The results of the recent poll investigating teachers’ morale came as no surprise to me. It was something that I had been discussing just before Christmas with fellow heads from both the state and independent sector, when we met socially.
We agreed that teachers generally were feeling pretty powerless and undermined in the face of constant change and criticism, although, inevitably, this was far more strongly felt by state school colleagues.
Staffroom morale in some schools had never seemed lower, not helped by the issues over GCSE English results and the less well-publicised similar changes to boundaries in some modular GCSE mathematics examinations.
As one head remarked, some teachers have faced changes to examination syllabuses and requirements almost every year recently and are now faced with the prospect of yet more. This means that they cannot refine and hone and improve upon the course materials which they have carefully researched and prepared.
That is another pressure on teachers: they are creative professionals but have been hamstrung in many cases by over-prescriptive marking schemes and reductive assessment regimes. Pupils in the new world have had to be trained to “jump through hoops”, otherwise they will not maximise their marks and the school’s overall results in the dreaded league tables will be affected.
Another article in the recent education news expressed shock and horror that some schools have been entering pupils for both GCSE and IGCSE mathematics and English examinations in order to maximise their chances of high scores. I am not a supporter of over-examination or of wasting schools’ precious educational resources on inflated examination fees, but if successive governments have placed such high stakes on floor targets and league tables, should they be surprised if some schools engage in “gaming”?
Almost every educationalist I ever meet agrees that the abolition of published league tables would do more than virtually any other single thing to allow all schools to concentrate on educating children to their full potential, rather than on pushing them through unsuitable examinations – but this government and the opposition remain resolutely opposed to such a reform.
The consultation on the proposed key stage 4 and GCSE reforms closed in December. I have yet to meet anyone at any level in education who believes that the English Baccalaureate Certificate is anything other than a fait accompli. It was therefore unsurprising to learn that 81 per cent of the secondary teachers polled believed that the government was rushing through the English Baccalaureate without enough consultation.
People’s morale becomes low when they feel powerless and unheard. Teaching is an unusual profession in that a teacher has very little control over their daily programme – a bell goes and they move to the next class; they have no choice.
The classroom is the area where they have some control over what they do, just how they present their topic to the pupils and what resources they use – but even that has become far more restricted in recent years. I was fortunate enough to see some excellent lessons last term taught by the staff who joined us in September; it was a pleasure to witness them and their students enjoying their subjects.
Most have moved across from the state sector and are relishing the greater freedom in the classroom – but such freedom should be available to all, regardless of the sector. We need to start trusting teachers more and trusting heads to ensure that they maintain standards. We have some great educational professionals in this country, but they are often not treated as such.
Marion Gibbs is head of James Allen’s Girls’ School in south London.