"Without our great teachers, there would be no great schools. Without our great teachers, there would be few of those thunderclap moments of revelation or inspiration that capture a child’s imagination and send it spinning into an entirely new orbit.”
These were the fine words of education secretary Damian Hinds last week to mark #ThankATeacherDay and the Tes Schools Awards. However, if he’s not very careful, we won’t have many teachers left to thank.
The next few weeks will show how serious the government is about investing in the teaching profession and resolving the recruitment and retention crisis. A couple of big decisions that are about to cross ministerial desks could give us a strong clue.
First is pay. This isn’t quite as simple as it might at first sound. It’s not just about an increase. Pretty much everyone can see that a decent rise is due – something above inflation is seemingly on the cards.
What’s more interesting, however, is who would have to pay for any increase. Would it have to come out of existing school budgets? Or will the government provide new cash for it? (This is largely in the gift of chancellor Philip Hammond, who recently did something similar for NHS nurses).
If the outcome is the former, and no extra cash is forthcoming, expect all hell to break loose. Heads would be left in the impossible position of being asked to fund a pay rise out of ever-shrinking budgets. It would be a farce. Would school leaders be expected to lay off the music department to fund a pay rise for Ebacc departments, for example? These are tough decisions they would have to make.
If it’s the latter and Mr Hammond magically manages to find the necessary money, it would be welcomed – unlike many of the government’s decisions of recent years. Importantly, it would be seen as a significant vote of confidence in the education sector.
The other big decision for ministers is how they respond to Tes’ new Let Them Teach campaign. Launched last week after revelations in Tes magazine, Tes has built a coalition across the sector demanding reforms to the visa arrangements for overseas teachers.
As it stands, complex and Byzantine immigration laws mean that many teachers who want to take up vacant roles in English schools are being turned away at the metaphorical border. In the saddest cases, some are even being sent home after two years teaching here.
The solution is both simple and obvious. We know that we need nearly 60,000 new teachers in the next five years, but currently, teachers in only a handful of subjects – maths, physics, computer science and Mandarin – are listed as “shortage occupations”, allowing them to circumvent these rules. However, teachers in other subjects and at primary level are not, and there can be no doubt that these areas also face grave shortages.
All that needs to happen is for home secretary Sajid Javid to agree that all teaching jobs should be on this list. It’s not a big decision but it would send a big message to schools and to teachers. And it’s very similar to a decision recently made about visas for NHS workers.
Like the pay issue, the goodwill generated from such a move would go a long way in this country’s beleaguered schools. And let’s be clear, heads are not asking for the world – just a bit of it in their classrooms where necessary.
So, over to you, HM Government. The next few weeks will be crucial to your relationship with schools, teachers and the 14 million-odd voting parents out there.
Make the right calls, Messrs Hammond and Javid, and you will win a great deal of support. And ask yourselves: without your great teachers, where would you be?
Ann Mroz is the editor of Tes