I am now onto the final part of my blog on the crisis in education in the UK. I have looked at parents, the children, the teachers and tests. In the last part I will be looking at the government and school management.
The government making decisions on education is like the queen running Asda. The government are all privately educated at the top schools in the country. They could not be more out of touch with education at state level if they tried. They make decisions based on their experiences at Eton and Harrow. They consistently ignore the expertise of people on the ground floor. They bring in new initiatives, jumping on every bandwagon and fad, desperately trying to garner popularity. They also lie! School cuts are crippling schools. Schools are being forced to cut costs at every corner. Subject leaders were given budgets to resource their subjects every year. Now they are being told there is no money. Experienced, outstanding teachers are unable to get employment as schools cannot afford their wages. This means schools are having to take risks on Newly Qualified Teachers. Don’t get me wrong many of these can be outstanding teachers but they need experienced teachers to learn from and be guided by. At my last school they were on a rolling programme of releasing staff due to cuts in their budget. As a result, at schools in the most deprived and needy areas, children with the most complexed needs are having the specialist staff that they need being taken away. Who now has to do their jobs? That’s right, teachers. Teachers who are already so overworked and stretched that they are leaving the profession by the boat load are now having to take on more work and responsiblity. So many things that were done by parents or specialist staff are being added to teachers’ workloads. Honestly, it is the children who suffer again as the quality of what they receive must suffer. Why did I say the government lie? Because while I was actually seeing this happening, the government were telling the general public that schools were not facing cuts. Lie. they were saying that there was not a staff shortage. Lie. They were saying that they were making reductions in teacher workloads. Lie. One of the ways they suggested reducing the workload- Putting on yoga classes during the school day! When I started the profession the staff room was where you learned a great deal from other teachers. Discussing issues and sharing ideas. Now staff rooms are empty as teachers work through their breaks to complete all the bureaucracy the government throws at them. Yet they think an hour yoga each day will make the difference!
I will now move onto the final problem. School leadership teams! I have always thought that anyone who wants to be a leader probably shouldn’t be one. Some of the people running our schools lack backbone and are too afraid to stand up for what they believe. They do not challenge what they are being told to do, and will follow every new initiative regardless of its value. It is not completely their fault as they have been left powerless by the authorities and genuinely fearful for their jobs. They concentrate only on passing OFSTED inspections and getting good results in their year 6 tests. There is nothing more dangerous than an SLT team sharing an office. Their workload is a lot less than the teachers they instruct, and they spend their time coming up with new ideas for their teachers to follow. More paperwork, more accountability more red tape. I remember one SLT member saying that there was nothing wrong with management at her school, the teachers were the problem. Made me wonder how they judged their own performance if not by how their staff performs. Was it about how tidy the school looks, or how many lovely folders they have. Imagine Gareth Southgate explaining that if the team loses it’s not his fault, he is still a good manager. His team sheet was very neat. They want clones as teachers, people teaching in the same style as they did. Teachers who do not conform are considered weak are put in special measures. When I was key stage leader, I had a good friend who was in my department. She was an excellent teacher but a bit on the “forgetful” side when it came to marking, planning etc. I would often remind her, but took the view that the most important thing was the education that the children in her class were getting. As she was an excellent teacher, they were getting an excellent education. The management team though were not impressed and were hounding her at every second making her miserable in her job. Then an OFSTED teacher watched her teach and told the school what an outstanding teacher she was and how they should be using her expertise more. The next day they asked her to help the other teachers be more like her. Literally 24 hours after having told her that she was not good enough! I am very pleased to say that she told them to stick their job and left for a promotion at a new school. Our loss, no, the children’s loss. As always. There are hundreds of these kind of stories I and others could tell. They have forgotten what the job was like when they were teachers and are oblivious to how teaching has changed. I hear conversations about how they could do everything when they were teachers so why can’t their staff. I can answer that one – IT IS NOT THE SAME! For all the reasons I have mentioned: IT IS NO THE SAME. They need to move with the times or move on.
It is not all gloom and doom. There are some schools who realise that we are in the midst of a crisis. They are genuinely looking at ways to reduce the workload. They are actively recruiting teachers, offering them incentives, realising that there are not enough teachers to go around. Extra time out of class, smaller class sizes, less marking, shared planning and less paperwork. They are recognising that there are lots of ways to teach and that children having a variety of teaching styles is a good thing. Valuing diversity. These schools need to be brave, not give in, believe in what they are doing. These schools unfortunately have to rely on money from outside businesses to make this happen.
I have now left the rat race and am an International teacher. I have more release time to plan exciting fun lessons. The children have specialist teachers teaching drama, music, PE and art in rooms designed for purpose. I have very little paperwork, less planning expectations, no marking policy, no display policy and yet my teaching is the best it has ever been. And more importantly, my children are making more progress than ever before and are happier and less stressed to. The behaviour is exemplary. And I might mention at this point that in the UK I have never been judged as anything less than good and in my final years as a teacher, with my added experience, the majority of my lessons were judged as outstanding. I mention this just to show I am not an angry or frustrated teacher who couldn’t hack it in the UK! As an International teacher, I also have time to actually talk to them. Help to try and make them happier, confident more well-rounded people. The reason I went into education in the first place. If in a lesson they ask a good question I can go off task as there is no pressure on me to be a slave to the curriculum, a slave to the tests. When I am in front of the class I am not stressed or tired and as a result the children get the best me. Where do International schools get their model from? Private schools in England.