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Ten Questions for 10 Downing Street

The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. George Orwell

Late last night I read a quote, “if you are not angry, you aren’t paying attention”. With a global pandemic that has claimed over 46,000 lives in the UK, an unelected government advisor being given immunity and even Doctors being told to watch their ‘tone’. These truly are unprecedented times. As the press continues to peddle epiphany of the metaphorical Corbyn vision that never came to fruition, we have a real life proverbial shit storm brewing. Teachers up and down the country are knee deep up shit creek. A facetious situation for some, faeces for others.

This is a blog I didn’t want to write but I don’t apologise for writing it. These are inner thoughts on the current state of affairs in education and the GCSE & A-level debacle.

The fire stoked. Burning the foundations of our education system since 2010. Image: The Guardian

Ten Questions.

As a teacher, I am so disappointed but not shocked with the government. The disconnect between policy-makers and teachers may never be bridged but this is not my grievance. Our students have been let down by ideologically-imposed, short sighted, poorly planned and woefully arrogant educational policies that have zero intention to create equality of opportunity for our young people.

I have ten questions for 10 Downing Street following the A-level and pending GCSE grading scandal. I won’t be knocking on Boris Johnson’s door but I suspect these are the concerns of many teachers.

1. Gavin Williamson was sacked by Theresa May as Defence Secretary for leaking sensitive information and swore his innocence “on his children’s lives”. Why was he given the responsibility to be Education Secretary? To be trusted with the futures of our young people? He wasn’t even able to keep sensitive information safe? What chance does he have to safeguard the futures of young people?

2. Why are teachers frozen out of the policy-making process? Those who are on the front line and with such an enormous depth of pedagogical knowledge, why are teachers mere spectators? Surely our expertise could be used to consolidate policies and share good practice? Not allowing teachers a seat at the table empowers those who do not have our learners and their needs at the heart of their decision making.

3. Does everyone associated with education have the interests of students at heart? Perhaps the education system is run by self-congratulatory careerists with a fetish for ideological gains.

4. Were these policies mandated? Who mandated these policies? Again, back in 2010 when whole-sale academisation was announced or Free Schools given the thumbs up? Where is there evidence of performance related pay or appraisals being an effective way to measure progress? Who mandated these policies? Where did they come from and why do they still exist?

5. Who benefits? Who are the beneficiaries of the algorithm inspired GCSE & A-level results? Why has the independent sector been given a veneer of invincibility?

6. Was ‘disadvantaged children’ just another sound bite? I know the answer to this already. Why have disadvantaged children suffered the most from the grading scandal?

7. Are exams the most effective way to measure student progress? Why is high stakes testing still endorsed? Which genius decided scrap coursework and modular exams in favour of ‘rigorous’ linear examinations? Where else in the world does the education system rely on ‘do or die’ exams as a final judgement of our students knowledge and skills?

8. Where is the opposition? Sir Keir Starmer, where are you? Where is the scrutiny? The Deputy leader of the opposition Angela Raynor has been vocal but where is Starmer? Why aren’t all these questions above being put to Williamson? Why don’t we have opposition to this incompetence? A tweet here and there is no opposition, it’s implicitly agreeing with the ideology that has damaged our education system.

9. Why is there such mistrust in teachers? How can we get policy-makers to trust us? We jump through every hoop, swim through every river and dedicate our lives to the profession. So, why is this not good enough? What more can we do to bridge this mistrust? The mistrust of teachers by policy-makers has never been difficult to believe. It has always been difficult to accept.

10. What is next? Public safety framework to reopen schools remain ambiguous and it is clear teacher discretion doesn’t matter to policy-makers. Where do we stand? Do we keep standing or start walking? Will this heighten concerns around teacher retention and recruitment? What’s next?

In summary

I am abhorred, disturbed and astounded with the lack of leadership from this government. After being chastised and hated by the press and edu-influencers since schools closed on March 20th, it has been a really exhausting experience for our nations educators. As we struggle to keep our necks above the water in a system that demands more everyday, the boat of social mobility for our students has been capsized.

My deepest apologies to our students. This isn’t your fault. When ideology and algorithms replace your progress and growth, it’s for us all to look in the mirror and reflect on our purpose.

Thank you for reading.

Shuaib Khan

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