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: