With high rates of turnover, 55+ hour working weeks, and a workload made harder by accountability and the need to prove teachers are doing their work. Is it any wonder more teachers are looking to leave the UK’s education sector than people willing to join it?
Yesterday at the Labour Conference 2018, I was able to attend a fringe event titled: ‘Timed Out — what’s getting in the way of teaching and learning?’ There, Thelma Walker MP, Kim Knappett, Kevin Courtney and Emma Knight discussed how the education sector is not just failing young people, but also failing those who work within it.
For years now, teachers have tried and tried with what little budget and resources they have, to make it work. But as Thelma Walker told the crowd yesterday:
‘teachers have come to me to say; we have made it work … we have tried … but we have now crossed that red line’.
So now it has become crucial to start looking at where these problems have come from and how they have affected schools within the UK. Three central issues were agreed to be the key factors as to why the education sector is crumbling.
Budget Cuts. Cuts to the education budget have affected both staff and students alike, with teachers loosing well-earned pay and being unable to afford resources. More and more teachers are either finding themselves unemployed or leaving work to look for a better wage. With schools, especially secondary schools with sixth forms, being the most affected, young people are also losing out through these cuts. As schools are having to pull back the curriculum, certain A levels and GCSEs are being lost to save money. Students are loosing valuable skills and learning experiences and knowledge that can set them up later in life.
This caused me to ask Kim Knappett, the joint-chair of the NEU, if she believed that Political Literacy is one of those valuable courses that should be in schools but isn’t due to the budget. She replied:
‘Yes, it is essential to learn about Politics. It’s life skills that teaches about a community where we can live together’.
With non-core courses being lost from the curriculum, it can be argued that many students are loosing out on valuable knowledge and experiences that will not be so readily available by the time they reach higher education or adulthood.
Over-testing. On the other side of this, whilst students are loosing parts of their curriculum to the budget, over-testing has caused an unnecessary burden on both teachers and students alike. Children as young as four years of age are being tested unnecessarily to see if they can hold a pencil or cut in a straight line.
Alongside SATs, last year alone, 50 per cent of young people admitted they were not ready for secondary school, months before they were due to enter. All of this has led to a toxic environment of over-testing and stress, causing higher rates of anxiety in young people and turning learning into an unenjoyable experience.
Thelma Walker described it as ‘taking the joy out of learning’, a sentiment echoed by the rest of the table. Whilst Angel Rayner called it the ‘killing of everything’ remotely fun about learning.
It also leads to teachers feeling pressured. Their hands are literally tied with what they can teach, given the emphasis on preparing students for tests instead of teaching them valuable information and gaining their interest.
Accountability Measures. The final point concerns the ludicrousness of new accountability measures.
Teachers are working gruelling 55-hour weeks, instead of receiving enough time to plan interesting and exciting lessons. This is done to meet OFSTED’s requirements to prove they are teaching students. Proof includes: filming and writing down oral feedback and taking pictures from workbooks of every student. The result is that valuable time is being taken away from teachers, with the extra work added requiring longer hours for relatively little pay.
What started out as a way to ensure that teaching was having a positive impact, is now seen as ‘no longer doing its job’, as Emma Knight pointed out. Kevin Courtney’s solution is that we scrap OFSTED and bring in a new board.
Overall, the education sector is crumbling. It needs to be changed as quickly as possible in a way that protects teachers and ensures that young people are given the best education possible. Education reforms as they stand are failing our future generations.