Letter: Teachers stripped of their professional role and swamped by bureaucracy

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Sir: Your leading article 'Boycotts and other distractions' (24 April) states in one of its subsidiary themes that teachers will be regarded as unprofessional by those in other professions if they seek a limit to the number of hours they may be required to work. As a member of one of those professional groups who do, as you observe, work all kinds of hours when delivery demands, may I suggest that you have missed the point about what dismays teachers?

Teachers and lecturers have always worked more hours than their contracts specify and many contracts, as is the case for university lecturers, are not specific. The profession has always embraced preparation, teaching, marking, counselling and, in the universities, a range of scholarly and research activity which have few known bounds.

It must by now be well known to those who see teachers at all levels at work that they face a growing mass of bureaucratic tasks, mountains of forms and statistical returns, most of which are of little benefit to their pupils or students, add little to accountability, and have no rational connection with the allocation of resources by government. Little of this afflicts lawyers or engineers.

It is not just the bureaucratic tasks that are new and resented. What you have missed is the deep sense in the profession that it has lost or is being denied any real participation in key educational processes. All professions cherish the knowledge and judgement they bring to their work. There is a public expectation that professionals should do so. Sadly, if you are to have a role in designing the National Curriculum, in developing tests, in keeping relevant records without impeding your teaching commitment, the last job you should have is a teacher's.

Even where teachers have striven for and succeeded in meeting government objectives, such as the raising of GCSE standards, they find themselves denounced (and students' results devalued) by the accusation that the changes were achieved by 'soft marking'. In short, the profession is excluded from advising on key decisions and denigrated when it meets the targets emerging from those decisions.

In universities we also see the growth of bureaucratic overload, deflection from the real educational and research tasks, and a sense that professional judgement is not valued. At every level in education criticism of any government position invites ministerial comment that one is part of the 'education establishment' and to be disregarded. Thus, authors of the Black Papers, teachers, lecturers, students, parents and general secretaries find themselves co-conspirators in opposing the wisdom of governmental advisers whose common attribute is that they have never taught.

Observable teacher resentment results from being in a profession which has been stripped in government thinking of its professional role and denied at least 'part-authorship' of the system to which it, together with students and pupils, is central. What an advance it would be if teachers were to be asked why they had first joined the profession and their answer were to be carefully heeded. I am certain engineers and lawyers will understand them.

Yours truly,


General Secretary

Association of University Teachers

London, W11