Sunday, 4 November 2012

The new McCarthy-ism in education

Absorbing though my new life as a born-again student-teacher I have restrained myself from blogging excessively about it. Partly because I seem to have a lot less downtime generally these days - but also because I am conscious that what is fascinating for me may just be a bit less so for others. But I had to share this:

Whilst real teachers were enjoying their half term break, we students had to go in to university in our week away from our schools. Highlight of the week was a debate about part two of the new teaching standards. Now, I'm aware that this might sound pretty obscure - but it is actually of enormous significance. At a time when there is an ever-growing number of academies - who can opt out of the national curriculum and whose teachers do not have to have qualified teacher status - it is only the only part of the teaching standards which are going to be  universally applicable to everyone in the profession. In comparison to the wordy corporate speak that makes up the much longer part one of the standards - which do refer to the actual business of teaching - part two is  much shorter, much vaguer -  and altogether much more sinister:

'Teachers uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by ....not undermining fundamental British values*'
Fundamental British values is taken from the definition of extremism as articulated in the new Prevent Strategy, which was launched in June 2011. It includes ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’.

Defenders of this bit of nonsense will no doubt  argue that only members of Al-Quaida or the BNP need fear this, but as a history teacher I have a horrible sense of  deja-vu with a new notion of 'un-Britishness' taking the place of un-Americanism. If that sounds alarmist then just remember that without a disregard for 'the rule of law' we would have no right to vote and no trade unions

But most of all, this new definition of British values serves up a recipe to sack  teachers who are also activists  taking part -  in arenas that usually have  nothing to do with their work - in protests and actions such as demonstrations and picket lines. All of which in these illiberal days are increasingly on  the margins of legality.

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