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Monday, 25 March 2013

Are Lazy Ineffective Teachers Failing Your Children?

Background:

Today the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) roundly condemned the Educational policies of the Coalition government as they passed a landmark motion of No Confidence in Michael Gove (Education Secretary) and Michael Wilshaw (Head of Ofsted). For the uninitiated, the ATL is known as the most moderate of the Teaching Unions and up until recently had not taken industrial action for over three decades.
The other Unions (NUT and NASUWT) have also announced a ramping up of their own industrial action calling strikes as well as voicing their own criticisms of Mr. Gove’s Educational Reforms. To many outside the profession however, teaching is a soft option with short working hours, long holidays, comfortable pay and a cushy pension.
For Teachers and their Unions the issues are broadly centred around three areas:
·         Workload
·         Pay (Including Pensions)
·         The General Direction of Educational Policy
As a Teacher I hope to add as much clarity to this growing debate as I can in a [relatively] short blog post. I do not contrast the profession with situations in other industries since I know everyone works hard – too hard. Nonetheless, here is an example of our government’s “more-for-less” policies in action, forget the media bias against benefit claimants and immigrants, the Coalition are the biggest something-for-nothing merchants in the country!

 
Workload:
A day for a good or outstanding Teacher is as follows: Arrive to work at 7am to set out lessons and prepare for the day. After doing this, going through and responding to e-mails and having whatever briefings / meetings and morning duties that are normal for that particular school it is time to teach somewhere between 8.30 and 9am. Teaching is the fun bit of the job, but with upwards of 22 possible hour long lessons each week there is little time for anything else until the end of the day, with the exception of a bite of lunch or a coffee break perhaps if there is any time  - after dealing with student queries, any behaviour issues or anything else that may have arisen.

At 3.15, 4.15 or 5pm depending upon where you work it is then time to hold detentions before you have to attend any meetings scheduled for that day (the limit is one per week but this is now routinely ignored by schools. Then any phone calls home concerning achievement (the fun ones), concerns regarding academic progress, or concerns regarding behaviour.
Once this is done, preparation for the following day commences. This cannot be done entirely over the weekend since (A) there simply isn’t time; and (B) you need to know what your students have understood during the day in order to prepare appropriate lessons. This also means that marking has to be done, but this is a job for home.

You get home, have dinner and then settle down to marking. In primary schools for example, Literacy and Maths books have to be marked every day. Even allowing for only 5mins per book, a class of 30 takes a combined time of 300 minutes for both subjects, or five hours. But you aren’t finished there either.
Once this is complete and written feedback given you then have to prepare the following day’s lessons. Different activities have to be planned for as many as six lessons for different groups. These activities must all lead to the same points but in different ways so that all leaners can access the topic. This means planning work to stretch higher ability students; Writing frames and supported tasks for lower ability students; Language resources for students whose first language is not English; And additional materials and tasks for students with additional needs such as dyslexia. Each lesson must also include opportunities for Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural development as well as Literacy and Numeracy – in all subject lessons, yes even art, it’s not just drawing anymore!

Teachers are also responsible for the safety of students, child protection, a range of after-school activities, assessing and reviewing additional needs, completing student reports and attending Parents’ Evenings several times each year. Furthermore, in direct breach of the negotiated workload agreements from 2003, Teachers are now expected to attend additional meetings and training, design and implement classroom displays regularly (very time-consuming), collect pupils’ money for excursions or charity events, investigate absence and a range of other tasks that should be undertaken elsewhere in the school.
By now, if I have described the situation properly you have begun to realise there are simply not enough hours in the day. For this reason every Teacher I know sacrifices at least one day every weekend and often more. “Ah, but the holidays make up for it.” I hear you say….

Unfortunately, no. Our government likes to regularly change our national curriculum including the content of the courses every year, the methods of examination (exams, coursework etc…) every year and the way they want us to deliver lessons (the OFSTED framework for this has changed twice in the last five years). All of this means that vast swathes of holidays are spent catching up on work that it wasn’t possible to complete during the term or planning in order to figure out a way to jump through the next set of hoops that the government has moved tantalisingly out of reach.
 
Pay:
This is a relatively easy one. Government pay freezes and attacks on Pensions now mean that Teachers pay is now only 85% what it was in 2010. Meanwhile, the Pension age has increased to 68 and Teachers are expected to contribute more and receive less. All in spite of the fact that the Teachers’ Pension fund was one of the very few which already paid for itself due to earlier increases in pension contributions under the previous government in 2007, when Teachers were guaranteed that no further changes would be necessary.

