Women’s Equality and the Richmond Park By Election

December 3, 2016 at 1:05 pm (Politics) ()

“My problem is Caroline, women’s equality is a single issue for a pressure group, not a platform for a political party” – so sayeth my intelligent politically minded friends who are wondering if I’ve joined a cult with my sudden leap feet first back into the world of politics with the Women’s Equality Party. A few years ago, sod it possibly even a few months ago, I might have agreed with you to some extent. I would still have been able to make an argument how WEP was a damned sight less single issue than UKIP and they still get equal media coverage with the major political parties but anyway. Reading the entire policy platforms of the party, speaking to members and branch organisers from across the country and finally listening to the very powerful and effective words of the party leader Sophie Walker, has convinced me that Women’s Equality Party are far from a single-issue party. They are a single focus party that uses that focus to see new solutions to a wide range of issues.
One of the big features of the weekends conference was adding a seventh key pillar to the policy platform (currently Equal pay, Equal parenting and care-giving, Equal education, Equal treatment of women in and by the media and an end to violence against women) of equality in health provision. “What nonsense!” I hear John Moorcraft and others cry (sorry John) “of course women have equal access to healthcare”. But no, they don’t. Firstly, there are the explicitly women’s issues; limited access to contraception beyond the Pill unless they are willing to go to several specialist clinics, the fact that women cannot decide to have an abortion – they must have two doctors certify their decision first, and the limited number of female GPs in the UK meaning they are usually booked out and unable to see patients who would feel more comfortable seeing a women GP. But beyond our reproductive systems there are other reasons health is skewed against 52% of the population. Research and medical testing is carried out almost exclusively on male physiology. Due to different hormone levels and chemical makeup women will react differently to medicine and conditions. Sandi Toksvig spoke at conference about taking a female friend to the hospital with the symptoms of a heart attack to be told it was a panic attack and not to fuss. This was because the receptionist had only been trained to triage the male symptoms of heart attack (pain in the arm, tight chest) and not the symptoms that women frequently present with (difficulty breathing, nausea and dizziness).
I could (and may well in the future) write bucket loads about lots of areas that were discussed at the weekend – housing, pensions, taxation – all of which when viewed through the lens of gender equality make you see that 52% of the population are not getting a fair deal but the key point is (and I’m directly stealing Sophie Walker’s words here) equality is not a zero-sum game. Giving women a fair deal does not mean men then get a bad deal. One of the reasons the economy struggles to work is we are using an outdated model that functions on the basis of women staying at home to clean, cook and look after children, the elderly and the sick as unpaid labour. In a modern economy, there needs to be access to flexitime, childcare, parental leave, not just for women but for men. There is no reason for anyone to feel threatened by women’s equality as the point is to make society better for everyone. The focus is the need to work together to achieve real change. It was for this reason that Women’s Equality (WE) didn’t put a candidate up for the Richmond Park by election. The local branch sat down with the Lib Dems and discussed what priorities were and, along with the Green Party, agreed to work together to elect Sarah Olney. This is the sort of politics I want to be involved in – on where people can put their egos aside and work together for the best solution.
Anyway, a bit of a ramble but just wanted to get some of these thoughts down while still fresh in my head. Not a lot of blogging now as I’m relatively busy but shall try and get something coherent put together before 2017 hits!

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We Need a Constitution

July 14, 2016 at 10:10 am (Politics)

Through the last few weeks when asked my political opinion on what is happening in the UK I have really struggled to come up with a satisfactory answer to most people.  When asked what I think of May/Boris/Corbyn/Gove/Crabb (whooooooooo?) etc. I do not really have an opinion because I am much more preoccupied with the nitty gritty of it all.  The political system as it operates in the UK.  This is not really suprising since I’ve spent the last eight years of my life teaching A-Level Politics. So for those of you who do not have an A-Level in politics here is a quick recap of Unit 2: (feel free to skip ahead)

The UK has what is known by A-Level teachers as an “unwritten constitution”.  Meaning that the rules that govern how this country is governed are not in one single document as they are in nearly every other democracy in the world (New Zealand and Israel being the only two other places that do not have one).  What we have is a series of conventions and precedents established over the last 500 years or so, examples of which you have seen in the last 24 hours (kissing hands, forming a cabinet etc.) and one overriding principle.  That is parliamentary sovereignty i.e. parliament can do whatever it likes whenever it likes as long as a majority of them vote for it.

