THE BLOG

An Open Letter to the Chief of Ofsted and the Education Secretary

20/04/2016 16:40

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Dear Sir Michael Wilshaw and Nicola Morgan MP,

This year, I have watched many of my previously buoyant close friends sink into a pit of self-loathing and misery. This year, I have witnessed many of my parents drift away from any kind of comfort in the profession that once anchored, enthused and fulfilled them. I am, of course, not talking of my biological parents but my guardians of English Literature, History, Philosophy and Spanish. My AS Level teachers, and the wider school community, a limp and dying reef, saturated with desperation, despondency and dejection.

Mr Wilshaw, on 14th April you said that you 'take reports of low morale amongst teachers with a barrel of salt' and you appeared to blame it entirely on 'bad pay'. I understand. When you receive a £200,000 salary it's probably very easy to think that all those who work in education are motivated by money. You are one of Britain's highest paid public sector workers and yet what is it that you do for us? You've created a culture of fear within schools across the country, placing heavy blame on teachers for failures in the education system and have refused to stand up against governmental reforms that have compromised the quality of life of students and teachers alike. OFSTED claims to be 'raising standards' and 'improving lives', yet I can't help but feel you are instead raising standards and burdening lives. With recent reforms to examination methods, the curriculum and the independence of schools, the whole culture of education has been reformed to one that reduces bright human beings to marks, grades and marginal gains. Teachers and students alike are forced to work into the early hours of the morning to hit deadlines. Allocating time for a 'social' life is effectively allocating a period of time whereby you will try to relax but feel overwhelmingly guilty that you are not sat at a desk completing one of 20 or so tasks that are on your 'to-do list'.

Mrs Morgan, I implore you to try and understand the realities of education reforms being pushed through by your government. Take the example of coursework. Due to greater emphasis on linear examination, we spend the first 18 years of our lives learning 'exam technique' rather than how to produce good quality work in time for deadlines, as we are most likely going to be required to do so in our professions.

No leading academics, business leaders and/or researchers are expected to write essays and reports in 37 minutes. Yet. this is the length of time in which I have to thematically analyse the whole of Elizabeth I's reign. I have 45 minutes to compare and contrast two 200 page books and 30 minutes to explain and evaluate philosophical arguments that stretch back thousands of years. Strenuous exam conditions are not a reflection of the workplace or any aspect of life outside of school. If the education system does not prepare us for a career then what is its purpose? Moreover, the academisation of our schools has effectively forced them to function like businesses, rather than as a public service. My school recently had to scrap one of two (constantly oversubscribed) school counsellors to employ a business manager. The shrinking pastoral care and over-emphasis on exams in our education system is contributing to increasing mental health issues amongst students and teachers alike.

A few years ago, I found it impossible to deal with assessment situations but I was lucky to have a teacher who helped me recover from that place and push me to achieve two A*s in English GCSEs. She recently left the teaching profession because she could not bear to put us through a system that she wholeheartedly disagreed with, one that fosters low self esteem. The recent emphasis on science over arts has created a divide between two areas of study that work best when they are combined and compliment one another. Creative students feel undervalued and unable to succeed, whereas those who take STEM subjects are made to feel as though it's futile to pursue the arts at all.

If teachers were to strike, many of us students would be on the picket line with them, regardless of any hours lost in the classroom. Time spent doing schoolwork can very easily feel like time wasted anyway - it's hard to feel any satisfaction when all you receive out of years of tears and graft is a few letters on a piece of paper. We are conditioned to believe that anything less than an A or B is a failure. It doesn't feel like you're living during your time in the education system, merely existing to gain a few marks here and there. How do I know that it is worse now than it has ever been before? I remember primary school as a blissful discovery of the world but my primary-school age younger brother recently cried to me because being in the classroom made him feel inadequate.

Mr Wilshaw and Mrs Morgan, I sincerely hope that you do not rest easy at night when the servants of your system lie awake toiling and panicking over what extra workload tomorrow may bring.

Regards,

Ella Marshall
A sixth form student who has had enough

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