Today, we mark the UN’s Global Day of Parents, which encourages us to appreciate parents across the world for their selfless commitment to children. I'm sure that there will be innumerable multifaceted discussions around the changing role of parents, their biggest fears for their children and how best to support them in the rapidly changing world they’re entering into.
But our research shows if there’s one thing British parents can agree on, it’s that they think their children’s teachers are doing a fantastic job.
Our Global Parents’ Survey recently revealed that of all the 29 countries surveyed across the world, British parents are among the most positive about the quality of teaching at their children’s schools: almost nine out of ten rate it as "good" or "fairly good".
What was striking about this overwhelming faith in the work teachers are doing is that it is far higher than the 67 per cent of British parents who view the quality of free to attend schools as good or very good. Therefore, support for teachers themselves outstrips support for the education system as a whole.
What’s more, when asked what they choose to spend additional funds for schools on, 70 per cent of parents said it would be more teachers or to better pay for existing teachers. That’s compared with 44 per cent who wanted to see funds spent on resources and 35 per cent who, even in our digital age, said they wanted to see it spent on technology. This data supports last year’s Ipsos MORI Veracity Index which, as has consistently been the case, showed teachers behind only nurses and doctors as the most trusted profession in the UK, with 87 per cent of respondents saying they trust teachers to tell the truth.
It’s clear there’s a lot of goodwill out there for teachers struggling to make a difference in children’s lives. You only have to look at the outpouring of support London teacher Andria Zafirakou received after she won this year’s Global Teacher Prize. The leading lights and institutions of the arts world in the UK and beyond rallied to her cause of showing the transformative power of the arts in helping prepare young people for the unpredictable world of tomorrow. The public and the media alike, including elite publications the world over, have celebrated her achievements and talked in glowing terms of the great work she’s doing.
But while these things are heartening to see, the unfortunate truth is that teachers are facing more pressure than ever before – and many are caving in the face of it. Department for Education figures out last month show that headteachers are resigning in their droves, with nearly a third quitting within three years of taking the top job. But it’s not just the pressures of command. Overall, in the 12 months to November 2016 over 50,000 teachers in England left the state sector, with one in ten quitting the profession. Many gave up before they even started, with figures showing 100,000 people have completed teacher training but have never taught a lesson. All of this has contributed to a teacher shortfall of 30,000. Fewer teachers mean bigger classes, which means more work and more stress for teachers, which is why many are leaving the profession in the first place.
Parents recognise the pressures teachers are under. The Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Status Index showed in 2013 that only a quarter of British people would encourage their children to become teachers. Moreover, British people recognise the harsh reality that teachers do not enjoy a high social standing. When asked which profession had equivalent status to teaching most UK parents likened teachers to nurses and social workers, unlike in China, where most people saw teachers’ status on par with doctors and where three-quarters would encourage their children to become teachers.
As our Parents’ Survey shows, British parents have many pressing concerns for their children, from bullying and mental health to growing up too soon under the influence of social media. None of these is easily solvable, despite the best will in the world from politicians. But if there is one thing the government can really focus on and find itself almost universally celebrated for doing so, it is supporting and investing in teachers.
On this occasion, politicians accustomed to coming under fire from all directions when formulating policy don’t have to calibrate whether the electorate is completely on their side. Gone are the bad old days when the teaching profession was a scapegoat for so many of society’s problems from anti-social behaviour to economic decline. Any politician or media outlet that tries it on wouldn’t find much traction amongst parents. The old tactic of pitting parents against teachers is yesterday’s politics. If politicians of every stripe were to be as fearless as possible in supporting teachers, then they would find parents fully behind them, united in support of the people who will inspire and skill the next generation.
Vikas Pota is chief executive of the Varkey Foundation