The gist of your average A-Level essay ends up saying that the unwritten constitution is good because we don’t get lumbered with out of date ideas that are hard to change and then they turn to the second amendment of the US constitution which gives all US citizens the right to bear arms and is the reason it is almost impossible to pass gun control laws.  You see changing constitutional law is much harder than changing everyday laws.  In the US to change the constitution a two thirds majority is required in both houses of congress and three quarters of state legislatures have to approve the amendment as well.  And by and large I’ve always subscribed to this idea.  “Hey isn’t it awesome we live in a country where we aren’t bound by history and we can do whatever we like”.  Well no.  It’s not anymore frankly.

Constitutional reforms of the last 30 years have led to some of the most important changes in this countries history – devolution, the Human Rights Act, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act – all with the aim of decentralising power from our overly strong executive branch but I suspect in a years time we will have seen a serious reversal in a lot of these areas, the key one being the Human Rights Act.

Theresa May has repeatedly over the years committed herself to scrapping the Human Rights Act which would remove our commitment to subscribe to the European Convention on Human Rights. As I have said a lot of time ECHR and EU are separate.  Brexit does not mean no longer being signed up to ECHR.  We still have strong protection of our human rights.  However like everything in this country it could be overturned in the blink of an eye by a simple majority in parliament.

The uproar by remain voters over Brexit is largely that it is happening on such a flimsy majority and so quickly.  This is exactly why we need a true and real constitution.  Membership of the EU, Human Rights, and how we choose a government should not be changed on a whim by whoever holds a majority at the time.  There are some decisions that have irrevocable results and should be considered on a higher level than everyday law making.

One of the arguments the A-Level textbooks puts forward against having a “written constitution” is that it would be complex and time consuming to put together a constitution.  Well indeed.  That’s the point. It should be complex and time consuming deciding on a binding set of rules the country is run by but until we do we will continue to be a nation divided by the whims of an electorate easily swayed both ways by a controlling media.

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EU Referendum – Go on Then

June 10, 2016 at 2:07 pm (Politics) ()

Meh.  That was my original thought on the referendum a few months ago.  It’s not the end of the world either way.

Eleven years ago I started working for a Conservative MP and received in the post a banner sticker which I put over my desk “Love Europe, Hate the EU”.  As part of my A-Levels and University studies of Politics I had a lot of knowledge of how the EU operates and I was very against the lack of democratic oversight, the bloated bearucracy and the generally poor efficeincy of how the system was run.

Over the years though I have become horribly middle of the road on so many issues.  I hate reactionary baseless opinions and feel I need to challenge them. As a teacher I felt it was important to always be able to point out the other side of an argument and so I have found myself torn on many issues because I can see both sides. Decisions in politics are not easy and anyone who dismisses them as such has not given them due consideration.

But OMG the brexiteers or the leave camp or whatever you want to call them are just being so goddamn obnoxious!! So far as I can tell at best their argument is sovereignty.  Well guess what.  Parliament is, and always will be sovereign.  When we don’t like EU law we fight it tooth and nail.  Look at our opt out of the social charter from Maastricht in 1992, or our refusal to join the Euro zone or our opt out of the Schengen Area. Further reading if you want all the ins and outs (literally)

Of course their worst argument is “eeeewww foreigners”.  Frankly I do not have time for racism, casual racism or unintentional racism.  We live on one planet.  There are bad people and there are good people.  There are people who respect our customs and those who don’t. Where they were born frankly has sod all to do with that. Factually migration is good for us.  End of.  Get over it.  Don’t believe me?  Well the Guardian says so and that won’t surprise you but so does the Telegraph – albeit begrudgingly.

So lets go back to what my younger self has as reservations about the EU…. Is leaving going to change the way the EU is run? Probably not.  Is staying in going to change the way the EU is run? Nobody knows. Does the way the EU is run outweigh the benefits we get from being in the EU?  Well since there is no real way to quantify any of those things who knows. There are reforms that are needed, there is in fact an excellent report by Vernon Bogdanor (a god in political academic circles) explaining exactly how it could be tightened up.

