The time traveller's strife

18th December 2009 at 00:00
It's 1999, and you're asked to imagine the teaching profession in 10 years' time. Would you predict interactive whiteboards, child protection battles and academies? Hold on as Michael Shaw fast forwards through the Noughties

If a teacher standing in a typical classroom 10 years ago suddenly time travelled forwards to today, little would seem different to them at first. Except, that is, if the interactive whiteboard was switched on. In just a decade, the gadget shot from novelty to ubiquity. While the average number of interactive whiteboards per school was too small to be registered in the primary sector in 1999, and could be found in fewer than one in 10 secondaries, the vast majority of surveyed schools now employ them on a daily basis.

For pupils these days, video clips and PowerPoint are just part of normal lessons, and teachers are as handy at storing lesson material digitally as previous generations were at firing up the overhead projector or turning out duplicates on the staffroom Banda machine.

Closer inspection of the modern classroom might reveal a laptop or other computer connected to the school's wi-fi system. A far greater number of pupils would also be concealing mobile phones - comparatively unusual for young people to own back in 1999, when pay-as-you-go had only recently been introduced.

The content of the lesson itself, however, would probably seem very familiar. The time-travelling teacher might be briefly confused if she landed in a lesson on citizenship, a subject that only became a compulsory part of the national curriculum in 2002. But while the Noughties saw great technological innovation, it was a decade of missed opportunity on the curriculum front, where key changes tended to be a result of cock-ups.

The debacle over national test marking in 2008, when the process was managed by the American company ETS, opened the door for the scrapping of key stage 3 tests for 14-year-olds - one of the biggest changes in the decade.

Six years before that, it was a controversy over grading the then new A2 and AS-level exams that brought about the launch of the wide-ranging inquiry into qualifications by former chief inspector Mike Tomlinson. Its proposals were radical: a new exam structure that could bring together the academic and the vocational under one diploma, potentially stretching the brightest while ensuring those who struggled in education would leave with the basic skills they needed.

Unfortunately, fear of headlines about "the death of the A-level gold standard" caused the Government to back down. Instead, it proposed yet another qualification - the work-based 14 to 19 diploma, a course still trying to find its feet. Rather than creating a unified system of qualifications in England, the decade saw pupils studying for a growing array of exams, with IGCSEs competing with GCSEs, and A-levels with the diploma, the International Baccalaureate and the Cambridge Pre-U. But if the teacher from 1999 landed in a modern sixth form, the vast probability is she would still find pupils preparing for A-levels.

Stepping into the corridor, the time-travelling teacher might be spotted by a staff member and asked why she had not obtained a visitor's pass. She could not expect to gain a full-time job without a thorough Criminal Records Bureau check, and would have to register with the General Teaching Council (something teachers in England and Wales did not begin doing until September 2000).

What, the teacher might wonder, had caused this greater focus on child protection? The answer, again, is a pair of mess-ups, but tragic ones that involved children's lives.

The first was the failure of doctors and social workers to put together the information they had on eight-year-old Victoria Climbie and prevent her death at the hands of her guardians in 2000. The case seemed, at first, to have nothing to do with education as she had not been registered at a UK school. But the inquiry following her death led to Every Child Matters, which set out the five broad "outcomes" for children which schools are now judged against by inspectors.

It also brought about the merging of education and social services in local authorities across England, which resulted in several officials with a background in schools being placed in charge of children's services. In a bitter irony, this leadership switch would later be highlighted by the press as a possible cause of safeguarding problems in Haringey, where Baby P died in 2007.

The other future-shaping incident involved the hiring of Ian Huntley as a caretaker at Soham Village College in 2001, a decision that might have been avoided if police records had been more robust.

The fact that Huntley worked in a secondary school had little to do with him murdering two 10-year-olds who attended the primary where his girlfriend worked as a teaching assistant. But the case heightened child protection paranoia, and contributed to the pressure to carry out background checks on school staff and visitors. This shift made it trickier to arrange volunteers for some after-school activities, although it didn't stop growing numbers of schools offering extended services.

