Working with teachers

Following the COVID-19 crisis, as Liberal Democrats, we have a clear call to action we cannot squander – to ensure that all those that have lost their lives as a result of the pandemic have not done so in vain.  Our action must be to support education, experts and other to express their opinions, to engage in intellectual tussle, and to be trusted to develop systems based on values rather than league tables.

Michael Gove’s Education White Paper in 2010 perhaps sent us a glimmer of a world that was going to go wrong.  Even its title was set to diminish a key component of education.  It was called ‘The Importance of Teaching’.  It was not called ‘The Importance of Teachers’.

Slowly the sector became de-professionalised and inspection regimes became increasingly politicised.  This was all a foreshadow of what was to come across many aspects of government.  Indeed, Richard Horton, the Editor of the Lancet (for 25 years) has been scathing about systematic failures in the government approach to science (at the end of January the Lancet published 5 research papers from the world regarding the potential effects of COVID-19, all of which appear to have been ignored by government).

Yet a future generation of children the world over are inspired by the work they are seeing people do, and their resilience is equally inspiring to all of us currently seeing them cope with being ‘locked down’.  They are being inspired to be experts (doctors, teachers, nurses, those working in logistics and retail).  Inspired to use technology to learn.  Inspired to play.

The UN Charter of the Rights of the Child has clauses saying that children should be able to make, comment on, and produce media.  Until the advent of internet broadcast and a range of broadcast apps there was one full time FM radio station in this country where children made shows for children.  That Charter calls for universal primary education and it will be needed more than ever if we are to create the truly international and green World COVID-19 gives us the opportunity to make.

In the middle of this are educational experts.  Teachers who should now be consulted with.  We should open a big national conversation about how we develop skills, encourage democracy, allow people to challenge given assumptions and offer a broad curriculum expertly crafted.

Currently much of education is concerned with inculcating the knowledge and skills that young people need to get jobs and serve industry.  This is not necessarily a bad thing because people need jobs – but they also need the skills and education to appreciate many things such as art and music and to lead a fulfilling life. They also should be given the skills to contribute to their community, to fully use their democratic rights and to be able to appreciate when they are being given ‘fake information by politicians or the media.  The opportunity to develop a curriculum that develops this approach and encourages people to speak truth to power should be taken.



* Robin Webber-Jones is a Borough Councillor on Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council and has over 15 years leadership experience in the Further Education and Skills sector. He sits on a number of national education bodies.

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  • Your call for government to work with teachers is relevant now more than ever. The NEU (the biggest teachers’ union) sent government a number of carefully researched questions in March, April and early May and they received no response. They contacted me as chair of the LDEA and then Baroness Sue Garden, our Education spokesperson in the Lords tabled 6 questions and Layla in the House of Commons asked the Secretary of State a stream of questions on Wednesday this week. We had more non-answers and there was no chance for proper debate. Layla has good contact with the NEU and we need to build more contacts with teacher representatives.
    Now of course, the Conservatives are putting out propaganda about the teacher unions being negative in their concerns about a return of primary school children.
    Michael Gove set the tone on this, as you say in your article and it is no better today. I also find a large number of teachers working so hard that they can only follow instructions and do not find time to constructively challenge government.
    We now have the College of Teaching under Dame Alison Peacock, who is good, but their remit is too limited and for its future it relies entirely on subscriptions from teachers to pay for it. It is set up to oversee continuous professional development, but it should also include a teacher’s voice on the curriculum.
    Do join the Liberal Democrat Education Association; we need a few more activists at the moment.

  • Helen Dudden 16th May '20 - 11:32am

    As I posted my concern is for the safety of the children, teaching staff and families concerned.
    This should not be a battle, it should an educated debate. There have been many failings on the way forward by the government. We should all be honest, on that subject.

  • Rodney Watts 16th May '20 - 9:58pm

    Thank you Robin for this piece, which ties in nicely with David Gray’s piece. “…. to develop systems based on values rather than league tables.” Yes! Whilst most of my time as a science teacher in secondary schools was spent on ‘academic’ teaching, some of my most important contributions were with less able pupils. Caring, encouraging, teaching basic skills, relationship building, taking responsibility…. Used to have fun running table tennis and stamp clubs. eMail and internet have largely finished off the latter, so gone is an enjoyable way of learning history, geog., currencies,flags rulers, politicians(!) etc etc. Used to have fun tutoring guitar. Extracurricular activities are the sometimes forgotten areas where teachers give of their time to make more rounded citizens.
    Sadly, I see The United States is the only country not signed up to the UN children’s charter

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