More men are killed by overwork than the importance of the world justifies.
There’s a lot wrong with the way schools are held to account which result in perverse incentives for school leaders to treat teachers less well than we might want. There are also huge fears about a recruitment and retention crisis in education: Teachers seem to be leaving the profession in droves and new cannon-fodder is failing to step up to the plate in sufficient numbers.
Teachers feel overworked and under-appreciated. The two reasons most often cited for leaving the profession are unnecessary workload and poor behaviour management systems. Clearly, if schools want to retain teachers they need to tackle this double-headed hydra.
Suggestions abound for dealing with school discipline, but this approach, I think, offers the most sensible balance. More difficult is the question of how we address “unnecessary workload” as austerity bites. If only it were as simple as saying: STOP DOING POINTLESS THINGS! Part of the difficulty in managing teachers’ workload is stopping teachers doing ‘good things’ so they can focus on doing better things: a lot of the planning, marking and recording of data undertaken in some schools must seem necessary to someone. But what impact does it actually have on students? Would they perhaps be better served by having happy, healthy teachers? As I’ve said many times before, the job of school leaders is to strip out every demand on teachers except that they plan, teach and assess to the very best of their ability.
If ever you want to know how many teachers feel about their chosen career, have a read of the comment thread on this post. Here’s the latest in a long line of woe:
I am a Headteacher and I feel guilty that my son followed me into the trade. He spent four years at University training to be a Primary Teacher and completed it with a First. He was successful in applying for his first post and within three months is questioning his decision to become a teacher. He has been used to cover absent staff which means that not only does he lose his NQT time he often doesn’t get lunch, he is not given proper mentoring and takes heaps of work home because he isn’t given his PPA time at school, he even buys his own resources because the school has had to pay for translation services for the large influx of migrant pupils and is in financial deficit. This weekend he worked out how many hours a week he actually works which when compared to his wage equates to less than minimum wage. When he said, ” Dad I spent four years at Uni, am in my fifth training year as an NQT, I accrued £30,000 worth of student loan debt to get through that training and I earn less than a checkout person at a supermarket and have lost my social life due to the work I do at home, it doesn’t make sense” and I felt a wave of guilt that many years ago I said, “You would make a great teacher son.”
It seems to me that protecting teachers against unnecessary workload will end up saving schools the cost of continually needing to replace teachers burnt out by the treadmill of the expectation that to be even a moderately accomplished teacher you need to sacrifice every evening and weekend on the altar of professionalism.
Here’s a two-step policy suggestion which might just help tackle the problems of both accountability and retention:
- Make it a statutory requirement for schools to conduct an exit interview with every outgoing member of staff. Maybe you’re sceptical of school leaders’ ability to conduct these interviews impartially? Maybe they could be completed remotely and stored on DfE servers? These files would then be held on record for, say, five years.
- Include staff turnover as part of Ofsted’s Leadership & Management judgement. If the data suggests there’s an unusual exodus from a particular school, inspectors can sift through the exit interviews to see if any signal can be found in the disgruntled noise.
I can imagine scenarios where the unscrupulous might try to game such a system and so to protect both schools and teachers we would probably need a statutory, standardised form that would be stored remotely as a read only file.
I realise it’s a long shot, but it might just work.