A week today polling will open in one of the most uncertain General Elections in a generation. As such, it is a good time to reflect on the last five years in education and the next five to come.
When the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition took up office in 2010, the schools budget was not saved in real terms from the austerity agenda with many consequences, not least a severe lack of funding for CPD for staff across all phases of their career.
Former education secretary Michael Gove’s flagship policy changes included sweeping curriculum reforms and the roll-out of free schools and more academies, which came with new rules to allow unqualified teachers. One of the most controversial policies under the outgoing Parliament has been the forced academisation of failing schools, which emerging analysis shows has not been as effective in raising standards as was hoped.
For teachers personally, tougher capability procedures have been a pressing point, particularly for older staff in restructuring settings who may feel they are being unfairly squeezed out.
One success is the introduction of anonymity for teachers in allegation cases (until they are charged with an offence), which has saved many teachers unfair, unjustified and unnecessary stress and damage to their reputations.
Workload has become a big talking point. The workload storm has been brewing for several months now, with more and more evidence of teachers crumbling under unbearable demands and endless paperwork.
Education secretary Nicky Morgan made an effort to address this with her Workload Challenge survey, but the government’s initial response will make little difference for teachers’ day-to-day working lives.
Going forward, the next Parliament must make the profession more attractive. We are entering a critical period where more and more teachers are quitting, with fewer starting on teacher training courses. We are currently supporting research with the University of Nottingham on behalf of the Department for Education to address the issues in this recruitment and retention crisis.
We know well how all these challenges and hurdles can manifest into emotional problems and eat away at teachers’ mental and overall wellbeing. So whatever the outcome at the polls, we will be urging the next government to really consider the people powering the education system.
The status of teaching and that of individual teachers urgently needs to be improved. How can this be done? We want education ministers to work with teachers, schools and governors rather than against them. We want the government to make it a statutory requirement for all schools to have a staff wellbeing policy so that the mental and physical health and general wellbeing of staff is not merely an after-thought for employers and managers.
It must become an integral part of a school culture that can empower teachers to perform well and strive to be their best – one which supports rather than snubs those for falling behind a little when the stress of marking or preparing for Ofsted gets too much. This will help our teachers to feel valued and remain passionate and dedicated to their careers.
Another unsolved issue is the future of Ofsted and regulation. The current framework is too hostile and traumatic for teachers. We would like to see a move towards a more collaborative, peer-review system which involves more feedback so positive changes can be made.
Some of the above requires additional funding but the core hinge on a simple shift in the culture within schools and attitudes about teachers that are more positive and foster partnership and trust between government and the teaching workforce.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).