Please note that we sent out requests for a post explaining why you would NOT be striking on Twitter, but no one has come forward. If you would be interested in writing such a post, please get in touch.
A proportion of teachers in England and Wales will be striking on Wednesday 26th March, 2014 with many frustrations including changes to pay, pensions, and the curriculum. We asked teachers to express their feelings for and against striking. For obvious reasons, the names of the teachers involved are partially withheld…
The Education Secretary in England, Michael Gove, has responded to unions with regards to issues related to pay, accountability, and pensions. You can read the response by clicking here (opens as PDF).
“Sadly, there are a whole host of reasons as to why I will be striking on the 26th and these are wide ranging and cover a variety of issues. Education, since I became a teacher 17 years ago, has constantly been changing and adapting; some changes have been beneficial, and then there have been those less effective initiatives which have eventually died out. Most of the changes I’ve seen in my career have been aimed at providing children with the best education possible; where the development of a child is nurtured and the focus has been on every child achieving to the best of their ability. As a teacher, this is my reason for being in the profession. I want to be able to provide children with a rounded education, where all children are valued and given the sense that learning is a valuable journey, which will help them to understand more about the world they live in, themselves and their own abilities.
The last 3 years have seen the most radical changes yet and unfortunately these have not been for the benefit of the children. We now appear to be purely focused on attainment and the judgements of Ofsted are based solely on this. Many schools live in fear of Ofsted; the judgement of requiring improvement or below is one which no school wants to acquire. Those schools in socially disadvantaged areas have a particularly difficult job to ensure that their children achieve the national expectations; with children coming into school, usually at a much lower level than nationally expected and with issues which arise from the background in which they are being brought up in. Teachers in these schools work incredibly hard to help their pupils to see the value of learning and to increase their skills and knowledge.
However, teaching appears to no longer be about helping children to acquire learning at their own pace, with little regard or understanding of child development. It seems to be based solely on statistics and I personally find it devastating that some children are being branded as failures throughout their educational experience. This testing of a child to ensure they are working at national expectations begins currently at the age of 5; where children are provided with a phonics screening test. Plans are currently afoot to test children at the tender age of 4 and for some, they will be starting school as early as age of 2!
The current approach to how children learn runs completely against any type of pedagogical research I have read. It appears that the more facts, skills and knowledge you give a child from an early age the more able/intelligent they will become. There is little or no regard taken to how children develop and learn. Children become ‘ready’ at different stages; they are not all the same and don’t all progress in the same way. This doesn’t mean they won’t achieve; they will, yet not all necessarily at the same time!
In Finland, which has notably one of the best Education systems in the world, children’s development is placed at the core of all they do. Their teaching strategies are based on child development and research into how children learn. However, there appears to be a total disregard for this in England and all children are expected to hit ‘national expectations’ by a specific age/year group. If they don’t, then the view is that this is the result of a lack of good teaching and a school which does not set standards high enough.
Year on year children can now expect to be bombarded with targets, which they must meet in order to stay ‘on track’ for achieving national expectations or above. Only last week, a friend of mine told me that their 7 year old had come home from school in tears. Their child had been told that their last piece of written work had been a 3c and she needed to work harder because she should be a 3b. Children should not be treated like this; their abilities should be valued and built upon and no child should be made to feel like a failure in this way.
We hear stories in the national press about the increase of teenage suicide and child mental health problems. I feel that our current education system plays a huge part in this. Children are being placed under so much pressure to achieve academically and for some, this can be a struggle. It seems to have been forgotten that children need a pastoral/social education too. They need to learn how to socialise and to interact with those around them. PSHCE, which was brought into the curriculum several years ago to enhance and develop this experience for children has, as of Sept 2014, been taken out of the curriculum. It is no longer deemed a worthy area to focus on with our children. This is clearly not a government priority in our schools as the only thing which really matters in their view, is for a child to succeed academically. This is an awful indictment on how we are currently treating our younger generations and I personally find this abhorrent.
Schools are currently being judged on their results in the core subjects so, of course, in many schools, these can be the only subjects that really ‘matter’. A diet of core subjects is one which many children can now expect to receive; with many missing out on other subject areas because they are receiving ‘booster’ classes in the core subjects during the time in which they would be experiencing the other subjects. We all know that we all have different strengths and weaknesses because most of us have been fortunate enough to have a rounded schooling where we had the opportunity to experience subjects which we loved and those which we found less appealing. This sadly, will be a thing of the past if this current policy continues.
Another key reason why I shall be striking is the introduction of non-qualified teachers in to the nation’s classrooms. I feel children should be entitled to the best education possible and believe that the people facilitating this should be qualified to do so. Only recently, an academy in Leeds advertised for a maths teacher. The only requirement for the candidate to meet was holding 4 GCSE’s at level C or above. I would expect someone teaching maths to hold at the very least a degree in that subject.
