Dear Mrs. Claus

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What is the true meaning of teaching?

I hope you can make my wishes come true this Christmas. Last year, I wrote a letter to Father Christmas and asked him the same question I am now asking you: what is the meaning of teaching?

Dear Mrs. Claus,

Sadly, I was left disappointed last year as there was one present missing under the Christmas tree. Santa was so busy looking at educational policy and school structures, that he forgot about all the number one thing (after children) that matter in education: the school workforce.

You see, year on year, 20% leave teaching within the first two years of qualifying and have done so for the past 20 years. Teachers in England are working the longest hours and are paid one of the lowest salaries in OECD countries, and over 70% of teachers state that they are ‘burnt out’ within one term of teaching. Yet, despite increasing accountability and rapid reform, there has been little or no change in school performance and our standings in international leagues tables.

Why is this accepted as the norm?

Has Father Christmas turned his back on us?

Image: Shutterstock

On the front line, working in a Requires Improvement school with almost £2M less budget than we had three years ago, staffing and resources are reaching tipping point. Living costs and pension contributions are increasing. Teachers’ salaries have been frozen since 2010 and are set to continue until 2020. That’s a decade with no financial incentive for people to join or remain in the profession!

Squeezed Out!

With teachers allocated 90% of their contractual hours for teaching, the key people in the system have no room to mark, plan and prepare lesson resources during their working week. Schools are having to work more thoughtfully to engineer systems internally to cater for professional development and new staff induction to ensure staff are well-trained to thrive and survive in challenging situations. Curriculum and assessment reform has meddled with the important things teachers need to do: mark, plan, teach.

Why do we choose to keep working in such difficult circumstances?

For schools who are judged (accurately or not) by OfSTED, evidence suggests that overall gradings does impact on teacher turnover. Vacancies in schools are unfilled, despite the DfE workforce census stating otherwise. Maybe it’s because the DfE run the data collection in November of each year AFTER the academic year has started. Surely it doesn’t take someone with a degree at headquarters to work out, that the methodology here represents the wrong picture? Or maybe, that’s the intention …

To recruit new teachers to our school is a challenging task in English, science and Baccalaureate subjects. There are simply not enough trainee teachers in the system. Job applications are weaker, resorting to supply agencies and teachers traveling from overseas to fill vacancies because the quality or availability is simply not there.

Schools are ‘put over a barrel’ to find hard-working and qualified staff, wasting £Ms of taxpayer cash to buy-out staff from agencies in order to save in the long-term.

Wishlist:

So, dear Mrs. Claus,

This year I’m writing to you hoping that you will deliver.

  1. All teachers to have more time to mark and plan lessons.
  2. School inspections to be less high-stakes; and for the four-scale measurement to reduce from outstanding, good requires improvement and special measures to simply ‘good’ or ‘not yet good’.
  3. For any future, elected, Secretary of State for Education, to be an ex-classroom practitioner.
  4. To stop the EBacc nonsense immediately.
  5. For the DfE to recognise that university is not the only option for a child.
  6. To leave curriculum and examinations alone for a period (at least!) and re-introduce modular components into courses.
  7. To review routes into teaching. Schools need more flexibility to recruit teachers …
  8. To celebrate, share and promote the success of teachers all over the UK. We need more positive media stories. Let’s focus on success on our own doorstep!
  9. As part of our drive to improve well-being, as they do with teachers in New Zealand, offer one-week sabbaticals, accruing year on year for each year in service.
  10. Finally, ensure the College of Teaching is funded beyond 2020 and let us claim back what is ours! Imagine that? Teachers holding themselves to account …

I promise I’ll be fast asleep, so please do leave that present under the Christmas tree.

TT. 

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account in which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in Britain' in The Sunday Times as one of the most influential in the field of education - he remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing online as @TeacherToolkit, he rebuilt this website (c2008) into what you are now reading, as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the number one spot at the UK Blog Awards (2018). Today, he is currently a PGCE tutor and is researching 'social media and its influence on education policy' for his EdD at Cambridge University. In 1993, he started teaching and is an experienced school leader working in some of the toughest schools in London. He is also a former Teaching Awards winner for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School, London' (2004) and has written several books on teaching (2013-2018). Read more...

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