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'Sensible policies? Teachers need a Lost Property Green Paper...'

Teachers have grown used to ignoring the latest whizz-bang government policies – but they would appreciate some help with the everyday problems, writes James Bowen

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Teachers have grown used to ignoring the latest whizz-bang government policies – but they would appreciate some help with the everyday problems, writes James Bowen

Whether it’s a policy paper for this or a hub or that, politicians seemingly find it impossible to resist the urge to come up with new "big ideas" tht they believe will transform schools and education.

However, in reality, while policymakers and officials draft their latest grand plan, the overwhelming majority of teachers take very little notice. They are just busy getting on with the day job. The pressures on their time are enormous and I am confident that very few prioritise reading the government’s latest Green Paper over planning tomorrow’s lessons.

This is an entirely sensible approach to take. So many of these initiatives have a tendency to fizzle out before they even make it through the school gates. Others come and go pretty quickly – remember when personalised learning was all the rage? Far better to wait and see rather than constantly seizing on the latest big idea from government only to see it fall out of favour a year or so later. 

It is hard to deny that most of these policies have laudable aims – of course we should be trying to close the attainment gap, and addressing regional underperformance is undoubtedly important.

However, I can’t help but think that policymakers are really missing a trick here.

There is no shortage of intractable problems that teachers deal with on a daily basis on which they would actively welcome government’s input.

With that in mind, here are three alternative policy announcements that I think we could all get behind:

1) The Lost Property Green Paper: Entire rooms in schools are filled with unclaimed lunchboxes, coats with no names on and random odd socks. There cannot be a teacher in the land who doesn’t, on a daily basis, spend at least five minutes repeatedly asking the question, “Have you checked by your peg?” A Green Paper that proposes a lasting solution to the "lost jumper after playtime" issue would be welcomed with open arms by teachers in classrooms across the country.

2) The Extreme-Temperature Tsar: We have yet to find out why, in so many schools across the country, half the building feels like a tropical island whilst in the other half children sit in their coats, frozen fingers desperately holding on to pencils. The appointment of an extreme-temperature tsar to find a way of stopping schools feeling like either ice-boxes or the inside of an oven (usually at the same time) would go down very well with the profession, I’m sure.

3) Lunchtime Squabble Hubs: Want more hours dedicated to learning? Forget extending the school day – set up hubs of former UN peace-makers to be parachuted in on demand, in order to swiftly resolve the squabbles that many a teacher spends a good half-hour attending to at the start of each afternoon.

There are plenty of others that could be suggested: the Unexpected Wasp in the Classroom Taskforce maybe? Or the Reducing the Queue at the Water Fountain Action Plan – the list is endless.

If our elected representatives would really like to get their teeth into the daily problems facing teachers, I’m sure we can arrange to get a few suggestions sent over.

James Bowen is director of the NAHT Edge middle leaders’ union, and a former head of an 'outstanding primary'. He tweets @JamesJkbowen

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