This MOT drives me bonkers

17th July 2009 at 01:00
Why the new teaching MOT is `idiotic' and `half-baked'

So, if Labour stays, teachers will need a licence to teach, with a check every five years to make sure they haven't gone to seed.

Of all the strategies, about-turns and half-baked initiatives heaped on the teaching profession in recent years, this has to be the most idiotic yet.

No wonder Mr Balls wore such a glazed expression when he was announcing it. I would think, at a stroke, he has managed to alienate the entire teaching profession. Has he the slightest idea what sort of microscopic examination class teachers are already under?

There was a time when teachers were trusted. A time when teachers were respected as people who were inventive, interesting and dedicated. People who could think for themselves and give youngsters a real thirst for learning.

Now? Well, unless they show a determination to fight back, schools are bludgeoned into uniformity by endless monitoring under the pathetic excuse of "driving up standards". Classroom teachers are subjected to visits by Ofsted inspectors who often haven't taught for years, and sometimes not at all. Or by school improvement partners (SIPs), who are not partners but minor inspectors checking up on what the school is doing six times a year.

The local education authority sends in "teaching and learning" monitoring teams to make sure teachers aren't sitting in the corners silently weeping with their heads in buckets. Teachers are performance managed every year to make sure they hit their targets, and the head - if he has nothing more sensible to do - is likely to visit classrooms regularly with a clipboard and then comment on a teacher's ability to deliver a decent lesson. I've even heard of a school where they've put a row of chairs at the back of every classroom so parents can watch - and then criticise - any lesson they care to wander into.

In order to progress on to the upper pay scale and earn a half-decent salary, a teacher is subjected to another pile of rigmarole called "crossing the threshold".

Not so long ago, this meant amassing boxfuls of "evidence" to prove your competency. Heads had no say in the matter; it was all down to one of the hundreds of visiting consultants, who earned a healthy bob or two from the hours they spent ploughing through it. Indeed, one suggested I should get into threshold consultancy as it was "a real gravy train, Mike". I couldn't wait to get him out of my building.

The threshold inspectors have gone: they were costing millions and the money has been diverted into other questionable initiatives. But the pile of evidence is still required.

And now teachers are to have a five-yearly road-worthiness test. And who is going to monitor this MOT? Why, the General Teaching Council. Yes, I laughed too. Like most teachers I've met, I haven't a clue what the GTC actually does apart from compulsorily take our money, but I had at least thought it was supposed to be representing us. Frankly, I think we already have enough people breathing down our necks and checking up on us.

Recently, a visitor thought my school was the happiest she had ever walked into, and she couldn't find a single child or teacher who wasn't totally absorbed in what they were doing. The reason is simple. I don't performance manage my teachers, I don't monitor them or trawl through their planning, I don't have meetings every five minutes, and I don't spend hours talking to my SIP about targets and tracking. I do, however, spend a lot of time with children, and talking with my wonderful teachers.

And while I'm still in charge of my school, that's how it's going to stay.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London. Email:

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