There appears to be a strange dichotomy in education at the moment; where qualified staff are expected to be of an increasingly high standard, yet we have unqualified staff coming into the profession with very low qualifications. What might explain this? This government is pursuing an agenda of ‘acadamisation’, effectively franchising out state education. How can the private sector generate profits for the same amount of money? Only through lowering wages. This also explains the aggressive new Teaching Standards that have been attached to performance related pay (PRP).
PRP is hugely controversial as no evidence has been produced to show it has improved education where it has been introduced, yet it creates a whole host of issues/pressures. It was introduced with the notion that ‘good’ teachers will see early financial rewards for their expertise and quality. However, schools are on a budget which is not, as far as I am aware, increasing and it seems likely that in some schools the money will not be there.
Over the last month, Mr Gove has finally released his long overdue, findings into teacher workload. It comes as no surprise to most teachers that this now amounts to staff working a 60 hour week; the surprise to many of us was that it wasn’t more! The introduction of so many initiatives has made a huge impact on workload. One of the most detrimental is PRP. Teachers are constantly being monitored and scrutinised and have to prove continually that they know how to do their job. I spent 4 years at University and have a total of 17 years of teaching experience. During this time, I have undergone training for all new initiatives, had to pass an NQT year, and had to complete and meet stringent criteria in order to progress onto the upper pay scale. If I don’t know how to do my job now, then I am guessing I never will!
I feel by now I should be trusted to be able to get on with my job and know what is best for all the children in my class. I have always expected that my work would be monitored through means of analysing value added results annually and quite rightly so. Yet the current system is demonstrating itself to be detrimental in several ways and especially notable in how children are now being taught. Many teachers have had to adapt the way they teach in order to achieve the PRP criteria in order for them to pass their annual assessment. Younger children learn through practical experience, yet this doesn’t necessarily provide a teacher with a recorded piece of work in a book. This is required nowadays to prove that you have actually covered this work with a pupil, as your lesson plans and your ‘word’ as a professional is not deemed quantifiable anymore.
Changes in teaching style are thus often required to ensure that a piece of ‘work’ is recorded so that assessors can see the evidence of the learning/lesson taking place. Teachers also spend a great deal of time marking work in an incredibly rigorous manner. Staff who work with young children are finding that they are writing reams of feedback in children’s books; not for the sake of the child (who most of the time is unable to read it all due to obvious limitations in their reading ability), but so that PRP assessors can see from looking at the books, that you are providing feedback to the child which is linked to one of the PRP standards. This has increased workload immensely and is a cause of huge frustration, especially amongst early years staff. Teachers understand that children need verbal feedback and this is what they always endeavour to do. To then have to write down all of the things you have said to the child just to somehow ‘prove’ you have said it appears a nonsense and to be honest, a waste of valuable time, when that teacher could be getting on with doing something far more helpful.
All in all there appears to be a huge amount of mistrust of the teaching profession. The current Education minister seems to regard those of us who express concern with relation to the detrimental effects of the ‘remodelling’ of the education system as ‘enemies of promise’. The clear lack of understanding shown in government, for the views of key educationalists and teaching staff demonstrates, in my view, a clear lack of respect and mistrust. This is another key reason why I shall be making my views heard by making a stand for education and striking on the 26th March.
For many Heads, the rise in new initiatives and the pressure of trying to ‘balance the books’ is becoming a step too far. Only recently, it has been announced that two thirds of secondary Heads and Deputies are considering early retirement. Teacher morale is also at an all time low. For many of us, the pressure of constantly having to prove our ability and to teach in a manner in which we feel isn’t providing children with the best way in which they can learn developmentally, is totally demoralising. I love helping children to find out new things and to enjoy what they are learning. I love seeing them take a pride in their achievements, no matter how big or small those may be for that child. I feel that this is being attacked by our current government as the children no longer seem to be at the centre of our Education System.
So, as you can see, there are many reasons why I shall be striking. The main reason as you’ve probably deduced, is for the children and their future. I feel short term disruption is needed to ensure a long term future for our younger generation. Many parents will find the strike day difficult with regard to arranging childcare. It is my hope in writing this article, that parents will realise and understand that teachers are taking these drastic steps to ensure that THEIR child has an education which is the best they can receive.
I am not taking strike action to benefit myself. In fact, financially I will be worse off as I shall lose a day’s pay! I am taking it as I feel the current system is wrong and that the children are, and will in future, suffer as a result of it. Change is needed and sadly, negotiations with Michael Gove are failing. Parents need to be made aware of the changes that are happening and how it will affect their child. The media has, over the years, mainly expressed disdain for the teaching profession and has leapt on the coalition bandwagon. Very little attention has been placed on the actual changes which are happening and are affecting our children. Many parents are totally unaware of the implementation of non-qualified staff, the focus on tests for their children, the privatisation of education and its running for profit and the possibility of longer school days and terms; mainly as these are rarely reported on. Hopefully, this strike and any future strikes will make headway in achieving a better awareness for parents as to the issues which are current.”
Debbie (KS1 and early years teacher)
Teaching for 17 years primarily in early years settings; from nursery through to year 2.
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