LAST month, my wife and I announced our decision to resign from our posts as head teacher and deputy head teacher at a small rural primary school.
A more idyllic and satisfying place to work is hard to imagine. Tucked away on the edge of a pretty village, surrounded by the glorious Hampshire countryside, and with the River Test running gently alongside the grounds, the school has a charming setting, and would fit well into any English Tourist Board guide.
During our time here, we have worked hard to build a strong, happy, and supportive team. We have achieved outstanding ratings in both OFSTED and SIAMS (church) inspections; and have secured the future of the school through its highly regarded reputation and popularity with parents. The village that we serve has been transformed in the past ten years, as families have moved into it specifically to gain access to the school.
After we had worked at this delightful school for the past 11 years, the decision to leave was a very hard one. I am 56, and my wife is 51; so we had assumed that we had many more years of working in education ahead of us.
Neither of us had ever considered an alternative career. For us, teaching is more than a job: it is a vocation; it is our life. We are teachers, and cannot imagine doing anything else.
The impetus for our decision came from not one but many pressures that are currently facing schools: the new curriculum and testing regime, the budget cuts to schools, the wholesale privatisation of state schools through the academy and free-school agenda, and the threatened reintroduction of selective education, and, with that, the creation of new grammar schools.
We consider the new primary curriculum to be unfit for its purpose, as its principle focus is on the learning of facts — at the expense of creativity and the development of children’s questioning and critical faculties. It is a dull and uninspiring diet of subordinating conjunctions and fronted adverbials.
Change ahead: Longparish C of E Primary SchoolThis bland curriculum is narrowed still further by the requirements of the high-stakes SATs tests that children sit at the ages of seven and 11. These worthless tests have no impact on achievement, as they tell schools nothing that they do not already know about the children. But, because schools are judged on the outcome of the tests, they inevitably force schools to focus their curriculum on preparing children to pass them. This consequently places unnecessary and, at times, significant stress on both children and staff.
To give one small example from last month’s “SATs Week”: one little girl in my class — a mixed class of Year 1 and 2 (six- and seven-year-olds) — aware of the older children taking their tests in another classroom, kept asking me repeatedly when she would be taking her tests.
Why should a child of seven be fretting and worrying over these meaningless tests? Is this what I came into teaching for?
MY WIFE and I had the same motivation for entering teaching as most other educational professionals: to make a difference to young lives. We had both worked in other fields: I started teaching after employment in the Health Service, and my wife after a successful career as a pianist.
We both believed strongly in the power of education to change and improve lives. As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world.” Without education, the world would descend quickly into a Hobbesian world of barbaric desolation.
The threatened reintroduction of selection is something that we cannot support. A system that labels the majority of children at the age of 11 as failures, and encourages them to label themselves as failures, is not a system that we can be a part of.
Its proponents envision a cold, heartless world of endless competition: school pitted against school, teacher against teacher, and pupil against pupil in a constant struggle for survival. We do not adhere to this vision. Instead, we seek to encourage in staff and children a sense of community, sharing, generosity, and kindness.
BESIDES this, we despair at the current attitude towards education which is inflicting wholly unnecessary cuts on schools’ budgets. If you valued education and its power to create the future, you would invest in it, not starve it of funds.
We, like most other state schools, have been faced with increasingly difficult decisions to make as our budget shrinks: can we afford to replace this member of staff when he or she leaves? Can we continue to fund music lessons? These are not decisions that school leaders should have to be making. If the priorities were right, all schools would receive the funding that they require to work effectively.
One of the catalysts for our decision to resign was a remark by our chair of governors during a governors’ meeting. In an attempt to shut down a discussion on the impact of SATs tests on the children, he remarked: “There’s nothing we can do about it. So let’s just move on.”
We are not content to “just move on”. We are not content to make any further compromises to our beliefs in the primacy of education. We take inspiration from a quote attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”
At this stage we have no plans for the future, and have no idea what awaits us after the end of July. We continue to work to the best of our abilities to serve the children, parents, and the wider community of our school. We are doing everything in our power to secure as smooth a transition to a new leadership team as possible.
We hope for the best for our school, and for all other state schools in England, but fear the worst.
Peter and Alex Foggo are, respectively, deputy head and head of Longparish C of E Primary School, Hampshire.