This is the final edition of SecEd for yet another academic year.
Yet again, it has been a year of great change, fierce debate and huge pressure for teachers as the government continues with its rapid implementation of educational policy.
From free schools and academies to on-going funding pressures and massive reform to examinations and curriculum – not to mention the attacks on pay, conditions and pensions – teachers are continuing to face huge pressure in their working lives.
This is spreading to their personal lives, too, as their incomes have been squeezed by pay freezes and increased pension contributions of up to £100 a month. Falling teacher numbers since 2010 have also led to increased workload pressures, with teachers working an average of 11.1 hours’ unpaid overtime every week, the third highest of any profession. Other research shows that some teachers are regularly working 70-hour weeks.
And as we reported last week, the Workload Agreement and limits to teachers’ working hours are now under threat too after the Department for Education’s (DfE) somewhat evidence-free submission to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB). This is all in an environment where we are hurtling towards performance-related pay, with the first rises under the new system set for September 2014 – despite a further distinct lack of credible evidence from the DfE that this approach is effective.
So in what will probably be a Workload Agreement-free environment, with no limit on teachers’ working hours (unless the STRB develops a backbone), we will see teachers pushed to the limit, scared that if they are not seen to be working long hours and taking on all manner of extra duties they will lose their pay progression.
Financial pressure has defined this government’s education policies as cuts to EMA, local authority funding and careers guidance have hit students as hard as attacks on pay, conditions and pensions have hit teachers.
Another defining feature of life under the coalition is the move to involve the private sector in the delivery of state education. Academies have already been opened up to great degrees to private interests, and we already have our first free school being run for a profit. Many commentators fear this, along with the changes to pay and conditions, is the ripening up of the state sector to make it attractive to commercial operators. Michael Gove has said he is not against for-profit education and I cannot help but share the fears of many teachers and educationalists.
Schools run for a profit will not have at their heart the interests of their students. International evidence is not conclusive that this approach works, but then, as we have seen, evidence is a word the DfE seems not to understand.
Elsewhere, schools are facing huge change in core areas such as examinations (to GCSE and A levels at the same time) and the curriculum. The pace of change is far too quick and will place teachers under incredible pressure.
Finally, while education is perhaps used to attacks on pay and conditions, and policy-making at break-neck speed, what it is not used to is the third defining characteristic of this government – the attacks on teachers as professionals.
I have been saddened and frustrated that the DfE cannot conduct its public debates without these kind of childish attacks. We all remember Michael Gove’s “enemies of promise” speech and David Cameron’s attack on apparently lazy teachers not taking on extra-curricular school sport.
However, despite all of the slings and arrows you have faced this year, as you reach the summer break, remember that teaching is the most noble profession there is and that it takes a huge amount of passion and skill to be an educator in this country. Politicians come and go, but what you do every day at the chalkface is crucial to our nation’s future.
Things will get better and, in the meantime, SecEd will be back in September, fighting your corner and helping the teaching profession to make a stand against the rhetoric and attacks of ministers. Have a great summer.