When same-sex marriage was given royal assent in February, it marked a momentous step forward for equality. However, as our LGBT survey revealed last year there remains a worrying picture of entrenched homophobia in schools, among teachers and students.
More than two-thirds of staff told us they had witnessed homophobic harassment, while a similar figure said were not adequately prepared to teach same-sex marriage or LGBT issues to their pupils.
One of Nicky Morgan’s first actions as the new education secretary was creating a £2 million fund to tackle homophobic bullying in schools. This is an important step in the right direction. The focus on LGBT policy in schools has tended to be on students, but we hope to work with gay rights charity Stonewall this year to support more teachers.
In April, Ann Maguire’s death was a dark day for the profession. At the time, I was invited onto radio and television shows to discuss the threat of violence in schools and the risks faced by teachers. It goes without saying that this horrific incident was an extreme and tragic rarity. However, reports have since shown that physical attacks against teachers are rising. We – parents, schools and politicians – need to do more to tackle this.
Michael Gove’s hasty dismissal paved the way for a more conciliatory tone from his successor Nicky Morgan, especially when it comes to teacher stress, anxiety and workload. Teachers have been at breaking point for some time; our health survey in October painted a stark picture of a thoroughly unhealthy and overloaded workforce.
An overwhelming majority of teachers told us that they have suffered from common mental health problems in the last two years – 88 per cent said they were stressed, 72 per cent suffered anxiety, and 45 per cent had depression.
Since then, Ms Morgan’s Workload Challenge has been a rare and timely opportunity for thousands of teachers to tell the Department for Education directly how to tackle the relentless burden of paperwork, red tape and increasing responsibilities which contributes to these issues.
As the general election approaches, it is vital that the next government prioritises the health and wellbeing of staff. In the autumn, we launched a campaign – Healthy Teachers, Higher Marks? – which showed there could be a link between a teacher’s health and wellbeing and the outcomes of their students.
This year, we’ll seek to begin research into this, which we hope will encourage policy-makers to understand that only teachers who are fit and supported mentally will be able to continue to raise education standards.
Ofsted’s annual report ended the year with another attack on failing standards in secondary schools. What we need in 2015 is to curb this culture of blame – instead of criticising and overloading our teachers and school leaders, politicians need to value and support the brilliant work of our education workforce.
The political parties will begin to launch their manifestoes in the coming weeks. Labour’s Tristram Hunt has already called for a teachers’ oath while the coalition has backed an independent College of Teaching.
We support, in principle at least, anything which aims to raise the status of the profession by celebrating the hard work of teachers. But politicians must be wary of introducing quick-win initiatives, instead of addressing the real, hard issues: exams, inspections, workload, training, recruitment and retention to name just a few.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).