Nick Clegg: 'Why we must reduce teachers' workload'

TES Opinion

Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, writes: 

There’s an outdated preconception, which hasn’t quite died out, that a teacher’s working day starts at 9am and finishes at 3pm, with 12 weeks off a year to recuperate. Yet, ask anyone who actually spends their days trying to inspire and educate a classroom of children and they’ll tell you a very different story.

They’ll talk about 50 hour working weeks, the unnecessary bureaucracy they have to deal with every day, the challenges of helping children, from all different backgrounds, get the skills they need and also the rewards, like that moment when you see a young boy or girl in your care thrive.

As the official stats show, teaching isn’t a job for the faint-hearted. Over the last four years, it’s been especially hard as, together, we’ve worked to tackle the deficit.

When the Liberal Democrats joined the Coalition, we committed to protect our schools budget. But, like everyone else across the public sector, you’ve still had to find new ways to cut waste and save money. It’s demanded a huge amount from you – with squeezed resources, pension reform and a period of almost constant change.

But, thanks to the hard work of teachers like you, we’re getting Britain back on track – helping more people stay in work, employers stay afloat and our economy grow again.

None of this would have happened without you. At the same time, your efforts are driving up standards in our schools. Thanks to the extra support you’re providing, with the Pupil Premium, we are beginning to see the gap close between poorer pupils and their better off peers. Every day, you’re helping to secure Britain’s success for the next generation.

This is an amazing achievement and I want to thank you all for the fantastic job you do.

We still have a long way to go. Whichever government is in power next time, they’ll need to finish balancing the books and get Britain’s debt down. We cannot duck dealing with this. So, I’m determined we finish the job we’ve started and, crucially, finish it fairly.

For me, that means making sure everyone gets the support and opportunities they need to get on in life. You know better than anyone that this begins in the classroom and, over the last four years, I’ve pushed hard to invest whatever extra resources we have in securing the best possible start for our children. This includes introducing free school meals for all infants and extra support to unlock the talents of our poorest pupils through the £2.5 billion Pupil Premium.

In the Liberal Democrats, we want every parent to know that the school their child attends, whatever its title or structure, offers a core curriculum, the highest standards of teaching and a healthy meal for their child every day. That’s our parental guarantee. I’d like us to go even further – protecting all education spending, from cradle to college, in the next Parliament.

I also think there’s more we could do to help you. In Coalition, we’ve already handed more control to teachers and schools to train the next generation of education professionals. I want us to look now at establishing a Royal College of Teaching.

Teaching isn’t a job that just anyone can pick up and do. It’s one of the most important, noble jobs you can do and my party wants to ensure that every teacher in our state maintained schools either has Qualified Teacher Status or is working towards it.

In particular, I want to make sure you have more time and freedom to do what you do best – teach. Currently, too much of your packed week is spent filling out unnecessary paperwork, not teaching. I have for some time been keen to tackle this issue and, last year, David Laws – the Liberal Democrat Schools Minister – asked officials to study the options. Now, with a fresh start in the Department for Education, I am confident we can make even more progress.

We are here to help you help our children learn. This is what the Liberal Democrats are all about – driving opportunity and building the stronger economy and fairer society Britain needs.

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