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Plenty of fizz left in classroom spirits

A major TES survey reveals that a 'Dunkirk spirit' is keeping teachers going as their buildings crumble, books fray and classes swell.

Bruised, battered but in amazingly high spirits. That is the state of the nation's teaching force according to its headteachers.

Classroom staff may disagree, but more than eight out of 10 heads believe that morale in their schools is good and that the stereotype of the demoralised, downtrodden teacher is misleading.

It is good, they say, in spite of the reported stress of inspection and the feeling of being constantly knocked by politicians, the media and the chief inspector.

And although high morale does not compensate for low budgets, increasing class sizes and dilapidated buildings it is probably what is actually holding most schools together.

"Morale is good in spite of the Office for Standards in Education," said the head of a Stockport primary. "Team spirit - a Dunkirk spirit - is high. "

Paul Whittaker, who retired as head of Shiphay primary, Torquay, in July, said: "Morale is good because we are a super team, do not always take things too seriously, have a laugh and enjoy a glass (or two) of wine!" Almost 90 per cent of secondary heads said morale was holding up well in their schools, while 81 per cent of primaries and 73 per cent of middle schools painted a similarly rosy picture.

But there was a price to pay, as Dave Hawkins, head of Chingford C of E junior in London, explained: "Standards of attainment and behaviour are high. Morale is good. But staff are shattered and have had to subjugate family and social life to professional demands in order to achieve this."

Just 87 schools - 74 primaries, three middle and 10 secondary - reported low morale. The reasons for this were outside criticism, constant change, workload, and school inspections. Secondary school headteachers also worried about underfunding and falling pupil numbers.

And those schools who reported low morale, felt strongly about it. "My teachers are conscientious, dedicated, effective and unappreciated." said John Kitchen, head of Standlake C of E primary, near Witney in Oxfordshire.

"Both the Conservatives and Labour need to realise that you cannot have successful education when you persistently knock the morale of teachers. "

At least two headteachers were getting out. "I hate it," said Jeremy Dicker, head of Elmlea junior, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol. "We are losing sight of the important things in life."

A West Midlands secondary head said: "I am retiring early because the combination of all the changes of the past 10 years and trying to maintain high standards in a society whose own moral standards are on the slide has stressed me to the point of exhaustion."

While the head of a London primary said: "This is my 20th year of headship - I have never felt lower myself or known staff morale to be so low." The reasons given were a forthcoming OFSTED inspection, "challenging children and very difficult parents".

"Morale is not good," said the head of a primary school in Liskeard, Cornwall. "We have an OFSTED inspection pending. We know we'll pass but we are hammered by a negative system no matter what we do or how hard we try."

"There is a constant feeling that schools bear the brunt of anything going wrong in society" said John Wilson, head of Hawkes Farm primary, Hailsham in East Sussex.

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