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Government Has Created a System Designed to Maximise Pressures on Schools

28/05/2015 18:22 BST | Updated 28/05/2016 10:59 BST

On Wednesday, as part of the Queen's Speech, the Conservative Government has confirmed its intention to grant powers to Regional School Commissioners to force academy status upon 'coasting' and 'failing' schools. Quite how David Cameron and his colleagues define 'coasting' is yet to be divulged, but they should more urgently learn the lesson of the past few years - that school improvement is not achieved by a change of school status.

Along with the Local Government Association, we at the NUT believe it should be the job of local authorities to assist schools. This would be preferable to sacking head teachers and silencing opposition to academisation‎ by doing away with the already minimal level of consultation that is currently required.

The Government justifies this extended and accelerated privatisation of our school system by claiming that it cares about standards. Yet there is now a mountain of evidence which shows that there is no academy effect on standards in schools. Indeed, research by the Sutton Trust concluded that the very poor results of some academy chains - both for pupils generally and for the disadvantaged pupils they were particularly envisaged to support - comprised 'a clear and urgent problem'.

In contrast, there is good evidence to show that programmes which encourage and support schools to work together can create sustainable improvement. The London Challenge, which ran from 2003 but which was cancelled under the previous Coalition Government, underpinned the impressive improvements seen in the capital's schools and demonstrated the importance of local authorities in making that difference.

The Challenge, which was later widened to other cities, encouraged collaboration between schools and sharing good practice across local authority boundaries. Rather than targeting so-called 'failing' or 'coasting' schools, the aim of the programme was to improve all schools, not just those with the lowest attainment. It recognised that schools need to be trusted, supported and encouraged in order to realise improvements. And it adopted a supportive approach to weaker schools, which consequently received more funding that could be spent on additional staff and development.

Head teachers are already in short supply, so the promise to sack more of them will simply exacerbate the problem. Where does Nicky Morgan imagine that new teachers and heads will come from if up against threats like this?

Government has created a system which is designed to maximise pressures on schools. For our members, accountability is the over-arching issue and workload its consequence. This is the chief cause of teachers and heads leaving the profession. By the Government's own measure, teachers are working 60-hour weeks - well beyond reasonable expectations, and for a salary which since 2010 has seen its value cut by 15% against inflation. Even worse, however, a large proportion of those 60-hours do not directly benefit the children in a teacher's class. They are instead devoted to the bureaucratic requirements of Whitehall.

Nicky Morgan said that she would listen to the 44,000 teachers who responded to last year's Workload Challenge, but her answers have fallen woefully short of real solutions to a serious problem. The Government must not abdicate its responsibility for excessive workload, because it is the Government's very education policies which are driving it up.

And it is not just teachers who are bearing the brunt of a system led by league tables and Ofsted results. The same pressures are felt by pupils. We now have a generation of young people who are anxious, stressed and disaffected. At Easter we published compelling research which shows that children are experiencing stress-related conditions and increasingly view school as a place of exams, to the exclusion of anything else. We are testing children within an inch of their lives and the vibrancy and love of learning that should be at the centre of the curriculum is all but lost.

More testing, more free schools, more forced academies and more pressure - all with less money in education and less money in the other services that support children. This is not the strategy that will give all children in this country the excellent outcomes they deserve.

There are alternative school improvement strategies which are better value for money and which make possible better outcomes for children. These strategies would also stem the tide of teachers fleeing the profession. It is high time that the Government engages with the profession and with the evidence from the last 40 years about what improves educational outcomes.

This is a Queen's Speech which entrenches inequality. Visits to foodbanks will increase as benefit cuts bite, the sale of housing association stock will not address the housing crisis and more families will be uprooted due to the bedroom tax.

Working people strove long and hard to build trade unions which are part of the very fabric of our society. The right to be represented, the right to decent pay and conditions of work and healthy and safe working environments were not given without a fight. In the private sector and in the public sector, too, trade unionists hold these things dear. In the public sector, trade unions fight not only for their own members but in defence of the services on which so many rely and to challenge injustice in the workplace. Legislation to seek to silence that voice is unjust. There will no doubt be resistance.

Christine Blower is the general secretary of the NUT