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SUPPORT TEACHERS: NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR CRITICISM

Professor Dame Alison Peacock, Chief Executive of the Chartered College of Teaching writes about her pride in the profession during COVID-19

We are currently living through a global crisis the like of which most of us have never encountered. The widespread closures of nurseries, schools and colleges are unprecedented and the impact on our pupils, teachers and schools have been and will continue to be immense. Despite all of this, our profession has met these challenges head-on, with calm, professionalism and positivity. 

Before we entered the lockdown, our teachers were already battling with a number of challenges. In many schools, the pressures of accountability, league tables and assessment contributed hugely to work-related stress. High workload coupled with stretched resources and increasing numbers leaving the profession placed huge pressures on our teachers and risked pushing them to burnout. Once the notice of closures came, our schools had only a small window to prepare themselves and their pupils. However, resources did not suddenly become abundant, workloads did not suddenly reduce. Like many of us, our teachers were also preparing for how the lockdown would impact their families and homes. Over this past month, the outbreak has resulted in additional challenges, pressures and changes for our profession and the whole education system. We are all grappling with new technology, very different models of education and radical changes to assessment systems with no notice while trying to manage our own wellbeing and that of our families.

In spite of all this, our profession did what it always does, rose to the challenge and used the tools to hand. The problem is that access to these tools is inconsistent. There are real challenges when it comes to using technology and the support our pupils receive depends on the capacity of their schools and families to support them at a distance. This also can lead to our teachers feeling isolated, struggling further with their workload and the pressure of their role. That said, the collective endeavour of our profession means I have never been more proud to call myself a teacher.

We have seen inspiring responses from school communities with colleagues in some cases not only visiting homes and talking to students on the doorstep (at a safe distance) offering reassurance, printed resources and food. Others are busily arranging and supporting online learning whilst simultaneously supporting their own families. More teachers are stepping up with characteristic generosity and sharing their resources widely and even teaching online such as those supporting BBC Bitesize and Oak National Academy.  The response from our profession has been amazing.

The Department for Education has wisely organised opportunities for those of us working with significant numbers of members to come together for weekly meetings to discuss a wide range of intractable issues related to the importance of maintaining educational provision within a pandemic. Collaboration and consideration of the views of the profession balanced with the priorities of government and scientific advice present huge dilemmas, but it is very reassuring that at this time of crisis we are all called upon to work together in a meaningful and collegiate manner. The teacher and leadership unions, responsible to their members for workforce protection and planning, have been asked to consult about practical issues involved with the very gradual prospect of school re-opening. Alongside this the Chartered College of Teaching as the professional body, is focusing on issues related to remote teaching, potential learning loss, the impact of trauma and ways in which we can support blended learning approaches. The combination of shared intelligence between all these membership organisations is very helpful as we seek to minimise the negative impact of COVID-19.

At this time I believe those of us with a system leadership role need to step forward and offer encouragement and praise for all that is being achieved. It is a very unusual teacher who forgives themself easily for tasks unfinished.  We are perfectionists, we want to make a difference, we need to feel that our efforts are noticed and will be helpful. In this spirit, the Chartered College of Teaching working alongside ITV have sought to really raise the society-wide recognition of teachers do day in and day out that makes such a difference. It has been brilliant to see our teachers and education leaders on television as part of the #BritainGetTalking campaign in the past weeks.  Nearly half of UK viewers watching these pieces have reported an emotional connection with the campaign. 

I believe there is a really positive opportunity now for society to understand and value the importance of teaching.  This is why when some in the media and prominent politicians criticise our efforts we respond with disappointment and incredulity.  I am not saying the profession is immune to criticism. We know that there will be lessons to learn from all of this. This outbreak has led to discussions regarding the relationship between home and in-school learning, the role of technology in education, the experience of children who cannot access school and the very nature of education. These are discussions we must have, we cannot simply return to business as usual. However, nothing is accomplished by criticising our teachers during a global emergency.

I have never been so proud of our profession. Thank you to everyone who works within our educational settings – you are amazing. If ever you doubt your contribution, refuse to listen to the critics and instead spend your time responding to the warmth and appreciation of your community.