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Teachers key to the future

By Shropshire Star | Readers' letters | Published:

As revolutions go, it’s been a relatively quiet affair.

Recent reports in the Shropshire Star in the last few weeks reveal, almost by default, the majority of secondary schools in Telford are now, or are becoming, part of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs). Two of Telford’s great and good, Sir Kevin Satchwell and Dr Gill Eatough, have announced plans for further development of the concept involving schools in Telford.

This may be thought of as an administrative detail, part of the way in which schools are managed to the benefit of all. Sadly, this is not the case. Across England and Wales, the development of MATs has produced a curate’s egg of outcomes.

Some are good, some poor, and some the subject of dubious financial jiggery-pokery. As recently as this week, the latest example of financial wizardry shows that Wakefield City Academies Trust has collapsed, having allegedly taken tens of thousands of pounds from its constituent schools for “development”, money that those schools are trying desperately to get returned to them.

The question is, as usual, what has this all got to do with children’s education? The answer, again as usual, is not very much, unless of course, neither Sir Kevin nor Dr Gill were given enough time to expand on their ideas when contacted by the Shropshire Star.

The fact is that the academisation of schools is little or nothing to do with the education of the nation’s children, it is to do with the Tory imperative to downgrade local authorities to dustbins and road repairs. A major plank in that strategy is to remove as many schools as possible from the control of local authorities – hence the promotion of both academies and free schools. Who needs local democracy when there’s money to be saved?

Curiously, the move to academies has not been the subject of intellectual debate, extensive research, pilot schemes or academic papers – the normal precursors to major initiatives.

The idea wasere announced in his adolescent ramblings by the former education minister, Michael Gove, not as the start of a serious debate, but as God-given pronouncement of fact. Their reality has been somewhat different, and the development of MATs has been the natural progression into an education system which is more about free market ideology than children.

So we now have the situation that free market economics is the order of the day for many of our schools, and as a result, there are worrying outcomes. The first is that class teachers are coping with increasing class sizes, being overwhelmed by mountains of “necessary” paperwork and introduction of systems that have nothing to do with the well-being of children. Shortages of subject specialist teachers are exacerbated by the numbers of experienced teachers leaving the profession. Add to that the way in which teaching salaries have gone down in real terms annually since 2008, and the situation in many schools is critical.

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Contrary to this is the experience of MATs up and down the country, where there is the phenomenon of education leaders at the top of these organisations now commanding corporate salaries of mega-proportions (at higher salaries than the Prime Minister seems to be the yardstick) justified it seems by the adoption of job titles taken from the corporate world – no longer just “headteacher”, but now head and chief executive, or chief operating officer, or some such reflection of their new found importance. Responsibility for running half a dozen schools or so must be rewarded.

The truth is that education is not suitable for economies of scale, in which bigger must be better, and neither do children benefit from free market economics. Children learn to become decent, caring people not only from decent, caring parents, but also from well motivated, inspirational teachers, teachers who are trusted and respected in individual schools. Supporting teachers will, in the long run, improve our schools. Creating corporate giants will not.

David Askins, Lightmoor

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