Monday 16 June 2014

A criminal destruction of teacher morale

This photograph tells a sad but shocking story - yet it is a photograph that could be taken in so many schools at present.

18 envelopes - to collect 18 leaving presents - for staff that felt they had no option but to resign rather than carry on working in intolerable conditions. That's 18 staff in just a two-form entry school !

As the teacher who took the photograph posted on Facebook: "Forced academy. Many of these people have served over decade, others more. All brilliant. Forced academies for you. A disintegration of a talented, loyal and dedicated workforce".

The short-sighted, Gove-inspired managements too often put in place by many of the sponsors of academy chains may be driving this demoralisation, but they are not alone. I have spoken tonight to a teacher in a Local Authority primary school of a similar size who is one of 12 teachers leaving this summer.

This scandalously high turnover and overall drop-out rate from teaching has become an established fact. Sir Michael Wilshaw has confirmed that 40% of teachers leave the profession within their first five years. Workload and bullying management is destroying teachers' lives - but it is also destroying stability and support for students and schools as well.

Yet the bullying culture of Ofsted/Estyn and 'Graded Observations' continue apace, despite the growing evidence of the complete lack of any reliability in the harsh judgements reached. Some teachers are being bullied out of their jobs as a result through 'capability' procedures, while the support and resources that teachers need are simply not being provided.

This is not only an issue for teachers in England and Wales. The lecturers' Union, the UCU, has just published a report condemning the use of graded observations in colleges. ( The UCU website quotes the researcher Dr Matt O'Leary as saying: 'Attempts to measure the professional capabilities of practitioners through the lens of graded lesson observations are a pointless exercise based on a pseudo-scientific approach to teacher assessment ... The sooner we put an end to this pernicious practice, the better the sector will be for it. Although removing the graded element would certainly be a step in the right direction, it cannot be considered a panacea in itself. A root and branch reform of the way in which observation is conceptualised and engaged with as a form of educational intervention is what is required'.

In California*, the same anti-teacher mentality has led to a court judgement outlawing the existing contract on the basis that it needs to be easier to 'fire bad teachers'. Jack Schneider, writing for the LA Times website ( counters that "Engaged in difficult and demanding work, even gifted teachers need relevant, robust and continuous professional development opportunities. But very few get it, particularly in schools serving high-needs students. As a result, most teachers realize only a fraction of their full potential .. Making it easier to fire teachers — even if we imagine that such powers will be deployed judiciously by school administrators — will do little to ensure an effective teacher in every classroom. Instead, it will further erode trust between teachers and school administrators".

Of course, even the most supported, best trained teacher can only have so much effect. It's worth remembering that, as this US research points out ( "most estimates in the literature attribute between 1% and 14% of the total variability [in test scores] to teachers. This is not saying that teachers have little effect on students, but that variation among teachers accounts for a small part of the variation in scores. The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences".

Discussions at the campaign stall in Lewisham on Saturday

In explaining the action that we are taking to defend teachers and education, then we have to make sure parents understand the damage that Government policies are causing. We also shouldn't be shy in explaining the reality of teacher workload, the prospect of teaching at 68 and the effects of divisive performance pay and management bullying on teacher morale.

Our teaching conditions are our students' learning conditions. Let's have a serious struggle to defend them.

 * Messages of support can be sent to the California Teachers via

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