The good news for the time-travelling teacher is that, if she did gain a job, she would now be guaranteed 10 per cent of her working week free for planning, preparation and assessment. This benefit, which became statutory in 2005, was a result of the workforce agreement signed by the Government and all but one of the teachers' unions. The NUT refused, calling those involved "traitors and collaborators" and warning that the deal would result in unqualified support staff taking lessons.

Although some concerns about the agreement proved fanciful, by 2007 it was easy to find supply teachers complaining they could no longer find work because of the higher number of schools employing cover supervisors. More teachers were hired, yet it was the number of supply staff in schools that rocketed - nearly tripling during the decade to 339,000. The teacher from 1999 would certainly notice the greater number of teaching assistants in the classroom, some attached to pupils with special educational needs.

To see the most dramatic difference, the time-travelling teacher should be teleported to an academy. Although they only make up a small fraction of secondary education institutions in England, the academies are the defining school model for the decade. They all have a specialism - as nearly all secondary schools did by the late Noughties - and their expensive refits set a standard for the multi-billion pound Building Schools for the Future programme, aimed at all secondaries. Their headteachers are also the most prominent sufferers of "football manager syndrome", receiving unprecedented salaries of more than pound;100,000 for running state schools, but risking the sack if their league table position falls.

The sponsors of some academies appeared perhaps to have a curious agenda, particularly those run by the Emmanuel Schools Trust, where senior staff believed in creationism. But the academies often turned out to be less radical than they first appeared, and displayed a penchant for traditions such as blazers and house systems.

Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Bexley Business Academy. Sponsored by a multi-millionaire property developer, it was opened by a beaming Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2003, who promised the school would be "a wholly new and better way of delivering education". At the heart of its impressive, open plan building, designed by Sir Norman Foster, was a mock trading floor, where pupils would practise for a future in the city.

But after the academy opened the electronic trading screens were barely used, and teachers were soon complaining of the high levels of noise from the classrooms. Within a few years, paint on the walls was peeling, the roof was leaking and the school had been found inadequate by inspectors. Yet the staff carried on. The school put partitions in to dampen the noise, patched up the paintwork and, in teaching, focused more on the basics, particularly English and maths.

Sam Elms, now the academy's executive principal, said: "When the academies started, the Government wanted them to be all about innovation and the wow factor - but we have learnt that getting results, and using what works in education, is more important."

By the end of the decade, Bexley did not seem so very different from any comprehensive with a challenging intake - in the Noughties, or even the 90s. Turns out the time-travelling teacher would have fitted in fine

The Noughties in. Wales

By Darren Evans

The Noughties has been the decade of Welsh devolution, and education was one of the main areas in which the fledgling nation sought to set its own agenda.

Pre-devolution Wales already had a dramatically different educational ethos to England, but in the past decade the two countries' education systems have drifted even further apart.

Early on, the Assembly government did away with the widely loathed secondary school league tables, branding them misleading, incomplete, divisive and demoralising.

An even bolder move followed with the scrapping of Sats for seven, 11 and 14-year-olds, with classroom-based teacher assessments put in their place.

Wales has been lauded for several innovative curriculum developments, including the skills-based Welsh Baccalaureate Qualification, which marries academic and vocational work and complements GCSEs and A-levels, and the play-led foundation phase for three to seven-year-olds.

But while there have been many educational successes since devolution, there have been notable failures, too.

Despite radical curriculum changes, there have been poor exam results, particularly in the 2006 Pisa international comparison study, which showed that 15-year-olds in Wales trailed those from other home nations in science, reading and writing.

Funding has also been a sore point, with the nation's schools and teachers having fewer resources and less cash to work with than their English counterparts. Last year TES Cymru revealed that the funding gap between the two countries had grown to pound;500 per pupil in the average secondary school.