The fact is the obnoxious nature of the public face of those in favour of leaving the EU is enough to make me vote to stay in.  No strong case has been made for leaving and as an erstwhile conservative I like to stick with the status quo rather than risk unpredictable radical change.  So if you want my advise on how to vote, vote remain, but more importantly – VOTE.  This is going to be a landmark decision in British politics and is probably the most important referendum of our lifetime so make sure you do vote so you don’t regret not having a say.

P.S. Anyone starts talking bollocks about human rights please just repeat after me – the European Convention on Human Rights predates, and is separate from, the European Union and our commitment to support it through the Human Rights Act 1998 will not be changed by leaving the EU.  And while the EU does have a set of rights similar which are enshrined in EU law, guess what?  The UK opted out of that as well.

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Young Peoples Mental Health Needs Support

May 22, 2016 at 1:22 pm (Mental health, Parenting, Politics, Teaching) ()

The axing of Natasha Devon’s role as school’s mental health champion was a real blow for young people in this country.  It sends the message that the government does not recognise the issues of mental health in schools when in fact it is a ticking time bomb. Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. Why schools now?  Why is it different from the past? Why can’t young people cope in the way that generations prior to them did?  As I see it there are four main factors.

Firstly awareness – the 21st Century has been a truly excellent time in the history of Psychology and symptoms of depression, anxiety and other conditions are far more often picked up than they were in the past.  Stephen Fry’s autobiography Moab is my Washpot is particularly good for highlighting this.

Secondly social media.  Think back to when you were a teenager.  Think of the worst most humiliating thing that happened to you.  Now imagine it’s on Facebook or Youtube and is there forever and people can keep linking back to it.  That is the world that everyone born in the 21st Century is living in.  Do not underestimate the horrors of social media on the young.  I thank god all the time that it did not exist when I was a teenager.  Text messaging caused me enough problems. (Don’t ask – at least not on the internet)

One and two are symptoms of the world and there is very little we can do about it.  But three and four are where the government has a responsibility to improve the situation and the sacking of Natasha Devon becomes unforgiveable.

The third factor as I see it is that teachers are at breaking point.  Yes, yes I rant about this all the time but it pains me to see the stress that my former colleagues are still under.  Everyone I have seen since I left my job has said how much better I look – this is largely because the terrible eczema I had developed on my eyelids in the last year has completely disappeared.  My eczema has always been stress related.  The last time I had it, before this year, was in my final year of university. The teaching job had got so stressful my body felt it had to tell me.  But it’s not just me.  Nor is it my lovely friends who are still working so hard they are struggling to maintain their sanity. One in ten teachers have been prescribed anti-depressants as a direct response to their job.  That article highlights all the statistics but the key point is that teachers are suffering more stress than they ever have before.  It is undoubtable that this is conveyed onto the students.

But finally the key point is the stress that the students are under.  The stress that academic achievement is the only route to follow, that there are no jobs waiting for them when they leave and that they will be considered a failure if they do not achieve the government set targets for themselves. This is what Natasha Devon was highlighting when she lost her job – that children as young as 12 have developed high levels of stress over standardised testing.  I know everyone is bored of being told how good Finland’s education system is but it shows that testing and forcing children into box ticking exercises is not the only way to educate them.

So why should we care? Aside from being decent human beings who do not want to see children suffering there are practical economic reasons to care. 90% of prisoners have at least one mental disorder and the prison suicide rate is one of the highest in the world, so these high levels of stress may well be increasing the number of young people getting involved in crime. The biggest killer of people in their twenties (i.e. those just emerging from the schools system) is self harm.  A shocking situation and one that can definitely be seen as a direct consequence of the lack of mental health support young people are given.

So what can we do?  Keep putting pressure on MP’s to ensure their is support for young people.  CAMHS are sporadic in their effectiveness but at least they do provide focused support for young people.  The real problem happens when those young people reach 18 and no longer have support.  I have tried to help students transition to adult mental health services in the past when they are leaving school and it is shocking how little support they have.  So if you wish to do something practical I urge you to sign the petition below which has only two weeks left to get enough signatures to get a response from the government  https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/114608

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Imagine

May 6, 2016 at 1:30 pm (Politics) ()

I turned on the election results at about half past midnight to see Nicky Morgan and John McDonnell just shouting over each other.  What does that actually achieve?  How does it help anyone?  How does it further anything?

