Teachers pushed to ‘breaking point’ by targets

Steve Iredale
Steve Iredale
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A LEADING head teacher has warned that Government targets and the Ofsted inspection regime has pushed the profession to breaking point and it would be ready to take action if Ministers introduce any more formal testing of pupils.

Steve Iredale, who ends his term as president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) tomorrow, told the Yorkshire Post the pressure of leading schools had become “ludicrous” but that teachers were now ready to find their voice.

The NAHT is launching plans for an alternative school inspection regime today at the start of its annual conference amid concerns about the impact the Ofsted system is having.

Mr Iredale claimed that as president he has seen many people damaged by some Government policies and had seen head teachers driven out of the profession because of school inspections.

He also said the latest spelling, grammar and punctuation test carried out in primary schools this week had been a “nonsense” and he suggested the Education Secretary Michael Gove appeared unwilling to consult with those who disagreed with him and was “obsessed with his own ideology”.

The Barnsley head teacher, who started the national boycott of standard assessment testing of 11-year-olds with a motion at the NAHT conference in 2009, further warned there could be a “big clash” if any more testing of school pupils is introduced.

He said: “The Government’s plans for assessment and accountability are expected at the end of the month. At the moment the new spelling, grammar and punctuation test sits outside the primary school league tables but if it is built upon and schools are measured on it I can see members taking direct action.

“We want to work with the 
Government and do not want to have battles but we can only go so far.”

His term as president comes to an end this weekend at the union’s conference in Birmingham meaning he will return to his job as head of Athersley South Primary in Barnsley next week.

He said: “I have been a head teacher for 21 years so to be based outside of school for a year has been a culture shock. I have met some fantastic people: inspirational head teachers, teachers and people outside the profession such as academics who understand teaching and learning but I have also met a lot damaged people. People damaged by the policies of the Government. The pressure of the job has become ludicrous.”

He said a culture of judging schools against moving targets had been started by the last Government and taken further by this one.

“There are good people within the Department for Education. I have enjoyed the discussions that I have had with them but the problem is that when you think you are getting somewhere all of that good work can be undone by the signature of one man – who is obsessed with his own ideology.

“The Education Secretary I think is obsessed with his own youth and schooling which may have worked for him. I do think he wants to raise standards but he is living in the past and it appears he is unwilling to consult with anyone who does not agree with him.

“I think the view of the profession has become neutered and it is not going to take much more before we reach breaking point.”

On Ofsted inspections he said: “I think teachers who have been battered by an inspection regime which has changed several times in the past two years are beginning to find their voice.”

He said there were concerns within schools about the consistency of Ofsted inspection teams.

Mr Iredale warned the pressure to improve test results and avoid damning Osted verdicts was driving head teachers out of the profession and could make it more difficult to recruit people to lead schools in challenging circumstances in future.

The NAHT will today announce plans for heads to conduct their own school inspections amid the mounting concerns about Ofsted.

The union said it was launching a programme to act as an alternative. Under the scheme, dubbed “Instead”, school leaders will visit other schools in their area to check how well they are performing.

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said the Ofsted system puts head teachers on the defensive and the “level of fear is overwhelming”. The new programme will be piloted in a number of areas. If successful, there are hopes a future government would consider the scheme for use across the country.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “Headteachers and other senior leaders from good and outstanding schools are already serving as additional inspectors on Ofsted school inspection teams...More than half our inspection teams in March 2013 contained at least one current practitioner – and (chief inspector of schools) Sir Michael Wilshaw has said he wants this to be the case for every inspection in the future. Nine out of ten of the institutions we inspect tell us they are happy with their inspections.”