The working lives of teachers have become “unbearable” because of constant monitoring and as a result they are quitting in such numbers that the profession is heading for a crisis, according to an open letter to The Independent signed by 1,200 teachers.
The letter calls for more support and warns that politicians have made teachers’ working lives “increasingly difficult and for many, unbearable” and that “a constant fear of being judged to be failing” was “bleeding the profession dry”.
Teachers who signed the letter, organised by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) union, warn that schools are heading for a teacher supply crisis as more teachers leave and the Government fails to recruit enough new trainees.
They call for the next Government to urgently reform the schools inspectorate, arguing that teachers cannot work under the “constant monitoring of Big Brother Ofsted”. Teachers need to be supported, not punished, they argue.
The letter follows figures disclosed at the ATL union conference this month showing that nearly four in 10 teachers will quit before completing a year in the classroom.
The figures, based on Department for Education data, also showed that the number who completed their training but never entered the classroom had tripled in six years – from 3,600 in 2006 to 10,800 in 2011.
Dr Mary Bousted, the union’s general secretary, said: “Teachers work more unpaid overtime than any other profession and experience working lives filled with stress, pressure and exhaustion. The sheer volume of the signatories to the letter demonstrates the scale of the crisis which is encompassing the teaching profession.”
One young teacher who signed the letter wrote: “Since beginning my in-school training I have spent every day in fear. I fear the Sunday emails; I fear the notice board in the staff room which lists the many ‘observations’ that are coming up. I long for a 9-5 job. I would hopefully be spared a large amount of the misery and self-loathing caused by ‘feedback’ in my current hellish profession.”
Another newly qualified teacher calculated that she was earning less than the minimum wage if she took the 60 hours a week she worked into account. “It would not be possible to do this job properly working 37 hours a week. I have found this year unmanageable in terms of work/life balance. I will not be applying for any full-time teaching roles next school year. I love teaching but refuse to sacrifice my health for a job.”
The Teacher Support Network, a charity which provides emotional support and advice to teachers, expressed concern about adverse effects on student performance. Its chief executive, Julian Stanley, said: “Our research already shows there could be a link between a teacher’s health and their students’ outcomes. How can teachers, lecturers and support staff be able to focus on raising education standards when they are suffering as a result of unsustainable workloads?”
The letter in full
Although politicians all agree that teaching is a vital profession, full of excellent and committed graduates, the policies they create have made teachers’ working lives increasingly difficult and unbearable for many.
Increasing numbers of both newly qualified teachers and more experienced teachers are leaving teaching to escape the excessive hours, preferring a life where work can be balanced with other interests and commitments and where they feel free from the constant monitoring of Big Brother Ofsted.
Teachers are monitored to within an inch of their lives; the pressure of Ofsted inspections leads to school leaders demanding evidence for anything that inconsistent Ofsted teams can ask for. What is most frustrating is that much of this Ofsted-generated workload doesn’t support teaching and learning and stifles the innovation and creativity that can create those ‘light bulb’ moments for pupils.
Teaching is extremely demanding. But teachers are also being crushed under the weight of unnecessary bureaucracy, which is piled on because of a constant fear of being judged to be failing; so it is hardly surprising that some decide that enough is enough.
As more teachers leave, the Government has also failed to secure the numbers of new teachers needed and a teacher supply crisis looms.
We call for the next Government to properly tackle teachers’ workload, including Ofsted inspections which are the main driver, and to explore new ways of holding schools to account which will support rather than punish teachers; to support a fully qualified and sufficiently trained profession with access to excellent, comprehensive and evidence-informed initial teacher education and continuing professional development based on collaboration between schools and universities.
We call for the next Government to listen to the profession and to work with it to find resolutions to these important issues.
There are many promises in the party manifestos, but these are the core things that a new Government will need to address; fix what desperately needs fixing in terms of Ofsted and workload and support teachers in providing the brilliant teaching that our children and young people need and deserve.
Teachers love to teach. Give them the autonomy, freedom and support to do so.
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