Teaching is now a mug's game thanks to Tory reforms. No wonder so few are entering the profession

After a string of Tory secretaries for education, and in the midst of Brexit negotiations and NHS crises, education has slipped from the agenda

Layla Moran
Thursday 30 August 2018 14:47
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Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education: 'every pound counts'

The Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) new report shows that the number of teachers is reaching critically low levels, and that we are sleepwalking into a teaching crisis. Although shocking, this report should surprise no one. Tory tampering, low wages and long hours have converted teaching into a thankless profession, and pupils will pay the price.

The EPI’s report paints a bleak, worrying picture of the state of teaching in the UK. It details large classrooms, dangerously low funding and dire teacher retention rates. As a former teacher, it pains me to watch such an essential and rewarding profession suffer due to government neglect. But the conclusions of this report should not come as a surprise.

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I miss the classroom and the bit I miss the most is the one-on-one personal interactions with the students, those moments when they surprise you with their insightfulness, or their cheekiness.

Teaching has always been a hard profession, but these days, workloads have reached almost untenable levels and those in the profession have found themselves bogged down by excessive bureaucracy. The actual teaching itself becomes lost in a sea of paperwork and teachers soon realise that the very reason they entered this profession constitutes only a fraction of their working day.

Despite this, the teachers I know remain dedicated to their students. This is not reflected in wages, however, which have struggled to keep up with inflation due to government caps. A recent report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted that 60 per cent of teachers, in real terms, will take a pay cut this coming school year. While that’s bad, it’s not as bad as watching the joy of teaching being sucked out of people by needless red tape.

Among teachers, disillusionment with the education system is endemic. The Tories’ unrelenting desire to interfere with education has created an environment that removes the appeal of teaching. Children are no longer viewed as individuals, but instead as an amorphous mass to be trained and deployed. While education should broaden the mind, it increasingly feels as though intellectual snobbery and conservative, traditional values have been woven into the curriculum.

Coursework has been replaced by high-pressure examinations, which risks damaging the mental health of students. Core, traditional subjects have been promoted at the expense of other crucial areas of study. Besides, when was the last time in real adult life you had to do a write-and-recall style examination? Very rarely, if ever, I would wager.

The institution of Ofsted, and the oppressive league table system, both subject teachers to constant scrutiny and targets, and contribute to high levels of stress and poor retention rates. It is no wonder that, in the past academic year, one out of every 83 teachers took long-term sick leave for stress and mental health problems.

Despite Michael Gove’s efforts to promote technical subjects, the EPI found a particular deficit in maths and science teachers. My subjects were maths and physics. I truly appreciate the value in sciences, but understand the difficulty finding and retaining teachers for these subjects, especially when most of my Imperial cohort ended up as management consultants or in finance. Maths and science graduates are in high demand, and can expect to be offered well-paid positions elsewhere.

After a string of Tory secretaries for education (Gove, Justine Greening and Damian Hinds have all failed to fix our education system), and in the midst of Brexit negotiations, constant cabinet reshuffles, and housing and NHS crises, education has slipped from the agenda. At the advent of a new academic year, I can only hope that this report serves as a sharp wake-up call for Hinds.

Layla Moran is Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon

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