A prizewinning teacher makes clear how little government understands about what goes on in schools
At the start of March Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, called for a “transformative” reform of the schools system in the wake of the pandemic, involving the introduction of a five-term year and longer days to ensure children catch up with their studies. Williamson compared the scope of his “radical” reform to RA Butler’s Education Act of 1944, which had the ambitious aim of abolishing childhood inequality by providing free secondary education for all. Butler’s introduction of the 11-plus exam and tripartite system of secondary schools – grammar, secondary modern and technical – proved controversial. Williamson’s proposals are equally problematic; head teachers have labelled them “chaotic and confusing”.
Of the 49 individuals in government who have had control over the English schools system since 1900, only four previously taught in schools themselves. As Andria Zafirakou, the winner of the 2018 Global Teacher prize, expresses it: “The people who sit in 10 Downing Street are like gods to us teachers.” That’s to say, they seem so remote, their actions so unintelligible to those who actually work within schools that they might as well be gazing down from Mount Olympus, arbitrarily firing lightning bolts on to asphalt playgrounds.