So as you may be able to guess when I walked to the polling station yesterday I was feeling pretty clueless about who to vote for.  I hate the tribalism of politics and it is what drove me away from the Conservative Party.  Not because they are any more tribal than other political parties.  It is a constant state of whether you are with us or against us in all parties, and then whether you are with your subset or against your subset within that party.

The simple truth is that David Cameron does not wake up in the morning thinking “how can I make the country worse?”, whatever anyone thinks.  Nor does Jeremy Corbyn, nor Nicola Sturgeon, nor Leanne Wood.  Everyone (almost) in politics genuinely feels what they are doing is for the best.  I know it can be hard to believe but seriously – nobody decides to be a politician because they want to screw the country up. If you were given complete control of the country tomorrow you would not create utopia. Hard to accept I know.  But when dealing with the interests of 65 million people you are not going to make everything right for everybody all of the time.

And this is why I change who I vote for all the time.  Yes even when I was a member of the Conservative party.  Every time I walk into that polling booth I make an informed choice based on the policies and politics of the day.  But today I was feeling a bit sad because as I no longer live in London I could not express my support for a movement I feel very strongly will make a difference and that is the Women’s Equality Party.  So on my back from voting I made sure to finally sign up and join them.  If WEP deliver what they promise then we are looking at cross party support for the issues that matter most to me – ensuring that the inequality of the sexes does not continue any further into 21st Century Britain.

But I did not come here to lecture you about feminism – I know better.  The point though is stop being so damned tribal about politics.  Conservative, Labour, Plaid, SNP – they are all doing what they think is best and screaming at them that they are wrong is not going to change their mind.  Try listening and understanding and you will find you have common ground – you generall agree on the ends just not the means so maybe reaching some understanding would benefit everyone. The fact that WEP is trying to achieve this to some extent is the biggest reason I am willing to give them my support and I truly hope they continue to move forward in the future.

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Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

April 29, 2016 at 1:30 pm (Uncategorized)

Ten years ago the internet was an amazing and ever expanding resource for teachers it still is.  Even the least engaged students often remember when you put the two minute clip from youtube on that showed the strange situation experiment in action.  The kid with no ability to analyse can still get a grade from obsessively learning key words on memrise to try and beat their friends in the ratings.  And most importantly – when a teacher has had no time to plan Thursday morning’s lesson because on Monday night they got called into an unexpected progress meeting, on Tuesday they lost all their PPA time to doing catch up with the students who were identified as not performing well enough in Monday’s meeting, then had parents evening all night and by the time they got home on Wednesday they just do not have the strength or energy to plan when they get home.

In the past you would go online to TES and look for a resource, produced and provided by teachers, find one you like, download it, tweak it to sort your style and class and then off you go.  But now when you do that on TES you are very likely to  find you have to pay for it.  Teachers are monetising their resources. And honestly I don’t know how I feel about that morally.  Of course it’s fair enough you would say.  Especially as this started mostly in the USA where teachers are paid so poorly they often have to take a second job to maintain a living (see Breaking Bad for a deeply factual portrayal).  But the real problem is not who is profiting from the resources but who is paying for the resources.  Others have made the point that it should be the school department who provide the money to buy lessons and resources but that is not the case or two reasons.  Firstly in the time it takes to get a school budget approval or reclaim petty cash you could have made the resource yourself.  Secondly UK schools have no money.  Seriously.  I don’t know how much you follow this but increases in contributions to national insurance and pensions, combined with no real funding increase means schools are broke.  Teachers are being made redundant, teachers who leave are not being replaced and CPD courses are not being paid for because schools do not have the money.  In that environment you cannot expect somebody to sign a document to give you the money to download a resource of TES.  As the costs are small it becomes like micropayments.  A drip drip effect means teachers end up shelling out more and more.