What was the biggest change to schools in the noughties?

From the TES forums.

"The interactive whiteboard has changed the way teachers work. I used textbooks less and ready-made online programmes more. I sort of resented the computer becoming the font of all knowledge and replacing me - I became less of an orator, more of an instructor. After a while, I saw kids glaze over as teachers set up yet another display of stuff beamed from the PC." - Arched Eyebrow

"Interactive whiteboards became the new teacher's desks - kids queueing up to have a go at touching the screen rather than queueing up to have their books marked." - dinx67

"The rise of the Big Bad Wolf of health and safety procedures. Alongside the Ogre of child protection policies. Now, health and safety and child protection are good things - it's the taking-to-extremes that has led to nightmares for too many teachers." - TheoGriff

"The utter decimation of a large sector of the UK teaching population - the supply teachers. We have seen our bookings slashed." - dizziblonde

"Bought in, pre-written schemes of work that are so vast they could fill a skip. I hate them. Much preferred it when we wrote our own. Also computer marking of GCSEs and A-levels, which cannot ever be as fair and accurate as a real marker with a red pen." - Altarego

For more, visit

The Noughties in. Scotland

By Neil Munro

The decade began, like in Wales, with the optimism of devolution. Despite early hopes, it ended with a much less confident educational nation: unprecedented largesse in spending on schools produced an indifferent performance in pupil attainment, as England and other nations caught up while Scotland plateaued.

The Holyrood Parliament had just started to settle down when MSPs and the LabourLiberal Democrat coalition government faced a huge educational test: the meltdown of the examination system in 2000, which left thousands of Scottish pupils with incomplete or wrong results.

This debacle happened on the watch of education minister Sam Galbraith, who soon fell on his sword and was replaced by Jack McConnell.

Mr Galbraith bequeathed an inquiry into teachers' pay and conditions to his wily successor, who brokered an pound;800 million deal that raised pay considerably, introduced a guaranteed induction year for new teachers and required teachers to undertake a specified period of continuing professional development.

In 2007 a minority SNP administration was elected, and the credit crunch arrived. It progressively robbed education of its commanding heights, and the new Government struck a sweetheart deal with local councils (known as the "concordat") that removed its ability to intervene in defence of its priorities.

The result was SNP policy commitments on class sizes, teacher numbers, nursery education and school buildings started to unravel and quickly overwhelmed education secretary Fiona Hyslop. She was demoted at the beginning of this month and replaced by SNP rising star Mike Russell. His in-tray is groaning - but perhaps not in the positive way the proponents of devolution had hoped for 10 years ago.

Ten years - In figures

First figure 1999, Second figure 2009

Pupils in state schools

  • 8.31m
  • 8.0m
    • Teachers in state schools

      • 372,000
      • 432,800
        • Support staff in state schools

          • 132,000
          • 338,900
            • Minority ethnic primary pupils

              • 12%
              • 24.5%
                • Primary pupils on free school meals

                  • 18.9%
                  • 15.9%
                    • Pupils with SEN statements

                      • 3%
                      • 2.7%
                        • Pupils with SEN without statements

                          • 19%
                          • 17.8%
                            • Proportion of teenagers getting five A* to C grades at GCSE

                              • 47.9%
                              • 69.7%
                                • Primary schools

                                  • 18,234
                                  • 17,041
                                    • Secondary schools

                                      • 3,560
                                      • 3,211
                                        • Special schools

                                          • 1,209
                                          • 984
                                            • Independent schools

                                              • 2,229
                                              • 2,346
                                                • Pupil Referral Units

                                                  • 298
                                                  • 456
                                                    • Academies

                                                      • 0
                                                      • 133 (start of year)
                                                        • 2000

