And so, somewhat redundantly, to the true villain of the piece.
Not, as it happens, Little Mickey Goggles. After all, and in the grand scheme of things, he is but an insignificant shit taking a slightly nastier line in the continuing privatisation of education than a Labour counterpart might have done.
No, the villain of the piece is to be found in the fact that a generation of passionate, principled and intelligent people did not come together to fight for the children, families and communities that they know how best to serve. Who is the villain? Each and every one of us. Each individual has to take responsibility for this failure – and I, ending my career in a somewhat-managerial position, have to take more than most. I’ve been very fortunate to work at a school where the leadership have been able to take the sting out of much of the fear, and I have tried to do the same myself, protecting others from the worst excesses of the isolated accountability expected at a national level. My inability to do a better job of this is one of the main reasons I’m leaving.
But ultimately the only way to overcome the fear is through leadership. Leadership at a small level is all that makes working within the current education system bearable. I have been fortunate to work at two amazing schools with many truly inspirational people. People who have provided the school leadership needed to overcome much of the fear. But the system is bigger than that – we need bigger leaders.
Who can we blame for not being a big enough leader, then? Throughout my 8 years in education, successive leaders of the teaching unions had the opportunity to lead their members, and the profession as a whole, away from the growing culture of fear. Away from fear and towards a culture of creative, collaborative professionalism. Successive leaders have chosen not to.
Successive leaders of the teaching unions have advanced the culture of fear, creating a counterpoint to governmental policy by making teachers the powerless victims of governmental imposition: victims of unfair (entirely fair) pension changes, impossible (possible) working conditions, and generally making of us a body entirely reactive and conservative. That is, the unions have colluded with the government in painting themselves into just the corner the government were happy for them to stand, ashamed in.
By playing the game with a level of naivety that would be laughable were it not so desperately, desperately sad, the unions have ignored children and provided teachers with no other option than to take their place as a cog in the machine. A cog that complains, to be sure, and occasionally strikes (about entirely the wrong thing), but a cog with no other option but to be that cog.
A case in point, if one is needed. At only two moments in my teaching career did I ever really feel that wider sense of leadership – of someone beyond the school I was working in standing up for children in the face of the system.
One, at a local level was down to an inspirational individual who motivated a large section of the borough to listen to what children were telling us instead of falling into line and telling them what to do. It didn’t last, but while it did, there was some hope.
The other was when the NUT and the NAHT boycotted KS2 SATs.
Amazing. This was the people who knew most about education refusing to do something that they knew was harmful to children. Still gives me goosebumps to remember it. A turning point. A redefinition of the union’s role in giving teachers a voice again. No longer would we be reactive slaves to the system who care about little more than pension age and working conditions. No, instead we would reclaim our right as committed, intelligent professionals to take a leading role in defining what education should look like. Amazing.
The outcome? As it happened, very little, as the NUT were promised a seat at the table when the new assessment framework was being published in return for not boycotting again. They bought it. I gave up.
That day the union took the path of least resistance: to engage properly in curriculum reform would have entailed isolating some of their members, and more importantly have meant losing their victim status. It was too much for the union to do.
I gave up hope that day of the profession being able to move in the direction the children so desperately need us to move. I hoped that individuals might, on a smaller level, be able to do so. They do. Everywhere there are amazing individuals who are fighting against the system for the rights and needs of the children, though every day there are less. I have fought myself for a while, but my fight is gone. It needs more than just individuals – it needs leaders.
[Update: I wrote this a few months ago, before the departure of Mickey Goggles. It is good that he’s gone. Obviously. However, nothing will change as a result. We still have no leaders.]