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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March 2008, 01:04 GMT
'Big brother' schooling predicted
By Gary Eason
BBC News, at the ATL conference in Torquay

Julia Neal
Julia Neal warns of an over-monitored culture in school
Education in England could soon become "Orwellian" under a regime of targets, testing, tables, inspections and observation, teachers' leaders warn.

Julia Neal, president of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said this was the likely outcome of over-measured, over-monitored schools.

The focus is on tests and targets, not personalised learning, she told her union's annual conference in Torquay.

Ms Neal imagined a sinister future with CCTV surveillance in every classroom.

'Big brother'

Ms Neal - a history teacher in Torquay Grammar School for Girls - imagines the world in 2013, when children are tested on a rolling basis and take regular mock tests to make sure they are ready for the real ones.

"Failure to demonstrate a year-on-year improvement in pass rates would be just too embarrassing," she says.

The new Ministry of Trust puts so much faith in teachers' professional assessments of their pupils it deploys inspectors to visit schools, "just to help out".

"Luckily for the inspectors, CCTV is now obligatory in schools so they can watch teachers in action at any time, without prior notice.

"After all, inspectors are there to offer support, just like a family member, perhaps - just like a big brother."

Observations

In this vision, league tables fluctuate weekly, parents wait for the transfer window to open so they can apply for a place at the premiership schools.

"What I fear is that children would continue to feel disengaged and alienated, they would behave badly, and their truancy rates would continue to rise," Ms Neal says.

Her alternative vision - in which the government has listened to her union's policies - is one in which GCSEs and A-levels have been replaced by a comprehensive diploma.

Assessment is carried out mostly by teachers and there are no league tables.

Curriculum flexibility gives teachers the freedom to innovate and schools are "buzzing" with new ways to organise learning, with a new emphasis on "a range of skills rather than a narrow range of knowledge".

Talking to reporters, Ms Neal and fellow leaders of the union conceded they did not know of any widespread use of surveillance cameras or two-way mirrors in classrooms, though they said monitoring was more common in newly-built schools and academies.

'Mis-trusted'

They said teachers did not object to being observed teaching a class.

But they wanted to have a professional dialogue about the process with a suitably qualified colleague - not "a malevolent observer" who might pick out one or two classroom interactions and draw a conclusion just from those.

Excessive monitoring stifled creativity and the enjoyment of teaching and learning, Ms Neal said.

The union's deputy general secretary, Martin Johnson, said: "I think it's a sad, sad reflection on the profession at the moment that a lot of our members are quite suspicious of a lot of things."

They mistrusted the motives of their managers and of the government.

"As to how much that's appropriate, that's another question, but that's how they feel."

The Department for Children, Schools and Families declined to comment on the union president's speech.



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