When the government decided it would be Michael Gove who would announce that it was safe for teachers to return to the classroom, this was just another insult to a profession which has spent ten years being attacked by the Tory administration. That’s because to most teachers in the UK, Gove is the Ernst Stavro Blofeld of education. Remember that scene where the head of SPECTRE tells James Bond that he is the ‘architect of your pain’?
From an increased workload and accountability coupled with a real terms pay cut to the debacle of the new GCSE grading system and it’s rushed roll out the Tories legacy on education will be a generation of young people who have been gravely let down and a mass exodus from the teaching profession.
When I saw that the likes of the Daily Mail were once again attacking the teaching profession, mainly as a smoke screen for the government’s failings in tackling the Covid-19 crisis, not to mention a certain senior government advisors little jaunt, I knew what was coming. The tweet by Isobel Oakeshott telling us that teachers were hypocrites for clapping the NHS every week when we were too ‘scared’ to go back into the classroom was a low point. I have always taken what the press say with a pinch of salt but when they are genuinely demanding you put yourself into a potentially life-threatening situation, even I couldn’t help but feel a little aggrieved.
Most schools have worked hard to ensure that their teachers are safe, with various measures such as reduced class sizes, staggered starts, and separating students into groups which are kept separate. However, the result of this has been that the amount of education that students are going to receive between now and September, considering the fact that you have a cohort who are already extremely anxious, will be limited. Ask any front-line teacher and they’ll tell you that the progress that students are going to be able to make in such extraordinary circumstances is next to nothing. Is there any wonder that parents are voting with their feet, with many keeping their children at home until the new academic year?
As teachers, we have been lucky to be on full pay during this crisis, however, for many of us the attack from the right-wing media is the final straw. It is important to note that not only have teachers been teaching virtually but also schools have been open for the children of key workers. I know of several teachers who are looking to get out of the profession altogether. This is bad news for schools who are already short of specialists in subjects such as Mathematics and the Sciences.
For the next Labour government, the biggest challenge in tackling the education crisis will be teacher recruitment and retention. Only two thirds of teachers who qualified in 2013 were teaching five years later, and this is a trend which is increasing. A study in the summer of 2019 showed that the numbers of secondary school teachers in the UK was at its lowest since 2010.
To recruit more teachers, and to ensure that they stay in the profession for more than five years, the next Labour government need to take the following steps:
- Avoid making any knee jerk changes to the curriculum which mean teachers are forced to re-write schemes of work over and over again.
- End performance related pay. It is not fair to judge teachers on exam results of students, particularly with flawed measures like progress 8 which don’t properly take into account that lower ability students will make slower progress.
- Scrap baseline assessments. Not only do they put unfair pressure on young children, but because of the changes made to them they also lead to secondary schools giving students unrealistic targets to judge their teachers on.
- Ensure that teachers pay goes up year in year at least as much as inflation and increase their starting salary.
However, above all they need to ensure that teachers feel valued again. When Michael Gove told the teaching profession in 2010 that ‘the majority of teachers are letting down the children that they teach’ his words had long-term effects which is still being felt today.
Of course, there are other problems that the next Labour government need to deal with when it comes to education; the issues of academies and free schools, chronic underfunding and school buildings which are not fit for purpose.
However, there is no point having 21st century educational theories, in 21st century classrooms, in 21st century schools if there aren’t any teachers to teach in them.