Blah blah blah grammar schools blah blah social mobility blah blah blah regressive blah blah blah.
It’s stupid and it’s wrong and it’s probably evil. It underlines Theresa May’s incredible lack of credibility. It’s not wanted by anyone in the profession. It’s unnecessary. We all know this so there’s no point me saying it too. Let’s take it as read and move on to the next bit: what do we do?
Recently I wrote an article for Therapy Today about the way that counsellors are excluded (and exclude themselves) from the sources of knowledge and power – about the way that they are not allowed a say in what counselling means and how to measure it, despite being the people that do it. The same is true of teachers. In fact, it’s even worse. Teachers are part of a hyper-politicised profession that is politicked into such a frenzy of ill-informed froth by over-indulged shitbags that there is no space for the voices of the people doing the job. The education sector is led and defined by those who ignore the voices of teachers and children in favour of made up statistics, vested interests, and newspaper headlines.
As teachers we are used to this. We accept that we can have no voice in larger policy and so carve out little niches where our voices can be heard, both in our schools and online. We retreat as individuals and fall as individuals. Indeed, it was the inability of teachers (myself very much included) to break out of those niches and fight together that led me to leave full-time teaching.
During my teaching career there was plenty of bullshit which I and the vast majority of my colleagues disagreed with: OfSTED’s mission creep, Year 2 and Year 6 SATs, compulsory synthetic phonics, ever-expanding league tables, EYFS profile, free schools, the phonics screening check, Gove, 2-year-old testing, EYFS testing, attainment not progress, academies, scraping the new curriculum, flags, the list goes on. What did I do, throughout these? What did we do?
Generally, nothing. We moaned and griped and posted and shared and we even striked, but in terms of actual concrete action, nothing really. Well no, not nothing. Once, back in 2010, we boycotted SATs. I say ‘we’, I was teaching in Reception at that time, but I was cheering from downstairs. We took direct action and – for a very brief moment – made a difference. We, the people who knew what was happening in our schools to the children we taught, took control of what was happening to them, and refused to impose a cruel and pointless test.
It was amazing.
It didn’t last.
Before the year was out our unions had been persuaded not to boycott again in return for ‘a seat at the table’ when the new assessments were being planned. our unions folded and we followed them, receding quietly into the background and allowing control to pass back once more to the political footballers.
But it needn’t be that way. We’re used to thinking, as teachers, that we don’t have any power to make a change – that we need to look above us to the unions or the LA or the leadership team or the government. We’ve been drilled into thinking that we cannot (and do not have the right to) stand up for what we know, but we do.And more, we have a duty. If we cannot come together as a community of professionals over such an obviously odious and harmful proposal as the expansion of grammar schools then we don’t deserve to call ourselves caring professionals at all.
What kind of action can we take together?
Anything, everything! Posting on facebook and striking are fine, but they don’t do enough. We’ve posted and striked plenty, and yet every change in that long (and by no means exhaustive) list above was pushed through. Why not try something else, something more direct? Why not write a letter to the parents of the children you teach explaining why they need to put pressure on their MPs to vote down the plans – a personal, school-photocopied, unsanctioned letter? Why not collar parents in the playground and lecture them about the threat to their children? Why not devise a term’s worth of history lessons raising your class’ consciousness of the absurd system that existed up until the ’70s – get those who survived the class-segregation to speak to the next generation about what they might be facing? Why not organise community events in the school hall to spread the message to the wider population? Why not pickett and shame any school which does move towards re-grammarisation?
In truth I don’t know what to do. I spend very little time teaching now, and when I do it’s as a supply teacher, the least-heard of an inaudible profession, so I don’t have any great chalk-face ideas. But I do know it’s not enough to raise a cursory protest with a ‘like’ clicked here and a blog written there. We need to come together in solidarity with each other, and with the children we teach, and fight.
One last point, on the fight. Don’t, in all of this, get pulled into the argument about evidence or impact or standards. Don’t go along with the NUT’s typical ‘this is wrong because it’s ideological’, or ‘it’s wrong because the evidence doesn’t back it up’. There is no such thing as ideology-free education, just as there’s no ideology-free evidence.
No, argue your case from what matters: the child’s experience of their schooling. This grammar bullshit is not wrong because of evidence or political motivation, it’s wrong because it’s unfair and cruel. It’s wrong because it will consign a whole slice of children to the kind of impoverished schools you get in Kent today (and elsewhere in the ’50s), and another slice to the sense of entitlement which no child ought to be bought up into. It’s wrong because it excludes and divides. It’s wrong because it tells children that they are defined by their academic ability at 10. It’s wrong because it will further the culture of testing and measuring which treats children like so many cattle on a conveyor belt. It’s wrong because no-one who has children’s best interests at heart wants it to happen. No-one.
It’s wrong not because it’s done out of ideology, but because it’s done out of bad ideology. It’s your, my, our responsibility to stand up to it.