Comment by Dianne Khan *

Many teachers here in New Zealand left England because of education reforms. We felt we were ruining teaching and learning, starting with SATs back in the late 90s and getting progressively more worrying as time went by. We ran away with the circus, so to speak, and came to the land of Hobbits, safe in the knowledge that here education was holistic, primary school testing was in-class- only, and the curriculum was progressive and world class. It wasn't all roses and harmony, but it was good.

Then, to be honest, most of us paid little attention to Blighty (UK), prefering to focus on the relatively sane system we were in. Most people remained blissfully unaware of the full horror of global reforms there or anywhere. Those who did watch from afar were somewhat agog as England's education system became ever more bizarre. But we felt safe, so it was of only moderate interest. Then three years ago there was an election and, as similar reforms began to be imposed here, heads began slowly coming out of the sand – mine included – and looked at what is happening worldwide.

What did we see? England was now obsessed with testing. SATs had become more widespread and schools' reputations were suddenly based on league tables that looked only at results. The press were all over it – stories of this or that school failing, lazy teachers, kids being let down. Suddenly teacher bashing was the order of the day, especially in certain newspapers. And what was the solution to this supposedly terrible situation? Reforms.

I know now the well-worn modus operandi of the reformers: create a crisis, lay blame, offer solutions to a fake crisis, accuse those who question the merit of said solutions, lay more blame, instil the idea resisters are only in it for themselves, forge ahead with reforms.

So what do we now see when we look back to England? We see schools forcibly turned into Academies and Free Schools. We see parents disenfranchised. We see England plummet down the PISA rankings. We hear from family and friends that students are far more stressed. We see students and parents fighting to stop their schools being Academised, and ignored. We hear that OFSTED inspections have been reduced to the bizarre. We see teacher suicide rates rocketing. And we see Gove.

It's hard to put into words our bewilderment when we hear Gove arguing for rote learning of poems, tinkering with the curriculum in the oddest of ways, starting ridiculous arguments about the merit of including the odd Blackadder clip in History lessons, all as if he has a clue what teaching is or how students learn. And then he launches into the Wham rap. Gove. You have got your hands full there.

Then there is the underhand selling off of schools. Education taken out of the hands of Local Education Authorities who have been deemed (via the modus operandi outlined above) to be failing in order to justify them being handed over to private enterprises. Not-for-profit, cries Gove and co. But who is checking how the funding is spent? And if the Academies have the students' best interests at heart, then why is there almost daily a new report of financial mismanagement? TES reported that £80 Million has been 'creamed off' by consultants, eager for the education pound. Yes. We get the message loud and clear: Schools might be officially not-for-profit, but that's not the same as for the students. In fact, far from it.

As we watch, we wonder, is it all at least worth it for the students? Are things better for them? Are they learning more, doing better? Do they enjoy school? Well some will be. But then plenty are doing well and are happy in state schools, too. The more worrying thing is the number of Academies found to be failing, many put into special measures already. Staff resigning, high turnover, Heads leaving under clouds every which way you look. E-Act criticised with umpteen schools below standard. Harris Academy accused of manhandling students. Bedford, Downham, IES Breckland, Downhills, the list of failings goes on. How can this possibly be providing a good and stable environment for learning?

Then there's the money. £500 Million spent building free schools that cater for a teeny fraction of students? Come on, who is profiting from this? Again, it's not the students. Or the teachers, many of whom are on far less attractive contracts than those in state schools. And even those teachers still in state schools are being knee-capped. Pensions frozen. Performance pay. All on top of increasing workload and more beaurocracy.

We look at what's happening and ask when did teachers become the enemy?

But we see you are fighting back, and that England's teachers are not afraid to strike when necessary. Striking is something quite foreign to Kiwis. For many it's not just a last resort, it's not an option, full stop. So while some here might read news of the strikes with a sage nod, others are amazed, some bemused, and a fair few appalled. But we also see the support you have from parents, who speak out for you and tell the world they are on your side, that they understand why you are striking and support what you are doing. That causes us to think... if parents are on-side despite the inconvenience of a strike, then just how very bad have things got over there?

If parents are aware teachers are not the enemy, just who is saying we are?

So, we watch from afar and conclude that things in England's education system are bad and getting worse. Not because of teachers, but because of reforms undertaken to benefit those in power, businesses, the 1%. And we wonder where the students are in all of that? So we send you our support. We understand. And from New Zealand, we say kia kaha – stay strong. 

* Diane Kahn is a parent, teacher and creator of Save Our Schools NZ.