How can teachers bring about national change to the education system?
For the past three or fours years, it is my belief that the Government does not have the solution to our education system. We do. And that with every Government that comes and goes, we are left in the lurch, waiting for the next possible answer or source of funding to help address the latest crisis, research or push the latest agenda. It is my belief that the answer lies in us as a profession as a collective force – to do more to resolve the issues with teacher workload and retention by ignoring eternal agencies; dictating the mood in schools. ‘Why and how?’ you may ask. Well, if enough of us start to do it, we can bring about collective change.
In this post I set about my ‘call to arms’ for teachers in England and Wales.
For those who succumb to the illusion of social media promotion and ‘rose-tinted glasses’, you will be surprised to read, that I too have struggled with teaching as a career – several times. As I write, I am entering my 24th academic year working in education having started teacher-training at the tender age of 18, qualifying at 23. It has been great journey, but not without its moments, even this year.
The 30% attrition rate within 5 years has been commonplace for the past 20 years. Only last year, I discovered when reading the School workforce in England: November 2015, that after two decades in the classroom I will have a less than a 50% survival rate. I accept that every profession has its challenges and that there will always be natural wastage, but it should not be the norm, that our young teachers enter into the profession and work like ‘headless chickens’, burn out and be recycled by the next bunch of recruits every 2 or 3 years.
Why should any teacher have to work between 45-60+ hours per week to get their job close to complete? Something isn’t right about the system if this is now the expectation. We must use our experiences to help change the landscape, to eradicate myths and perceptions so that other teachers are not forced out of the profession.
However, I have reason to be optimistic. If we put aside external factors for the moment, it is desirable for many people to choose teaching as a career.
Thankfully, teachers by default have an intrinsic desire to learn and work with children. We aspire to work with young people and make a difference to each and every one. Classrooms are a fascinating place in which to work. They are detailed, delicate and delightful, full of character, emotion and sound! Teachers learn to love their students – every single one of them, even the most challenging. Teachers can put their ‘empathy hats’ on, viewing their misdemeanours as learning opportunities and understanding that there is no such thing as a bad person, only an affected person.
They know there will be challenges. There will be times when the toughest students make teaching impossible. But this doesn’t last forever. Children are more than just a number or an exam result. They are our next generation, our next Prime Minister, our future.
We can each remember a great teacher – someone who inspired us and helped shape us to be the person that we are today. Because of great teachers, children in England are receiving the best education this country has ever had to offer.
Throughout this book, I have shared the work of some of the great teachers and some of the great teaching I have witnessed within our fantastic state-school system. And thanks to social media and the growth of the Internet, all teachers have the opportunity to share best practice and dispel myths created by policymakers, conference attendees and the inspectorate. Collectively, we can challenge government policy and white papers written by politicians who have never stepped foot in the classroom since they were children. We have a voice and we can shape the education landscape. It is our landscape after all, and in the midst of a battering from the media and a deluge of political claptrap, we must take control of our own destiny.
Teachers can make change happen. We just need to believe it and organise ourselves effectively, so let’s get started right here, now.
Definition of Success
The first thing we must look at is how we define ourselves in the workplace. We all need to be resilient, but that is not the single solution for survival in our classrooms. If we do not fix our work-life balance, we will struggle to recruit and retain teachers. Isn’t it about time teachers left the school building at 4.30PM? Isn’t it about time we had our Sundays back, free from marking and lesson planning? Isn’t it about time we could turn our digital devices off so we aren’t tied to our emails 24/7?
We don’t have to work this way. Nothing is that urgent, surely?
And no one can drive teaching and learning stuck behind a desk all day? If I had a bucket list of ways to improve teachers’ work-life balance, it would include the following. Admittedly, some will never happen, but it’s healthy to have a dream …
- All teachers to have more allocated time to mark and plan lessons during the school day
- A one-week sabbatical to be offered, accruing for each year of service.
- Any future Secretary of State for Education to be an ex-classroom practitioner. (Imagine that … policies with a degree of understanding!)
- School inspections to be less high-stakes and OfSTED’s measurement scale to reduce from ‘Outstanding’, ‘Good’, ‘Requires Improvement’ and ‘Special Measures’ to simply ‘Good’ and ‘Not Yet Good’; better still, government inspections to be disbanded and to move towards a school-to-school process.
What would be on your bucket list?
Staff wellbeing matters. It is not a peripheral issue; it should be a moral imperative for all senior leadership teams and their governing bodies, and this is gradually reaching the radars of those who impart their advice to schools. Although this is welcome news, the day wellbeing becomes a measurable factor in our schools, (and that day will come) marks the day that wellbeing starts to have the opposite effect to the one intended. There will be sticky-plaster solutions, designed to create the illusion that schools place wellbeing at the top of their agenda, but ‘Cake Fridays’ and ‘The Annual Staff Quiz’ will simply be papering over the cracks. Imagine a swam calmly gliding across the surface of the lake but with feet paddling at an unbelievable rate beneath the surface. That’s stick-plaster wellbeing.
For me, the solution is obvious. The crux of the matter is that every teacher must be able to mark, plan and teach with simplicity and passion. We must give our teachers the space to be able to do these things well and be in front of their students, their lessons and their classroom ideas. That’s it, but we need well-funded schools to be able to achieve this simple aim.
Let’s not over-complicate classroom life with shifting goalposts, fads and preferences dictated by external watchdogs and policymakers. Teaching and learning trumps everything we do in schools and the sooner politicians, experts and school leaders remember this, our students, teachers and our profession as a whole will gain.
Let’s strip back the nonsense and focus on what every teacher across the world needs to do; Mark. Plan. Teach.