The Learning Renaissance

Future Learning 1: Understanding and Ameliorating the Learning Crisis in UK Schools

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From any perspective, the past academic years have been challenging for all schools, and teachers and support staff have shown great professionalism and resilience in dealing with a fractured world of learning.

Despite this, schools in the UK are in an underlying crisis. We see this in staff burnout and recruitment and retention crises. There is something very unhealthy about the daily life of schools generally and the pressures on staff more specifically. This was brought home to me in recent weeks with an experience that is no doubt mirrored across the country.

In the small market town where I live there are two established teachers living in my road. Both have previously had successful teaching experiences and are over a decade into their careers. They are both adaptable and resilient people.  In the past six months, both have resigned from their posts.

Although they taught in different schools, I was horrified to hear the similarities in their accounts of why they had chosen to leave the teaching profession. Their stories were mirror images.  They both cited workload as the primary factor, specifically a growing imbalance between administrative tasks and data gathering compared to a focus of time and energy on the actual experience of learning in the classroom. Both having an Arts background, they felt their subjects were increasingly marginalised and that the current curriculum was focussing on increasingly marginal and redundant information which was being covered badly at an increasing pace.

Both teachers said they would be happy to return on a part-time basis to do supply work in their school, where they could focus exclusively on meeting the children’s needs and planning and delivering learning and be beyond the straight jacket of administrative tasks and data gathering. Both teachers also mentioned the growing distance between the leadership and the staff team. It felt that the school senior leadership team were increasingly working to satisfy the demands of external forces: Ofsted, the DfE, the MAT or the local authority and less directed to leading learning development and outcomes in the school.

I don’t think the experience of these teachers in my street is in any way unique. I’ve heard similar stories over the last decade of colleagues, whose work I have valued, taking a similar route. Indeed this week, Adele paid tribute to the teacher who had inspired her, not by the teaching she provided, but by the example and inspiration she projected. That teacher, wonderful as her work must have been, has also left the profession.

Moving from the anecdotal to the national picture, what is driving this exodus from the profession?

In a series of occasional articles, I shall attempt to outline the underlying issues and suggest some possible ways forward based on my own experience of learning and leadership and captured in my books, Future Proof Your School and Re-Examining Success.

Firstly I’d say that the traditional way of addressing such recruitment and retention issues by giving a pay rise is not going to provide a solution this time. The issues are structural and organisational and no amount of additional pay will make the workload any more manageable and staff will continue to leave the profession.

I think we need to explore underlying issues, which I will deal with in subsequent articles:

  1. The purpose of UK education – maximising the ability of young people to hurdle a mediocre national GCSE standard at 16 and satisfy university entrance at 18.
  2. An irrelevant curriculum – in a world of exponential growth in knowledge, tying learning to marginal facts which can be tested in an examination format limits the growth of independent, autonomous learners.
  3. The cult of managerialism – believing there is nothing unique in education – it is simply a managerial process in which inputs are minimised and outputs are maximised erodes the creativity and community spirit of schools and encourages sterile conformity and reactive learning.
  4. Swimming against the tide – why we need a fundamental realignment of education if we are to be internationally competitive and meet the challenges of the future.
  5. Short of such a national debate, what can we do to make education much more challenging, exciting and relevant to the lives young people will lead in their families, communities, nation and the wider world?
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About educationalist04

I'm convinced we can, as a species, do much better than this if we set our minds to being much more positive and productive towards our fellow humans. The solution is learning - creating independent and autonomous learners who can problem solve, innovate and create a better more equitable and sustainable world. My books, Future Proof Your School and Re-Examining Success together with this blog, explore how better learning outcomes for all can be achieved.

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