Where will all the money go?

15th September 2000 at 01:00
Another layer of bureaucracy won't improve the quality of teaching in schools, writes David Rosenberg.

Thursday, towards the end of a long summer term, was a day to remember. After endless weeks of tests and reports, staff and pupils were feeling weary.

But suddenly we rediscovered our energy. We were on our feet dancing, singing and clapping to the rhythms of Cuban music. Five very versatile musicians had enthralled 400 children from the nursery to Year 6. Even the most self-conscious boys couldn't wait to salsa. "The music feels as if it goes right through your chest," said Charlotte, an eight-year-old in my class.

For the five hours in which they transported the children to a Caribbean island, introduced them to new instruments - guiros, bongos, congas, claves - and explained the history and geography of the language and rhythms of the music, the school paid pound;400. In these days of ever-tightening budgets, that is a sum the school can ill afford, so we asked parents to make a voluntary contribution of pound;1 each, knowing most would.

Three days earlier we'd had another visitor who earned a similar sum for five hours' work. He had no support band, and we hadn't asked for parental contributions. There was no music. Nor any clapping. Far from the surge of energy we were to experience later in the week, you could feel the energy draining away as our visitor sat and talked at us for a couple of hours while showing us his well-thumbed overhead transparencies, insisted we struggle with a dull paper exercise and showed us the obligatory video.

Evidently, this was the kind of valuable initiative schools should be investing in. Entertaining and uplifting it wasn't. Who was he? An Ofsted inspector? No, you can buy them for just pound;250 a day. This was a performance management consultant (PMC), and soon every school will have one.

He assured us early on that he was not there to represent the Government, simply to inform us of the system that was being put in place and show us how to adopt it to our advantage. In a candid moment, rare among consultants, who generally profess altruistic motives, he admitted he worked for himself. In essence, he outlined a system whereby teachers who have worked alongside each other for years as equals, sharing ideas and good practice, who respect each other's knowledge and insights and value each other's generosity of spirit, who regard each other as friends as well as professional colleagues, and socialise together, will now be asked to go into each other's lessons with tick sheets and grade these lessons. Worse still, the grades could affect whether or not the teacher being scrutinised gets a pay rise.

As our PMC delivered this news in a manner I would have graded "unsatisfactory", I pencilled my motto for 21st-century teachers: "Progress through fear".

It is difficult to imagine a more divisive and unpleasant system set up in the name of raising standards. Those who swim rather than sink will move a few points up the leadership scale. Hardly worth losing friends over, though.

This opportunity, of course, applies only to those teachers who have been carried over the pound;2,000 threshold. And who will confirm that they have been successful in this regard? Yet another layer of bureaucracy:

"threshold assessors", who will command almost as much for their day's wrk as the PMCs, (or five Cuban musicians interacting with a whole school). You don't need to have sat through many numeracy hours to realise that threshold assessors earn their pound;2,000 bonus for five or six days' work, for a task considerably less arduous than standing in front of a class of 30-plus children, day in, day out.

New teachers are concerned. How will they benefit from this flurry of activity that the Government is committed to funding only until the next election? What if the system tightens up then? Will they be left behind? Well, no, help is at hand. Our PMC explained that some teachers lower down the scale can accelerate towards the ceiling at twice the usual pace if they can show their worth in measurable progress. They'll be up at the threshold in no time if they take advantage of "fast-track" procedures. But who will administer the fast track? Another layer of highly paid assessors.

Registering a minor note of discontent, I asked if there was a "slow-track" for teachers who wanted to spend time consolidating the concepts the children had already learned a little about.

It is undeniable that the Government is investing serious money in education. The more pressing concern is what happens to that money; not where it enters the system but where it comes out. A few years ago, it looked like publishers would be the biggest beneficiaries. Every new government initiative had publishing companies rushing out just the materials every harassed and over-burdened class teacher needed (or so they said) to meet new requirements. Then the Ofsted empire grew, quadrupling its budget in just five years - in inverse proportion to teacher morale.

This time it is the army of assessors and consultants who will be taking the money. Or should I say, our money? As taxpayers we hope we are contributing towards an education system that will do the best for our children. As a teacher, parent and concerned citizen, I am unhappy filling the coffers of these empires. Nor do I believe they add one jot of value to the intellectual and social development of my children or those I teach.

I once thought books were the key and that every school should have an adequate supply, but I know now that good teaching can be achieved with a relatively small number of good-quality books. By far our most important educational resources are the people who can work with children, impart information, challenge their intellect, develop their skills, broaden their horizons - not the people who train them but those who help them learn how to learn. Imagine if all the money currently winding its merry way towards Ofsted, PMCs, threshold assessors and fast-track assessors was spent on providing two or three additional teachers for every primary school to use in the ways they saw fit. Can anyone honestly suggest that standards would not rise?

Our workshop on Cuban music finished with lines of children joining up to make one huge snake which conga-ed around the hall, everyone with the hands on the shoulders of one person in front, each playing an equal role, dependent on the other to keep the snake moving to the music. The teachers were spread out within the snake, united with the children and each other. It was a very special moment.

David Rosenberg is a Year 2 teacher at a primary school in Islington, north London


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