Dame Alison’s New Year’s Priorities

As we open the new pages of 2023, we say goodbye to another turbulent year. While we will all have hoped to focus on Covid recovery, new stresses and strains have distracted us. Global events, wars and disasters, have brought refugee and migrant children to our classrooms, while political chaos at home has led to increasing poverty for pupils and staff. Money doesn’t go far enough, for families or for schools themselves, and unions are balloting for industrial action. But 2022 also brought some sense of stability for pupils and staff, as lessons returned to normal and schools reinstated concerts, fairs and all the other activities that build communities. Your reflections from last year have focussed on those positives, and the impact this has on your pupils’ achievements and their wellbeing.

There are challenges ahead. If we are to continue to provide stability, to meet the increasing needs of pupils and prepare them for a fast-changing world, we need to be able to stop the huge exodus of staff, and to increase the numbers of those who work in schools, whether teachers, leaders or teaching assistants. And so I have three resolutions for 2023.

To press government for a real, feasible retention plan

The challenges facing teachers, leaders and teaching assistants aren’t going away. As we highlighted in our work with Education Support last year, staff wellbeing is low and polls throughout last year showed large numbers of teachers and leaders thinking seriously of leaving the profession. Schools facing huge funding shortfalls have little choice but to cut support roles, which only adds to the workload of those who remain. While pupils’ needs for support continue to increase, the numbers of professionals qualified to support them with health, social care and special needs continue to decrease, leaving more work for school staff. 

Governments across the UK need to commit to measures to decrease unnecessary workload, particularly around accountability, support flexible working and increase opportunities for truly continuous professional learning. They need to acknowledge the state of teachers’ mental health, and engage in conversations about how to address staff wellbeing. They need to find money to fund pay increases and to properly resource schools. I’m pleased to be part of the new Commission on teacher retention with Education Support and Public First, and to be on the advisory board of the NEU’s commission on Ofsted, both of which I hope will develop positive recommendations. 

To continue to push for respect and recognition for education professionals

While pandemic lockdowns showed school staff at their best, and allowed the development of different relationships with pupils and parents, in 2022 I had to challenge a negative narrative from some ministers and certain quarters of the press. At the College, part of our Mission is to celebrate you for your commitment to the profession and your dedication to your pupils. 

I believe that at the heart of professionalism is the commitment to building expertise, knowledge and skill over time, in order to make the best decisions for children and young people. While we will continue to support you in your learning, it’s also obvious to me that for you to have the agency to make these decisions, governments need to recognise your professional expertise. I’m also convinced that, for children and young people to succeed, we need to ask difficult questions about child poverty and inequality, about mental health and wellbeing, about curriculum and accountability, to use and build the evidence about the impacts of these on pupils’ learning. We want to support you to be agents of change. And so, another part of our role at the College is to develop ways for your voices to be heard by policy-makers and politicians, in order to improve the system as well as the education you provide in your classrooms. 

To work with you to build the Chartered College into your professional body

I want the Chartered College to be the professional learning community that you call home. We will continue to provide opportunities for you to learn from each other and from other experts, and to support you in becoming knowledge producers as well as users of evidence. Our research priority setting exercise will identify questions that you want the research to answer in order to support your practice in the classroom, while our work on the primary curriculum is inviting primary teachers to talk about your vision for the curriculum and how you plan. This year, we will be looking specifically at what it means to be a professional, and how that links with our vision for ethical leadership.

Whether you are just starting out as a trainee or an early career teacher, you’re a teaching assistant, an experienced teacher or a school leader, I want you to make the College the place you come to for expert input, to discuss your concerns and celebrate your successes, to find your colleagues and to grow as professionals. Please let me know what you would like to see and do as part of your membership. And here’s to continuing to celebrate, support and connect in 2023.

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