Teacher Workload

Politicians seem to ignore or are never briefed about certain inherent reasons as to why publicly flogging teachers and schools ‘to do better’ is doomed to failure. In fact, their policies often contribute greatly to large numbers of teachers leaving the profession within 5 years of qualifying. There are many issues I could raise (not least the policy that allows militant parents to set up free schools in defiance to counties which have democratically decided to phase out Middle Schools) but one stands out – the increasing demands on the profession caused by social and cultural upheaval.

I read today of the rising number of children arriving at school without being ‘toilet trained’. Without going into the reasons (more numerous of course at the current time) why children often appear to arrive at the school gates with so many disadvantages (emotional and health problems, poor literacy etc) it is clear that they are confronted by a system of schooling based largely on out dated middle class values and toyed with by ambitious politicians who seem not to consider or care about the full implications of their edicts.

A member of our family is a Primary NQT who works practically a 12 hour day and some of the week -end. Is this really the best use of highly trained and skilled professionals? Why do we not allow the new generation of teachers to say how the system should be run? Who else knows better? Another problem that goes unnoticed is not having the necessary 350,000 or so good teachers in place to run the system. Even if we could ensure this quota existed we can not ensure that they are all in the right place at the right time.

It may be that we need to rethink the model. Instead of having a front line army who deliver most of the teaching and a range of managers who compensate by doing the things that this front line group do not have the time to do, perhaps we need to increase the number of classroom staff by properly elevating the role of the para professional. I know the Unions would be concerned but perhaps we might begin with some carefully monitored and evaluated  test cases.

We are unlikely to achieve improvements in performance by either children or teachers  unless we recognise that teachers are having to do at least 2 jobs at once and sometimes 3. There is the job of being an educator, the job of being in loco parentis and the job of coping with the latest vote winning initiative from Whitehall. It is amazing that schools do as well as the majority are.

A Truth Commission

Education will continue to be at the mercy of politically based decision making unless it can establish a much more secure and public consensus on what actually works. Imagine a government interfering in Nuclear power generation without having the strongest scientific evidence to support them. Education will never have access to ‘scientific evidence’ ,but would surely benefit from some mechanism that could act as an arbiter of wisdom. Perhaps the nearest example is the Wise Men of the Treasury – they are not always unanimous but their consensus wins the day.

Imagine that such a body had been able to establish a consensus on issues such as making all students study a language, the value of 14-19 diplomas, the quality of science teaching by those with a 3rd class degree, the importance of CVA, the value to schools of  Local Authority support, the dangers of making schools operate commercially, the best curricula etc etc – not only might we avoid huge waste and demoralisation, we might get a little closer to the fair and effective school system that appears to be the common goal.

One key problem is that the conventional wisdom of teachers – gained from day to day experience and informed reflection – doesnt often get communicated effectively byond the confines of the school system. Educational research needs to be able to capture this knowledge with recognised and robust methodologies – which it often does, but the problem seems to be the wider dissemination of these findings and the gaining of some high profile and lasting seal of authority. Such a ‘seal’ would provide a greater public and practical bulwark against  the vote catching initiatives. If such a domestic  ‘Truth Commission’ was too contentious then we could always ask for a fair judgement from an International Body.