Our troubles are not at an end but we can lay the groundwork for a better post-Covid education system now, writes Alison Peacock
As this year draws to a close, we understandably want to throw it out with the rubbish – along with all of those plans we made in January. However, amidst the chaos, stress and never-ending U turns, the calm professionalism and positivity of our profession have shone brightly. As we take those tentative steps into the New Year, what can we learn from the past 12 months to build a stronger future of teaching? Here is what I would like to see.
Greater respect for the profession
Slurs from some sections of the media do not recognise teachers’ contributions
Since the tentacles of this pandemic started creeping through the country, the response of the profession has been outstanding. This is despite the tremendous challenges they have faced. Some as a result of this global pandemic, some unsurprisingly as a result of ongoing stretching of resources. Slurs from some sections of the media suggesting that teachers are lazy do not recognise the contributions that they are making. The government needs to do much more to rebuff these awful narratives and show their support for teachers, leaders and the organisations that support them.
Greater trust in teacher expertise
Constantly ignoring their views and insights is adding unnecessary anxiety
Our teachers know their communities, they know what is best for their pupils. Yet time after time we have seen their views ignored with the arrival of late guidance that focuses more on political point-scoring than teacher expertise. Recently, over 80 per cent of our members were dissatisfied with how DfE had listened to COVID-19 teaching feedback. Our teachers and schools have shown true leadership. The best way to build a school system of high excellence is by strengthening teacher knowledge and expertise. Our teachers are the experts – listen to them. It seems so obvious yet constantly ignoring their views and insights is adding unnecessary anxiety to teachers, their colleagues and their pupils.
Greater opportunities to build career pathways
We should no longer be driven by the priorities pushed by the inspectorate
We need to give our teachers the tools to develop, to confidently hone their skills of pedagogy, curriculum design and assessment. As with our Chartered Status, we want to see schools able to drive excellence based on their knowledge and confidence in what works. That way we can eschew the rush for quick fixes. The world is a very different place, we should no longer be driven by the priorities pushed by the inspectorate.
This also means our Government need to see INSET days as essential to the profession’s development. We constantly hear from our members about the importance of having access to professional development opportunities, but these cannot be provided effectively with minimal notice or worse, portrayed by some quarters as a holiday.
Fairer allocation of support
All of our teachers matter and the support offered should be consistent
Over the past few months, members have been increasingly telling us of the divide between north and south, with lack of priority or empathy in decisions that impact on our schools in the north. All of our teachers matter and the support offered should be consistent. There also needs to be greater support to address the widely variable experience students have had due to the impact of COVID-19 on their capacity to continue. Factors such as geographical region and digital access all contribute to an unfair distribution of access to teaching. With those from the most deprived schools, especially pupils from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds needing intensive support according to NFER’s recent report, it is clear that the ‘levelling-up’ of society will only happen when there is a fairer allocation of support to our schools.
Greater acknowledgment of Covid’s impact on mental health
We know this year has taken a monumental toll
We all know that this year has taken a monumental toll on the mental health of teachers and their students. As our teaching report found – workload has increased and the pressures of supporting distance learning, negative press, a lack of a ‘staffroom culture’, challenges with technologies and anxieties about the future are all having a negative impact. Making sure teachers have access to support and the correct training to aid their students is important.
This pandemic continues to pose huge challenges, and we know it will not end when January 1st arrives. But we need to put in place the tools to build a stronger profession, one with expert teachers at its heart. A chance to return to times when they could completely switch off during their well-deserved breaks would be a fine start.