It seems to be almost every week now that one of our news editors offers a strong story in our morning conference about disillusionment among British teachers.
Just a few weeks ago we reported that four in 10 teachers quit within a year of qualifying, and record numbers are quitting mid-career. This is bad news for parents, pupils and schools, all of whom want stability rather than tumult in the classroom – and also for taxpayers, whose investment in education is quickly wasted. Today we report that 1,000 young teachers have signed an open letter asking for more help in the classroom.
It all adds up to a grim picture. Was it ever thus? When, yesterday morning, I said that I considered this one of the biggest issues of our time in Britain, wiser hands than I made the point that teachers have long since complained. The power of their unions, the genuine mismanagement of many schools, and the appalling mishandling of education policy by successive, interfering governments have given them much to moan about.
Now, however, many of those factors are less pressing. I am struck by the real absence of education from this election campaign. Yes, the Lib Dems have made “opportunity for all” their central message, and Lord Ashcroft’s commentary for our pages today laments the Tories’ failure to articulate that message over the past five years. But if we’re honest about it, there is a real consensus in education policy across the three main parties.
Blairite reforms, of which academies were the centrepiece, were accelerated by Michael Gove and the Coalition. Nobody is seriously proposing we reverse them. The pupil premium, an idea owed to Lib Dem David Laws – unquestionably one of the most impressive men in politics – has been a huge success, and again isn’t going to be reversed soon. Tuition fees, which were seen as scandalous when introduced, now have widespread support, even if Labour wants to tweak them, reduce their size, and call them a graduate tax instead.
What’s more, a new generation of leaders has emerged and Teach First has been a phenomenal success. To take just three that I know, David Benson at Kensington Aldridge Academy, Ed Vainker at Reach Academy in Feltham, and David Perks (who taught me A-level physics) at the East London Science School have emerged as outstanding champions of education.
I’m not going to pretend I have any answers. But given the political consensus, huge investment, and the quality of this generation of leaders, there is something very alarming about the epidemic of quitting teachers. Whoever is education secretary in a few weeks needs to make that a priority.
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