It’s a simple message, but one that our Fellows pushed very strongly when we met with Stephen Morgan MP, the Shadow Minister for Schools.
In a wide-ranging discussion, the 16 Fellows who joined me highlighted problems with Ofsted and the damaging pressure of exams and tests, our divisive system where the most disadvantaged children find themselves in the least well-funded schools, and policy that seems aimed at secondary schools and unmanageable for small rural primary schools. They spoke with passion about the lack of support for children with SEND or poor mental health, and the lack of value afforded to creative subjects and those who excel in them.
Recruitment and retention
Their biggest concern of course was the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. It was hard to hear how vulnerable school leaders feel as they navigate hugely difficult decisions without enough funding or support. How important it is to build a diverse workforce, but how it seems to be as difficult to become a Pakistani female headteacher as to go to the moon.
But I was also interested to hear about the different motivations of teachers coming into the profession now, the idea that many new teachers see this as a stepping stone rather than a lifelong career, that we need to think differently about how we recruit and support them. The importance of showing young people how exciting and rewarding teaching can be, building opportunities for those who’ve never thought of becoming teachers to spend time in schools, seeing the difference they could make.
Pay and funding
Fellows didn’t hold back on the grim reality of pay: colleagues who couldn’t afford to rent in the areas they were teaching, couldn’t afford school uniform for their own children, were having to use foodbanks. They spoke about the difficulties of attracting people into the profession when they could earn more in the corporate sector, and enjoy their weekends. The Shadow Minister heard a clear message that good pay is important, that it shows that teachers are valued, but that properly funding schools also means paying for teachers’ time: time to plan, to research, to collaborate, to reflect. Teachers want to learn and to improve, having the time to do that makes them more likely to stay.
A long-term plan
It is, of course, impossible to fix everything at once. We need a long-term, fully costed plan, based on a clear vision of what schools are for. Fellows spoke of all the things they have to address before they can teach: mental ill-health, family breakdown, hunger, safeguarding. We’d like to see a plan based on a child’s journey from birth, linking closely with plans for the NHS, for social care, for reducing poverty, and based clearly on evidence, and on learning (and not borrowing) from other countries. At the Chartered College we want schools to be steeped in scholarship, and we need a clear plan to achieve that.
I was heartened to hear that the Shadow Minister spends as much time as he can in schools and talking with the profession. He was very honest that while we can expect some broad policy proposals soon from Labour, particularly about the importance of removing barriers to learning, the detail will come later. He was clear that a plan and a vision need to be worked out together, and I’m delighted that he has asked to meet with us again in the Autumn.
Teachers have often told governments that they want to be trusted, to be able to get on with the teaching they have trained for. At our roundtable, Fellows said very clearly that they want a government they can trust, that will listen to a diverse cross-section of professional voices. They want the opportunity to work together to build a better education system.
As our Vice-President said, teaching can be difficult. But it is also the best job in the world.