Mr. Gove also plans to introduce performance related pay from September, without any consultation with the profession or its representative Unions. Again, he has not considered the wider context that many Teachers are responsible for students for whom education is by no-means the first priority. Students who are the victims of abuse or domestic violence, students from families in the midst of breakdown or living in poverty. Clearly he believes that the over-simplistic figures produced by exam results which reduce children to numbers on a spreadsheet are enough to determine the standards of living of those who work hard to educate them. One wonders how many strong, talented Teachers will now choose to teach in schools from poor or challenging areas.
For many Teachers the biggest issue here is the Pension, whilst it would be nice to receive the average pay increase of the private sector (circa 2%), most Teachers in my experience do not object to contributing some of their earnings for the sake of the wider economy. However, I know no-one in the profession who believes that continuing to teach until 68 is realistic, especially with the increasing demands that have been discussed above.

 
The General Direction of Educational Policy:
Teachers get into teaching for a myriad of reasons. However, they only stay in teaching because they enjoy working with young people, particularly the opportunity to make a difference in young people’s lives. More and more however, teaching seems to be reduced to an endless monotony of ‘teaching to the test’ and lesson observations. Both of these destroy the less tangible facets of the job such as building positive relationships with young people and facilitating their personal growth - there is no longer time.

I have already mentioned the immense workload that Teachers bear, but this has to be viewed in a context where every lesson is either observed or observable meaning that any deviation from this programme is impossible. Teachers now work in an environment where not a minute can be wasted, and where checks are regularly carried out to ensure that it is not. There’s no room for digression and no room for discussion beyond what the Teacher is forced to plan in a regimented fashion (even down to the questions that they will ask) prior to the lesson.
In this climate there is of course no room for student individuality let alone bad behaviour, and to that end students are endlessly drilled to make them compliant. They are lined up in silence up to 20 times a day. Uniform is checked at the start and end of every lesson, and talking about anything other than what is on the curriculum is strictly prohibited. Only impeccable behaviour is accepted on the corridors at breaks and lunch-times and these are rigorously planned by leadership teams across the country to ensure they have as little impact upon “learning” as is conceivable.

Children are no longer allowed to be children. They are herded relentlessly and indoctrinated every hour of every day so that the educational system can provide compliant and hard-working Human Resources to industry. The results they achieve in their exams appear increasingly to be little more than a measure of the extent to which they have learned to comply with authority. For some reason, no-one in the Department for Education seems to have considered the idea that this industrial scale repression of young people might actually be responsible for what the majority of Teachers describe as deteriorating behaviour over the last two years.
Whilst few Teachers are comfortable with this process, it is the individual educator themselves who is forced to foist this de-humanising and inhumane routine onto their charges. Off-topic talking in your lesson? That student is disengaged, time has been wasted and you must improve. Student late to lesson? What are you doing about it? Why haven’t you planned a lesson that fully engages all students? Hold on, there must be a magic wand around here somewhere…

The more ideological concerns are also evident in the ever changing curriculum. Mr. Gove’s view runs contrary to five decades of educational research and development, he would have Teachers teach children to recite facts and only facts. Understanding is secondary according to the government which is fortunate since as 5-7 year olds will soon have to learn about Parliament and the Monarchy, the likelihood of students so young  understanding such complex topics is fairly remote.

 
The Big Picture:
There are many other issues that I could cover here, but there simply isn’t the space. Essentially it comes down to unequivocal enforcement of the government’s programme no-matter how misguided, no matter how damaging. The only thing that matters is the exam results, students have ceased to be viewed as young people, and now are seen purely as materials to be moulded, tested, re-moulded and re-tested.

Teachers are over-worked doing a job they didn’t sign up for on vastly reduced pay. The job is rapidly becoming a forced process of exposing children to a stressful de-humanising routine, and they have no choice. Any dissent and the authorities are ruthless. An unsatisfactory lesson can lead to months of intense and pressure-filled capability proceedings, and a school failure at OFSTED leads to the prospect of  Special Measures or worse still, becoming an Academy. Should this happen, all bets are off. Teachers pay and conditions are transferred to their now Private Sector employers and they are often required to re-apply for their own jobs. There is no compunction for Academies to hold to the nationally agreed pay and conditions which in practice means that they are circumvented to an even greater extent.
Teacher’s lives are becoming a pressure cooker filled with guilt and misery, and these are the people looking after your children. Teachers no-longer prepare children for their lives ahead, they are forced to indoctrinate them ready for the tests ahead. To be fair though, it could be worse for the Teachers. With pressure from the age of five. Revision, tests and homework from day one. Summer schools extended school-days, after-school classes and booster sessions in the holidays, I would hate to be a child today.

Are Lazy Ineffective Teacher Failing Your Children? No, the government is failing Students, Teachers and the rest of society. It is time for us all to stand up and put an end to this madness.

Sources:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21829950

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21895705

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jan/15/teachers-pay-performance-michael-gove

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/reality-check-with-polly-curtis/2011/nov/28/pensions-public-sector-pensions

http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/nationalcurriculum2014