That is why I cannot quite be comfortable with teachers selling their individual resources.  By all means if you have a good enough load of resources – write a book, put the whole lot together into a package that a school department will shell out for but don’t use micropayments to get a little bit here and a little bit there for a worksheet or a powerpoint.  Excellent free resource sharing sites exist like Resourcd.com  – that’s what day to day resources should be going on, not being charged £1.50 for a powerpoint on TES.

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Nothing Compares 2 U

April 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm (Uncategorized)

Get in the sea 2016!

Did 2016 not pay it’s electricity bill?

2016 – the year everyone cool died

Etc. etc.

There is a shared consciousness on the internet that suggests this year is being particularly harsh in taking away beloved celebrities.  Stephen Fry must be checking his blood pressure daily as a result. The more interesting phenomenon that is happening is a collective fear of mortality.  More specifically a fear of our parents mortality.

The ONS states that 16-54 year olds are the most frequent internet users but you look closely at the data what you see is that the key group is 16-34 year olds as roughly 99% of them use the internet daily.  If we assume (rather offensively) that the 16 – 24 year olds are using it to boast about how much they drink and swipe along on Tinder then the content driven writing on the internet is dominated by people on either side of 30.  Which means their parents are roughly speaking on either side of 60.  And what do all the celebrities who have died recently have in common?  Prince (57), Victoria Wood (62), David Gest (62), Alan Rickman (69) and of course David Bowie (69).  Some deaths are older such as Ronnie Corbett (85), Denise Robertson (83), Paul Daniels (77), Frank Kelly (77), Terry Wogan (77).  But then again some of those hanging about on the internet are also older.  And with the exception of Terry Wogan the response to those deaths has been slightly different to the others in my list.

Average life expectancy in the UK is 81, across the globe it’s 71. Yes these people are dying young but not to the point where it’s unbelievable.  An average is of course an average – some are above and some are below. The peak age of cancer diagnosis is 69 to 74. Most of the deaths above were caused by cancer.  What were are looking at is stark normal facts about death in this day and age.  So why does the internet react so angrily?  It’s not just a response to the wonderful careers of these individuals (well most of them – I won’t be spiteful enough to point out which ones I’m pointing fingers at), it is an outpouring of grief that is normally reserved for those who are taken in a violent incident in their 20s.  Why the true grief response?

When I was about 7 or 8 years old I found my parents will in the filing cabinet (yes I was the sort of 7 year old who went through filing cabinets and could read what I found there and understood it.  I’m that nerdy).  It was the first proper understanding of mortality I ever had and I wept inconsolably for hours.  Luckily my mother (who does not ever want to be mentioned on the internet so don’t tell her!) is fabulous and said all the right things. Those of us who have lost a parent know how traumatic and challenging it is but we all at some point have known the fear of losing our parents.  The inevitable truth that at some point our parents have to die is upsetting and challenging to face.  So I propose that the collective 30 someethings of the internet, as they come closer to facing this truth, are transferring their helplessness and anger onto the death of Prince and David Bowie.  These figures they grew up worshipping, adoring and respecting for their wisdom and talent.  Sure they did stupid things at times but we still looked up to them. And in losing them we look at our parents and realise they will not be around forever either.

I know a lot of angry cynical people – the type who will go on the internet and abuse these people for suggesting they are upset over the death of a celebrity.  Before they do so I think they should consider the deeper meaning for this grief.  In reality they are not just upset over the celebrity – they are fearing the mortality of their parents and that is totally reasonable.  So cut them some slack.

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Ready or Not

April 15, 2016 at 2:30 pm (Uncategorized)

When I was at school my long suffering friend Danielle used to make me go to gymnastics club before school once a week. She was very gymanstic.  I was not. However over time and through PE lessons I built up to a stage where I was able to take the B.A.G.A awards.  Fine I probably never made it past four but still I got one or two of them and I was very proud of that. In sixth form I took driving lessons for months.  My driving instructor was a very patient man and put up with me throwing tantrums when I did not get thiings right.  When I booked my original test he thought it was a hasty move and said it was probably too soon.  We will never know if he was right because it got cancellede same and moved back 6 weeks. He probably was right and I passed first time – largely because of the extra six weeks practice. It was the same with music exams.  I took graded singing and piano exams (you’ll note the lack of a number.  It’s not impressive enough to share) and I took them when my teacher thought I was ready.

