I suppose I'm lucky. I lead a strong team of motivated staff, who are genuinely interested in political education. I've been able to run a mock election. I've been able to force my department to teach at least one good lesson on the main political parties in the last few weeks, so every kid in the school knows the basics: the leaders, the slogans, and a couple of current policies. I know my GCSE classes have had considerably more than this: they understand the histories of the main parties, and the ideologies that they've built their support on. Essentially, I know that when I tell my kids who I'm voting for, they know there are a range of options, and they have the information to decide for themselves whether or not they agree with me.
And I think this much is the responsibility of any good Citizenship department, or in truth any good school. The national curriculum has three main aims for kids: that they become successful learners, confident and happy individuals, and responsible citizens who make a positive contribution to society. What more could you want for your child? And a huge part of that last aim is understanding how we are governed, and having the information to make an informed choice about who does that.
So when I saw a story in the TES asking "should schools hold mock elections?" I was pretty surprised. Does anyone seriously think the answer is no? On closer inspection, maybe not. The only harm identified by the guy arguing against the idea is the somewhat nebulous accusation that mock elections only serve to reinforce party tribalism. Look at the way we've all got our knickers in a twist about the evils of a hung parliament. This man's alternative, of 645 independent MPs slogging it out for consensus, doesn't bare thinking about.
Anyway - so when the kids ask me who I'm voting for I tell them I've been a Labour supporter since I can remember, but this time around I'm voting Lib Dem. (I've been saying this since before the TV debates, prompting exasperated cries of "Miss, Miss - how did you know about him before the rest of us!!")
The kids response has been identicall all week long: "all the teachers are voting Lib Dem, why is it?"
This got me thinking.
Why are all the teachers voting Lib Dem
(results according to highly accurate polling data carried out by Miss' year 10s):
Nick Clegg has apparently said that "Teachers are turning to the Liberal Democrats because only we offer the right combination of freedom and resources to make Britain’s schools the best in the world".
Well of course he's going to say that. But it seems that David Laws does seem to understand why teachers are finding life increasingly crap. He talks about being rated satisfactory by Ofsted in a way that makes me think he's actually been through it (worst. thing. ever.) He backs a reduction in standardised testing, like SATs, and an increase in teacher assessment for fomative purposes. He wants a smaller curriculum, but with a basic entitlement (unlike the Tories, who seem to think any old crazy should be able to teach whatever they like, with state money and no local authority control. Awesome plan, Dave, just awesome. More on this madness later.)
But David Laws properly won my heart when he spoke about how schools are becoming exam factories, targetting only the D/C borderline kids. I feel terrible when I have to tell my department to focus on the 23 kids out of a year group of 260 who are predicted a C, and it breaks my heart when I have to tell kids there isn't enough space in the enrichment session for them to come and get their coursework from a B to an A*, because all the computers are being used by D grade kids being forced to get their work up to a C. I have to admit that I don't know what policy there is in this, but I love him for it regardless.
Why Cameron and Gove can bite me
I can see the appeal of free schools. "Ooh - I can select which kids I take? Excellent, you lot - you poor readers, you socially disadvantaged, you mentalists, you can get lost. Go to the other local school (which now has even less funding, because I've been syphoning it off for my lovelies). Now watch my results sky rocket! Woohoo for me!"
But on the other hand:
- They aren't free. And the funding has yet to be found (unlike David Laws' plans, which were commended by the IFS)
- Nearly half of Swedish local education directors don't think free schools have produced "more effective use of resources" and 90% identified "significant increases in costs"
- Empowering local parents is all well and good. That is, when your local parents are nice, supportive, well educated themselves... essentially when they are the nice middle class parents that the Tories have experience of. Most of the parents of my kids can't be bothered to come to parents evening - you think they're going to open their own school if mine is failing? And anyway - Gove has admitted that although they won't be owned by private companies, they will be subcontracted out to all kinds of profiteers.
- Swedish free schools have increased segregation. Just what we need.
- The Tories themselves can't seem to agree on whether it's a good idea or not.
(Apologies for the length of this, and the lack of hilarious high jinks. Normal service will resume shortly - we'll have end of term tests soon, which always produce some real clangers.)