Review of the year
Record-breaking exam results, the centenary of The TES and a rare visit from the Pope, but 2010 will be best-remembered for education reform
2010 started with a sneeze and a congested groan as snow paralysed the country, forcing thousands of schools to remain shut, to the delight of England’s pupils who enjoyed an extended winter break. January saw the mild-mannered Brian Lightman and Russell Hobby named as general secretaries of the Association of School and College Leaders and heads’ union the NAHT, respectively. The first tremors from primary heads were felt with a consensus on boycotting Sats …
As one of the harshest winters in decades dragged on, one of the education system’s severest critics, Chris Woodhead, called for his former organisation, Ofsted, to be abolished. February also saw David Cameron waving the workers’ flag, announcing his plans for a Conservative co- operative movement that would give teachers the power to fire their own heads. The Liberal Democrats tried to restore normality by criticising the Tories’ proposed curriculum reforms. Remember that? The Lib Dems disagreeing with the Tories?
Ofsted’s winter of discontent continued into spring as this newspaper revealed that the watchdog’s new inspection regime saw a doubling of schools being classed as “inadequate”. Meanwhile, some political sparring took place as The TES staged a live debate between then education secretary Ed Balls and his Conservative and Lib Dem shadows Michael Gove and David Laws, who went head to head only for Mr Laws to come out on top. The Labour government controversially decided not to ban teachers who were BNP members.
Doctor Who came in for stick after the BBC refused to allow the Time Lord to feature in a campaign for gifted and talented pupils. They were happy for him to front a lucrative Nintendo computer game, however. As the general election loomed, the teaching unions used their annual conferences to bang their drums in defiance of Sats and pension pots being raided. Gordon Brown waded into the education debate, claiming schools would be a key battleground in the election.
Judgment day finally arrived, but anyone hoping for a swift resolution was disappointed. After six days of to-ing and fro-ing and the trading of horses, the Liberal Democrats finally sided with the Conservatives, proving to many Lib Dem voters that Mr Clegg was not the messiah after all - he was just a very naughty boy. Mr Gove was confirmed as education secretary and immediately announced his Academies Bill to the House of Lords. One of his first jobs was to speak to the heads and school leaders who decided to boycott Sats. About 4,000 - or a quarter of - primaries took part in the mass protest, organised by the NUT and the NAHT.
Never one keen to have another politician steal the limelight, London mayor Boris Johnson popped up in June at St Saviour’s and St Olave’s secondary in south London to give students a Latin lesson. The demise of the teaching profession’s policeman, the General Teaching Council, was announced after it had come in for sustained flak over the way it had dealt with BNP-supporting teacher Adam Walker. He was allowed to return to the classroom despite using a school computer to describe immigrants as “filth” and “savages”. Meanwhile, the UK’s largest exam board, AQA, was revealed to be developing gender-specific alternatives to the GCSE, tailor- made for girls and boys.
The Government crossed itself off many a head’s Christmas card list when it proposed a cap on school leaders’ salaries to prevent them exceeding the prime minister’s £142,500 a year. But it was the scrapping of Labour’s crown jewel, Building Schools for the Future, which was the most challenging period in Michael Gove’s short ministerial career. The axe was not unexpected, but its handling - in which schools thought they had escaped cuts, only to find out later that they had not - was criticised in the media. And while the education secretary was facing a media zoo, pupils in Bristol were facing the creationism-promoting Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, which was approved as an acceptable destination for school trips.
Sunny days were broken by “champers” head Despina Pavlou, who was banned from working as a school leader after collecting a record-breaking number of unacceptable conduct charges, including using her school’s coffers to buy pink champagne, wine and even a shed. The perennial news story of students achieving record A-level and GCSE exam results also hit the headlines - although with the added interest of the new A* grade at A- level. Nearly 10,000 more A*s were awarded to England’s pupils than predicted, meaning competition for university places was likely to be even tougher. Isabel Nisbet, Ofqual’s chief executive, said certain science GCSEs had been too easy.
Ashmount Primary School in north London became the first to outsource its maths teaching to India, using online technology to allow its pupils to have one-to- one tuition with maths graduates. The nation was unexpectedly star-struck by a rare papal visit. Most struck was Holy Rosary and St Anne’s Primary in Leeds, which was asked to perform for his Holiness. Teaching unions rolled back the years to the 1980s, threatening joint national strike action. There was some good news, however. The TES turned 100 years old. Huzzah!
The month saw a new Conservative star born in French teacher Katharine Birbalsingh, who spoke of England’s “broken” education system. Music to Tory ears. Labour’s new shadow education secretary Andy Burnham called for a return to the comprehensive ideal. And, as the nights grew longer, so too did George Osborne’s shadow over schools with his comprehensive spending review. Schools thought they had escaped the worst when a real- terms rise for budgets was announced, as well as the pupil premium. But, as with most things, the devil resides in the small print, and some schools will lose out in the settlement.
The coldest November for years chilled teacher training courses and school sixth-forms, and dealt heavy blows in an education white paper aimed at sweeping reforms to, well, everything. Teacher training will be moved into the classroom, GCSE modules dumped and teachers given more powers to deal with unruly kids. Oh, and there will be a new English Baccalaureate to measure school performance according to yet another yardstick. Good news for bad teachers, with not a single incompetent teacher being fired in almost half of England’s local authorities, according to a TES investigation.
December was a rock-and-roll month for all. Edu-geeks overheated at the prospect of the publication of the Pisa league tables, treating them like a world cup of school performance. England’s ranking was a little lower than two years ago, while Wales had more or less crumbled. Cue much self- loathing in the Valleys. Other highlights included the “innovation” league tables for five-year-olds’ performance and a smoke-and-mirrors funding settlement for schools that will almost certainly leave the majority skint. Oh, and lots and lots of snow. Bah humbug.
Original print headline: Year of the tightened purse strings