TOK stimulus for presentation: The language of Government.

The TOK of the Government proclamation:

• Ofsted chief: ‘teachers don’t know what stress is’

• “The examination system that we have has got to be ruthless and stretching all pupils,”
• has said he intends to ditch the term “satisfactory” to describe schools and replace it with “requires improvement”.
• Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, told The Times that inspectors would mark down schools that gave pay increases to teachers who were “out the gate at 3 o’clock”. He said he expected teachers to stay beyond the end of the school day to “go the extra mile” for children, especially when working in poor communities.
• He also said that teachers unwilling to act as surrogate parents in poor areas to pupils who lacked support at home did not deserve a salary increase.
• He said: “We just have to accept the reality of that. If you are going to go and work in these areas, there has to be a commitment to working beyond the end of the school day. That’s why I asked those questions about performance management. It’s about recognising those people who do go the extra mile.”
• And Mr Cameron said there would be “no more excuses for failure in schools, no more soft exams and soft discipline”.
The quotations that open this document are taken from national press coverage of issues concerning Education over the last six months. They are, naturally, taken out of context and are not intended to be another teacher-rant at the unfairness of criticism aimed at our profession. This is intended as a TOK presentation stimulus.
It should be stressed that the intentions of OFSTED and the Government are in many ways laudable. It is obvious that all industries perform better when staff are “going the extra mile” or are staffed by employees who want the best for their “stakeholders” and are prepared to fight to achieve this. I have no intention of gainsaying the idea that exams should be rigorous, standards of behaviour should be high and commitment to the job should be strong.
So, what is the effect of the language used in communication here?
Some years ago, the finest TOK presentation I have known looked at the language of mark schemes and made much of the somewhat fluid meaning of “satisfactory”. It is interesting that this word has once again been singled out for attention by Mr Wilshaw. Consider his comment. It is generally known that “satisfactory” implies a sense of being good enough, but his comment seems to demand a change of perspective. Satisfactory is the third grade of rating under OFSTED – Outstanding, Good, and Satisfactory. Here there is no doubt that Mr. Wilshaw is ridding the word of any sense of being good enough, and seeking to attain improvement. Laudable in the extreme, but possibly disconcerting in a world where a perceived negative can end a career. Still, this one seems sensible and begins to remove the potential for misunderstanding so inherent in the idea of satisfactory.
Possibly more concerning is the idea of a “ruthless” examination system, especially when linked to the Prime Minister’s pronouncement about “soft” exams. What message is this sending to those of lower abilities? Are we really striving to ensure that they have no chance of attaining examination success? Obviously not, one hopes, but the wording suggests otherwise and here begins a litany of similarly Draconian pronouncements.
The language used of the education system in this country is relentlessly negative at present. What does this do to the perception of the industry? What do parents and teachers –with slightly different emotional positions – perceive to be the state of teaching in this country?
Mr Wilshaw has said that his 3 O’clock comment was taken out of context, but it is hard to see how the idea of “going the extra mile” or “pulling one’s weight” might be misconstrued. How are teachers meant to respond? The vast majority arrive an hour or so before the school day and leave some time after the bell, to continue to work later in the evening. Despite this they are being attacked () so they think) and labelled as not working hard enough – no discussion and no room for debate. Many parents may well have a view of teachers based on a perception of long summer holidays which seems attuned to that of Mr Wilshaw, but surely the problem is that the same point could be made about any industry in the county – form Council Office Workers to Merchant Bankers. What is the effect of singling out teachers in this fashion and why is it being done?
Not only that, but consider this: you are a parent of a thirteen year old just entering KS4. The much vaunted new exams will not arrive in time to save your son. Instead he is faced with a system that the government are fond of saying is unfit for purpose and driven by a “race to the bottom” in terms of exams. What faith have you got left in the system to support your son? In this case, what is the effect, with regards perception, of the rhetoric around examinations this summer? Even if you agree that GCSEs leave a lot to be desired, is the constant negativity helpful?
All of the quotations above can be explored and considered in the light of Perception and Emotion of the response to the language used. There is scope for an interesting presentation here. Are teachers too open to emotional responses? Is OFSTED so rational in approach that it has no concept of the perception of its language?
Go on, go the extra mile!