You probably see what I’m driving at.  One of the biggest problems teachers face is getting thirty very different students all prepared for the same exam at the same time. Right now the date of the first GCSEs is fast approaching and most teachers will have given up at least one day of the Easter “holidays” to cram as much revision into students heads as possible.  If only they had more time.

Is it so impractical and impossible to imagine a system where students progress at the pace they are ready for and when they are ready for it?  As schools have progressed into giant factories with 1500 pupils being the standard for a secondary school it would of course be a logistical minefield to change to a system where students have individually tailored curriculum but is that a reason not to do it?  One has only to look at the 18 year olds who are still taking their Maths GCSE in addition to their A-Levels to see the devastating affect on morale it has to students to take an exam before they are prepared for it.  Having sat the exam six or seven times and still not achieved the grade C, while constantly being told they should have done so by their age leave them feeling it’s not worth trying and they will never get it when in fact all the research points that they can of course achieve it.

So is it feasible?  Could we ever have schools that allow students to take exams when they are ready and not when the exam factory culture says they should?  It’s definitely something worth considering.

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My Name Is…

April 8, 2016 at 2:06 pm (Uncategorized)

One of the most exciting things for me about leaving teaching is that I will be reclaiming my name.  No longer shall I be called “Miss” – a name I hate.  Finally I shall be an individual with a name that feels personal and specific to me again.

Firstly I must explain my point of view on the word itself. It is what the rather old fashioned of you will consider misplaced (yes I giggled while I typed that) feminism.  I consider it to be the height of ridicuolusness that women are still expected to designate their marital status on being addressed and have to change their name dependent on it. Call me a grumpy old spinster if you like, but I have (and always will be) Ms Hunt.  It sends a ridiculous message to young women that marriage is somehow a status that must be attained in order to “upgrade” your name.  Boys all grow up knowing they will be Mr forever and they do not have to be questioned about it every time they give their name.  Women find themselves in perpetual state of gloating, apologising, being strident or whatever suits them when giving their name.  The point is not the emotion they display but the fact they have to display an emotion to justify their status. On more occassions than should happen in the 21st century, me saying my name is “Ms” has led to the response”are you a lesbian or divorced?” as if those were the only possible options.

However I digress.  I will not begrudge a room full of schoolchildren calling me “Miss” as has been the tradition for hundreds of years.  It is how the convention goes and that is fine.  In the world of busy secondary schools with high staff turnover many students genuinely do not know the name of their teacher and so “Miss” or “Sir” is the only option.  Now say those two words out loud and think which would you rather be called.  One conveys a sense of authority, one does not.  I am with Captain Janeway on this one.  It is better to be called Sir any day of the week than Miss. Google has quickly provided me a definition of Miss “a girl or young woman, especially one regarded as silly or headstrong”.  It does not make you feel in control to be called “Miss” day in and day out.

But the real cuplrits are not the centuries of tradition or the small children too confused to remember a name.  No it’s the adults.  The other members of staff.  Now if you work in a large organisatin of course you do not know everybody’s name.  However you still smile and say morning in the corridor (or at least I hope you do!) but in a school colleagues will walk past and say “morning, miss”.  It’s not necessary.  If you do not know my name just smile and say morning. And if you do know my name USE IT! Yes there is a professionalism that dictates (for some weird reason) we do not say each other’s first names in front of the students but that’s no reason not to use my full “teacher name” in the corridor.

And then finally in the ninth circle of hell are those members of staff (and yes they are largely male) who call you “Miss” behind closed doors.  In meeting or emails when there is no possible way they do not know your real name they still refer to you as “Miss”.  For seven years I have pushed down the anger I have felt every time I have sent an email to a male colleague, starting it with “Dear Bobby” and ended it “from Caroline” and received a response that starts “Miss”.  I have refrained (wisely) from telling members of SLT that I will not carry out their request until they address me by given name rather than a generic one that suggests they have no idea who I am.  But now I am finally free to stand up to people and say “please – call me Caroline” once more.

