'Teachers may have respect from the public, but what they actually need is a pot of money dedicated to their own wellbeing'

5th December 2017 at 12:52
'Not every single penny in the school budget should be spent directly on pupils.' One parent asks: Why not reward our hard-working teachers with spa-days, long-serving bonuses, new furniture and a well-stocked biscuit tin?

Respect. As a mother of three beautifully bolshie and loud-mouthed children, I know how hard-won and important this can be.

So it was reassuring to see a survey last week revealing that 92 per cent of people either respect or have "a great deal" of respect for teachers.

But I’m not sure if the research, from the British Social Attitudes Survey 2016, actually asked for the reasons behind the public’s respect.

It left me wondering whether these reasons may have changed over time, in an era when "anyone" can get a degree and schools are under constant attack.

Once people may have cited teachers’ in-depth subject knowledge, superior education and the natural authority lent by their attachment to an institution.

Against all odds

But when I asked people in my neighbourhood (non-scientific survey klaxon) they seemed to respect teachers for what they endure rather than anything else. The long hours, the huge classes, the bad behaviour, the constant pressure to improve against all odds.

For me, my respect for the staff at my children’s school grows each time I see them working away long after the end of the school day, long after dark. They beaver away at their computers under harsh strip lighting like something out of the famous Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks. I can only guess at how far they have to travel home at the end of it all. And they are in the next day before the mists have lifted, ready to do it all again, remaining cheerful and enthusiastic at all times.

But as I say to my own kids, respect is just a word – and you’ve got to think of a way to show it.

The state certainly hasn’t, with seven years of wage stagnation.

And many children and parents frequently demonstrate an astonishing lack of it.

Teacher wellbeing fund

But I would like to offer a community-based solution. Parent Teacher Associations do tireless work to buy equipment for schools and experiences for children. But I would suggest that PTAs set up a "teacher wellbeing fund". In austere times, few headteachers want to splash out on frills for teachers, but they are exactly the people in a school that deserve it.

An annual Christmas pile of Cadbury’s celebrations and novelty mugs offered by pupils can only go so far to improving your life.

What is needed is a fund, ring-fenced for staff, which could pay for small life-enhancing perks.

How about small bonuses for long-serving staff, or spa days for all after the Year 6 Sats? Maybe the PTA could provide travel grants to allow teachers to gain inspiration outside of the classroom? And new furniture in the staff room and a well-stocked biscuit tin would not go amiss.

Perks and performance

A successful company like Google, which is famed for encouraging high performance through extensive staff perks, recently said its new UK HQ would “ensure the health and wellbeing of staff and foster the innovation and creativity that defines the organisation.” Sounds just like the way you should run a good school.

The idea of offering staff perks while education budgets are shrinking may not go down altogether well with hardliners who believe every penny should be spent "directly on the children".

But I would argue that money spent on staff is essential. So let’s show a little respect and give Mr Braithwaite an M&S voucher to pay for a new suit. He’s had that one since 1984.

Irena Barker is a writer and mother of three children, two of whom are at primary school

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