UK Education Secretary Nicky Morgan faced harsh criticism at the annual National Association of Head Teachers conference in Birmingham during which she defended the government’s years-long plan to turn schools into academies and continue with a testing regimen — and she ended up throwing out barbs of her own.
Mrs. Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities, faced a series of comments from head teachers who claim that the government’s education policies have launched schools into a state of chaos. Russell Hobby, NAHT’s General Secretary, said that, “School leaders cannot do their duty to children under these circumstances.”
NAHT members have accused Morgan and her department of ignoring the concerns of head teachers and instructors throughout the process of designing and implementing assessments. Some members say that testing young children is onerous and unnecessary, while others oppose a measure to force all of England’s schools to become academies. Critics of the academies policy claim that high-performing schools should be left alone to continue their success.
During parts of her address, Morgan was heckled by cries of, “You’re not listening!” and “Rubbish!”
Morgan and her department remained undeterred, with a spokesman stating that, “[The Department for Education] are committed to measuring pupil’s progress through primary school and are continuing to look at the best way of assessing children in the early years. We will engage actively with the profession as we do so.”
But Morgan’s speech took a shocking turn when she accused a questioner of engaging in sexist behaviour by asking whether she was truly at the helm of her Department or whether she was carrying out the will of Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb.
SkyNews reports that head teacher Simon Kidwell of Hartford Manor Primary School in Cheshire asked Morgan pointed questions on whether the Department would adjust language related to its testing policies before directly querying Morgan on whether she or Gibb was in charge.
Morgan said that she would not dignify such a sexist question with an answer, leaving the audience puzzled about whether the exchange was an honest critique of her leadership or a remark on her gender.
Tony Draper, a past NAHT President, took to Twitter to criticize what he thought was an odd defense in the heated exchange:
“‘Much anger that Nicky Morgan hid behind a “sexist” comment that every delegate clearly knows was not – inadequate judgement Nicky.”
Hobby agreed, telling the media after the event that, “I don’t think that was a sexist comment. It was a concern around who was making different decisions on that front. People are frustrated that they are saying their concerns and they don’t feel that they are being listened to.”
Christine Blower, who is the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, thought the question was valid, finding no sexism in asking whether Gibb was actually in charge:
“I think there’s an enormous amount of sexism in our society generally, I don’t think that saying is Nick Gibb in charge is arises from someone deliberately arises from being sexist.”
Frustration with the government is mounting as England’s youngest pupils prepare to take SATs exams on Tuesday, May 03, with tens of thousands of parents having signed on to a petition to boycott the tests. Over 30,000 Britons have signed a petition from Let Our Kids Be Kids, which calls for a boycott of May 03’s SATs, reports The Guardian.
The SATs — Standard Assessment Tests — are taken by Year 2’s 6- and 7-year olds and again in Years 6 and 9. While the government insists that the SATs are necessary to measure achievement on both individual and school levels, critics of the exams claim that introducing high-stakes testing at such a young age is both counterproductive and harmful.