                                                          • Death of Victoria Climbie, which later has unexpected consequences for schools and local authorities.
                                                          • Chris Woodhead resigns as chief schools inspector. He is replaced by Mike Tomlinson.
                                                          • The General Teaching Councils in England and Wales begin registering teachers.
                                                          • "Those who can, teach" becomes new teacher recruitment slogan.
                                                            • 2001

                                                              • New Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell announces that the day of "the bog standard comprehensive" is over.
                                                              • Drinking, smoking, misbehaving school staff are the stars of the new Channel 4 programme Teachers.
                                                              • David Blunkett is replaced by Estelle Morris as Education Secretary.
                                                              • New AS-levels are introduced as a result of the Curriculum 2000 reforms.
                                                                • 2002

                                                                  • Row over grading of the A2 and AS-levels leads to changes in results for 10,000 pupils and the sacking of QCA chairman Sir William Stubbs.
                                                                  • In the wake of the Soham Murders and arrest of school caretaker Ian Huntley, the Department for Education and Skills demands that all new teachers must be fully vetted - a decision reversed when term started with thousands of teachers unchecked.
                                                                  • Estelle Morris resigns, saying she is leaving because of a failure to meet test targets. She is replaced by Charles Clarke.
                                                                    • 2003

                                                                      • Teacher workload agreement is signed by the teacher unions (except for the NUT), employers and the Government.
                                                                      • The first Teach First recruits start work in schools.
                                                                      • David Bell, chief inspector at Ofsted, states that "satisfactory is no longer good enough" for schools.
                                                                        • 2004

                                                                          • The Children's Act - the legislative part of the Every Child Matters drive - is passed, designed to get education and social services working more closely together.
                                                                          • Pupils in Wales take key stage 2 and 3 tests for the last time after the Assembly votes to scrap them.
                                                                          • Reshuffle sees Ruth Kelly become the youngest-ever Education Secretary.
                                                                            • 2005

                                                                              • Jamie Oliver campaigns for better school dinners, singling out Turkey Twizzlers for criticism.
                                                                              • Tomlinson proposals for an overarching diploma are rejected by Ruth Kelly, who wants a separate work-based diploma instead.
                                                                              • A learning mentor at a Leeds primary, Mohammad Sidique Khan, is ringleader for July 7 suicide bombings in London, which kill 56 people.
                                                                              • Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) time becomes statutory for all teachers in September.
                                                                                • 2006

                                                                                  • Synthetic phonics officially endorsed as part of the national primary strategy.
                                                                                  • Des Smith, a former headteacher and member of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, is caught promising an undercover reporter that businessmen could gain a peerage by sponsoring an academy.
                                                                                  • A row about Muslim teachers wearing the veil is sparked by the sacking of teaching assistant Aishah Azmi from a Church of England junior school in Dewsbury.
                                                                                    • 2007

                                                                                      • Gordon Brown becomes Prime Minister, and Ed Balls (above) replaces Alan Johnson as Education Secretary.
                                                                                      • The DfES is split, with responsibility for the schools part moved to the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
                                                                                      • Gillian Gibbons, a British primary school teacher in Sudan, is arrested for allowing pupils to name a teddy bear Mohamed.
                                                                                        • 2008

                                                                                          • National strike held by NUT over pay, shortly after the sudden death of the union's general secretary Steve Sinnott.
                                                                                          • Major problems and delays with key stage 2 and 3 tests marking, administered by American company ETS.
                                                                                          • Early Years Foundation Stage is introduced.
                                                                                          • Ed Balls announces he is scrapping key stage 3 tests.
                                                                                            • 2009

                                                                                              • Charity Commission issues reports on independent schools, examining how well they meet tests for public benefit.
                                                                                              • City workers who have lost their jobs as a result of the global financial downturn targeted to become teachers - although few join a fast- track training scheme launched by the Prime Minister.
                                                                                              • The Cambridge Primary Review and the government-backed review by Sir Jim Rose both make proposals for the future of primary education - the former is ignored by ministers.


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