union membership is also important when it comes to commenting on the sweeping changes to the direction of our education system. So many of the suggested changes will directly affect the way teachers teach and pupils learn. Teachers across the country are the experts and need to make sure their views are heard.

This is not all about striking, but about ensuring we are properly consulted. If we are given a real chance to participate, then we are much more likely to help implement changes, even ones that, as individuals, we do not wholeheartedly support.

Teachers and heads have a natural inclination to be very polite, so can often pussyfoot around instead of saying something that will upset a colleague, a fellow head, or an education secretary.

Women in particular can be unwilling to stick their necks out. The three biggest classroom unions are now led by women, but too often we seem less willing than men to engage in the policy debate and be involved in leading our professional organisations.

We do not have to be rude or abusive - but sometimes we have to upset others. It is time now for us to be pushy, rather than push-overs.

Kenny Frederick, Headteacher, George Green's School, Tower Hamlets, east London.

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