“Education, education, education.” Tony Blair made it clear what his party’s priorities were in his now-famous election speech.
This time around, however, education doesn’t seem to be high on anyone’s agenda as the General Election approaches, despite education being the third biggest government expenditure.
More worrying is the low morale in the profession, which needs to be addressed urgently. As our health survey showed last year, the teaching profession is under unbearable pressure. Nine in 10 education staff told us they had suffered a common mental health condition in the last two years with a similar number blaming excessive workloads for their ill health.
Tens of thousands of teachers were compelled to respond to the Department for Education’s (DfE) Workload Challenge, but yet again it seems their concerns have fallen on deaf ears. It was telling that the results were quietly revealed in the education trade press, while being generally sidelined by the mainstream media. Moreover, the DfE’s suggestions failed to address the biggest concerns around the length of time required to complete admin tasks such as recording data.
We believe investment in education staff is essential. The 2012 OECD PISA results showed that some of the best performing countries had higher paid teachers and greater professional status.
The government continually demands a lot from teachers and we must begin to pay and train teachers properly so they feel valued and encouraged to stay not only committed to their pupils but to actually remain in the profession.
We must get politicians, and the wider public, talking about education so the right debates are had and hopefully the proper investment is made in the future of the profession and the professionals who power it.
There also needs to be a change in the culture in schools, which for the last 10 to 15 years has focused on structures, stringent curriculum guidelines, systems and data analysis. Rather than focusing, perhaps too heavily, on processes, teachers must be allowed time to reflect. Where is the time now in their busy working week to think, develop their practice and reflect on individual students or groups?
Teaching is not simply a formulaic, mechanical process. The essence of teaching is creativity and thinking about the individuals who you are teaching and working with. However, there are fewer and fewer external professional development opportunities, which are essential if we are to ensure teachers can improve over their careers.
There needs to be a real discussion around teachers’ concerns, especially now as recruitment and retention are proving to be increasing challenges.
Nothing is improving for teachers. When education is so important in driving the economy, there needs to be more investment in the sector and consideration for its workforce. There is also a need to raise the status of teachers and the esteem in which the public sees the profession.
We strongly support qualified teacher status, but we must not forget teaching assistants also need the opportunity to be valued. The system would collapse without the vital educational and practical support they offer classroom teachers.
Overall there is a chronic shortage of specific subject teachers in the profession and drop-out rates for those training or recently qualified is only rising.
Instead of ideologies, we need politicians to urgently address issues around working conditions, unbearable workload and low morale, and to establish real incentives for people to stay inside education.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).