Teaching is hard, sometimes very hard. But for teachers in disadvantaged communities it’s tougher still, as they swim against the tide in what can seem like a sea of impossibility.
Theirs is an education battle against the odds. Schools in these places are often left to pick up the pieces when everyone else has gone.
They are the ones who cannot give up, because if they do, there is no one else. When the budgets of support services are cut, forcing them to retreat, the schools are still there. Because they have to be.
Even when their own budgets are slashed, they cannot withdraw. Instead they are left to shoulder the entire burden.
Teachers who work in deprived areas are our unsung heroes. For we have no songs to sing them
The divide between educational and social care has always been blurred and often fractious, but for teachers in these schools there is no choice: they must venture deep into social worker territory. And that leads to a catch-22. As long as teachers do multiple jobs, the gaping chasm in funding is papered over. The alternative, to let children down, is simply not an option.
Sadly, those in deprived areas know that however hard they work, however well they do, whatever successes they notch up, they will receive little praise and even less support; they will rarely be rewarded with an “outstanding” from Ofsted. They are our unsung heroes. For we have no song to sing them.
There has long been a lack of official recognition for improvements in achievement for pupils in deprived circumstances. Contextual value added was seen as an excuse for poor performance – the soft bigotry of low expectations of the Gove era – and fell out of favour. But there is now a small shift towards acknowledging that it is tougher for schools with difficult intakes, and context, it seems, may well be on the brink of a comeback.
It is against this depressing backdrop that many schools and teachers perform small miracles up and down the country. For our cover story, TES reporter Adi Bloom spent a week with staff in just one, on a council estate in a coastal former industrial town in the North of England, to try to get an understanding of what life is like for them.
She found that the daily challenges faced are relentless and exhausting, as staff try to compensate for the desperately unfair hand that life has dealt these children.
And it comes as no surprise to hear that funding is tight in the school. “The money we get from the government and the local authority is never enough for what we’ve got in place,” says the head. The inclusion manager is covered by government funding but the job is too big for one person, so the school has to stump up to fund an inclusion assistant and a playtherapist, too.
If a child is being assessed by child and adolescent mental health services, the school must also pay for any extra support until a diagnosis is received
And it’s not just cash that’s in short supply. Ambition, too, is curtailed when few people move out of their surroundings. To try to counter this, teachers pin graduation photographs to their classroom doors in a bid to see who went the furthest for university.
They tell the children: “If you want to aspire in life, you’ve got to leave and then come back.”
And that’s exactly what these teachers do. At the end of each harrowing, gruelling and exhausting day, they leave.
But they always come back.