Published last month, the Department for Education (DFE)'s White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere has been the source of a tremendous amount of debate, with criticism coming from a wide range of sources.
The National Union of Teachers has declared it is "utterly opposed to [its] proposals to convert all schools to academies, end democratic accountability in England's education system and threaten teachers' pay and conditions". The Guardian implores Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to "slow down". And, in a recent editorial in The Times, one of the White Paper's flagship initiatives was dismissed as "peculiarly crude" and "clumsy ministerial overreach".
But what do teachers themselves think? Amid all of the sound and the fury, it is important that their voices aren't lost. So kudos to education research house Schoolzone, who, straight after the White Paper was published, surveyed 800 UK teachers about whether they agree or disagree with its core ideas.
It is immediately evident that there is much more that teachers disagree with in the White Paper than agree. A very substantial majority - 88% - disagree with the idea that by the end of 2020, all remaining maintained schools should be academies, or in the process of conversation. Primary school teachers tend to be even more opposed to the plan, with 80% "strongly disagreeing" and a further 10% "somewhat" disagreeing. A mere six per cent of both primary school-teachers and secondary-school teachers agreed with the idea.
The rise of Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) were also a cause for deep concern by teachers. 71% of teachers disagreed with the idea that most schools with have to form or join MATs. Only 11% agreed. A greater 79% of teachers are opposed to the further development of MATs. Schoolzone believes that teachers are: "Often most concerned over the lack of autonomy that they fear being part of a MAT might bring. For example if budgets were out of the control of school or department heads, or if the MAT insisted on a particular curriculum or resources. Teachers value being able to exercise their personal judgement in these matters".
There was a slightly more balanced picture, however, when it comes to MATs being held more accountable through the publication of performance tables - although the majority, 52%, remain opposed. Two-thirds also disagreed with the idea that key positions in MATs, like the chair of the board of governors, should be paid positions, and there was strong resistance to the idea that parents of school children should no longer have places reserved for them on the governing boards (80% disagreeing).
Interestingly, there was a split between senior staff and classroom teachers when it comes to schools-based Initial Teacher Training (ITT). Exactly half of head teachers agree with the White Paper that the proportion of ITT being led by our best schools should continue to increase. While the largest proportion of teachers "somewhat" agree (29%), teachers are less inclined to believe that heads are best placed to accredit new entrants to the profession, with 58% disagreeing. Heads, perhaps unsurprisingly, are much more positive about the idea.
While there is ambivalence from primary-school teachers, secondary-school teachers are evidently concerned about the White Paper's stated ambition for 90% of pupils in mainstream secondary schools to enter the EBacc. Indeed 73% are opposed, with only 18% of secondary teachers being in favour.
There are, however, some aspects of the White Paper that teachers do, on the whole, support. The majority (55%) are in support of the establishment of a National Teaching Service, where schools in challenging areas will be able to request support from "elite" teachers and middle leaders for up to three years.
More teachers than not are also in favour of a new Standard for Teachers' Professional Development - an attempt to help schools ensure that the PD they purchase will be of sufficient quality. They are also broadly in favour of a new platform to advertise vacancies for free on a new national teacher vacancy website although, as I have argued previously, the potential costs associated with this initiative - which has already failed once - should not be underestimated.
As the report's author, Philip Collie, observes, the White Paper was released just before the Easter holiday, when teachers were extremely busy in the run up to the end of term. That they responded to a survey in such numbers - many hundreds overnight - shows "that teachers are very engaged with schools policy".
To her credit, Nicky Morgan has very carefully engaged with the teaching profession on the Workload Challenge, with the three working group reports being published at the end of last month. It is now said that she is "firmly in listening mode" over the move to academisation. It is greatly important that, during this "listening mode" phase, the voices of teachers - who are evidently very keen to be heard - are taken into account. This Schoolzone report is a very good place to start.
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