Through my work at Education Support, I’ve had the privilege to speak to hundreds of people working in schools across the UK. I am also a parent to children in year 7 and year 5.
In my personal life I am very clear: I want my kids to be taught by people who want to be teachers.
I want those teachers to enjoy their jobs and step into my kids’ classrooms with energy, interest, and a belief that good teaching can change lives. I’m sure many of you, and those who run our country and education system, feel the same way.
Increasingly however, everybody’s kids are more likely to be taught by exhausted school and college staff. They’re more likely to find that there are gaps in subject specialisms as another Miss or Sir leaves their job.
Kids are inclined to think that a job in education seems like a stressful way to make a living when you grow up.
If we quietly change the role so that it becomes de-facto social work, we will continue to watch talented professionals completing their tour and moving to alternative careers.
One recently retired teacher who spoke to us for our latest report, said: “Teachers who are short and sharp don’t make classes fun… the fun has gone. I can’t begin to imagine the drudgery of education that kids experience now.”
I remember being slightly horrified in 2019 when a wise headteacher in Yorkshire told me that her son, a soldier, compared teaching to doing a military tour.
It seemed to him that one could only expect to do a teaching tour for five years and after that would need to find a new, civilian career.
‘Children need more from any available adult’
Given the craft involved in teaching and the fact that our teachers are beginning to hit their stride after seven years in role, this is a painful and costly flaw in the system.
This is the context in which this generation of children and young people are being educated.
A school system in which teachers are wrung dry and the love of learning is lost as school staff struggle to meet the level of need in the system, and paper over the cracks of squeezed children’s services.
There has always been more to the job than ‘just’ teaching and learning – teachers and support staff have long worked to be there for the ‘whole child’ – but our research signals that this has now crossed a line.
Post-pandemic, with everyday difficulties intensified by the cost-of-living crisis, children and young people need more from any available adult. The fact that education staff are accessible ought not to make them the default front door for public services.
We ignore this at our peril.
As we point out in our report, it is time to decide whether schools are the front line of children’s services, or whether they are specialists in education.
The status quo is failing children and education staff. If we cannot provide this level of clarity, we should plan for increased attrition from and recruitment into the profession.
The attractiveness of working in education is declining rapidly, due to the consequences of this lack of clarity.
‘So much gets in the way of teaching’
I’ve observed many focus groups with teachers and leaders this year. Time after time we heard two simple refrains – “I love the teaching” and “there is so much else in the job that gets in the way of teaching.” We hear again and again that teachers just want to teach.
If we quietly change the role so that it becomes de-facto social work or counselling support, we will continue to watch talented professionals completing their tour and moving to alternative careers.
If teachers wanted to become mental health professionals or social workers, I imagine they would have chosen those career paths.
I’m left thinking of another comment made by a teacher based outside the UK, during a recent research project. She said, “In our country, the only people who will teach are those who can’t find jobs anywhere else.”
Let’s not sleepwalk our way to such a dystopian outcome. We can make a different choice. This generation of children and young people has carried more than its fair share of challenge and loss.
They deserve a well-resourced school system that supports their healthy development, academic and vocational achievement, and nurtures the talent and ambition that our future requires.