And it feels blooming awesome🙂

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Another Brick in the Wall

April 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm (Uncategorized)

I was a little annoyed when I read this article in the Guardian today as it covers a lot of the ground I have been wanting to write about.  Essentially the gist is a state school in this country cannot allow students to develop wider skills and at their own pace because they are nothing short of exam factories. Big surprise you say but the difference between state and private education is an area that is truly shocking but not very well understood by most people.  Mainly because most people do not have experience of both. A strange stigma exists in teaching that means once you start a career in state or private education you are stuck in that route forever. However I was fortunate enought to have a private education (I used to curse it but realise now how lucky I was) and have worked in state education for eight years.

The differences are not what most people think.  The general lazy assumptions are that private schools get clever students as they can be selective and have better teachers as they generally have masters or PhD qualifications.  The unspoken reverse being that state schools are filled with thick kids and that their teachers are barely literate eejits who scraped a bachelors degree.  Firstly these assumptions are not true and secondly even if they were they would not be the reason that state school teachers are not inspiring the top actors and politicians in this country.

The real reason is that as a state school nothing else matters other than hitting targets.  Incredibly challenging, aspirational targets. Not that the teachers and senior leadership do not care about the students as people.  They do – desperately and exhaustingly all the time.  But all that a school is judged on is the exam results and even more importantly all that a teacher is judged on is their class hitting their aspirational targets.  And this is the key point.

Whereas teaching used to be a job for life now it is very possible for good teachers to be sacked. Not outstanding teachers but good teachers.  Teachers who probably do the job far better than teachers in secondary schools did twenty years ago, teachers who work every hour that they can and give children their all.  However if the students they teach do not reach their aspirational target grades then they will be let go.  Or have exam classes taken off them.  Or be put under such pressure that they suffer mental health problems.

Excellent – says the Daily Mail reader.But they should be able to do that AND inspire tomorrow’s leaders and actors. Well lets compare the private school teacher and the state school teacher facing a GCSE class and see if it’s a fair comparison.  Private school teacher has class of around 20-25 students, state school teacher has 30 students.  Private school teacher gives each student a textbook that they can take home and work with at all times.  State school teacher has 15 textbooks that they can share one between two in each lesson.  Private school teacher can photocopy as many revision aids, worksheets etc. as they feel necessary.  State school teacher has their boss breathing down their neck about the photocopying budget and is told to do everything A5 and one between two.  Private school teacher sees a school trip opportunity or revision conference, sets up the trip, the parents pay, the students all go.  State school teacher sees a school trip opportunity or revision conference, works out how to make the trip as cheap as possible (coaches are out of the question for anything less than 60 kids), convinces SLT that they can take the kids out of school for the day only if it does not interfere with a core subject lesson, has to send home a letter saying the trp is voluntary and costs £25 per head, half the class can’t afford that, not enough sign up to make the trip financially  viable and then it’s cancelled.

But the most important factors are these: Private school teacher has a class of students whose parents are all motivated to support their students education.  State school teacher has a lot of students whose parents think anything beyond the basic required GCSEs at grace C is a waste of time. Private school teacher has a class of students who have parents that are able to (and do) feed, clothe and provide a safe warm envirionment for them.  State school teacher has a class where many of the students will not have had breakfast, where they can’t guarantee they have enough money for the bus (free transport only exists in London) and where they do not know if they are going home to dinner or not.  Of course abuse exists in all levels of society but deprivation is rarely seen in a private school.

Yet the target grades of both those class are based on the same primary school data (ok postcodes are taken into account but do not get me started on that) and the teachers are held to the same standards.  So as a teacher in those state schools where your pay, or even your job, depends on you hitting those targets are you going to spend time allowing students to explore their creative inner selves?  Let a lesson pass that is not devoted soley to passing the exams that you will be judged on?  Of course not.  Not only would it be self destructive, it is positively not allowed in schools where learning walks are a day to day event.

So why do state schools have no hope of developing multiple students who excel in an unusual walk of life?  Because they are too busy getting every student their targeted 5 A*-C GCSEs in order to keep their jobs. So our actors and politicians will continue to all be privately educated, maintaining the status quo until state schools are given some freedom and trust in how to educate young people.

 

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