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The schools in England are experiencing a “brain drain,” not unlike schools in the United States, and the reasons are not all that different. It is not just the pay, although low pay compared to other professions doesn’t help. It is the degradation of the profession by the government and the media. More teachers are leaving the schools than are graduating from teacher preparation institutions.
Francis Gilbert, a lecturer in secondary English at Goldsmiths, University of London, writes that:
Over the past decade, teachers have had to endure constant, chaotic policy change. These have included changes to school structures, through the introduction of academies and free schools, changes to the curriculum and exams, changes to the inspection framework, changes to policies for children with special needs, and much more.
Central government has put unprecedented pressure on schools to attain “top” exam results, with those schools failing to achieve certain benchmarks threatened with takeover or closure.
The issue here is that even the government itself has pointed out that many of these exams are “not fit for purpose”: they do not lead to productive learning in the classroom, but rather mean that teachers are forced to teach to the test.
The high-stakes nature of England’s current testing system means that teachers I’ve worked with and interviewed feel oppressed by the mechanistic ways in which they are obliged to assess students. The bureaucracy involved in creating the data needed for assessment can be very time-consuming.
This pressure comes to a head with visits from the schools inspectorate Ofsted. Teachers often work in fear that they will be judged as failing by the inspectorate or even by someone acting out the role of inspector – school senior leadership teams frequently run “Mocksteds” whereby teachers have to undergo a “mock” Ofsted, usually run by senior staff.
Government policies have encouraged candidates to see the profession as a short-term career option. Teach First is a classic example of this: the very name “Teach First” suggests that its graduate trainees should try teaching “first” and then move on to something better.
“Teach First” is the British version of TFA. Its recruits are likelier to leave the classroom more often than a traditionally trained teacher, who is in teaching as a career.
There are other pressures too, and the expectations of parents and students have become increasingly unrealistic. Education has become marketised: teachers are expected by the government, parents and many students to be more like “customer service agents” delivering a product – a good grade for a student – rather than entering into a meaningful dialogue with learners and their carers about the best ways to learn.
Parents and students have come to expect “results on a plate” and can become very angry with teachers who “don’t deliver”. Over the last few years, pedagogues have endured rising numbers of unwarranted complaints from parents and students. I know of a brilliant, experienced teacher who was verbally abused and threatened at a recent parents’ evening by an angry mother who felt that this teacher should have “got” a better result for her child. The onus has shifted away from students to work for themselves and instead has been placed on the teacher to do the work for the student.
The pundits have taken to referring to teachers as “lazy” and “incompetent.”
It all sounds sadly familiar.
This is the work of GERM, the Global Education Reform Movement, the oligarch’s effort to turn schooling into a free market and to reduce the status of teaching so that costs may be cut by pushing out experienced teachers.
This is foolish, stupid, mad. The corporate reformers have bamboozled the public, and they are destroying education. No teachers, no education. A parade of new teachers, inferior education.