What do teachers really think about their working lives?
We have already heard plenty from their union leaders, from the most angry and most aggrieved teachers, and from a small, vociferous, but unrepresentative, Twitterati.
But what about the profession as a whole? Today we can give you the answer – on everything from morale, to pay, to pupil achievement, to stress and what makes you do the job in the first place.
The results are not positive, although there are glimmers of light here and there. But they are powerful and should not be ignored by those who could make a difference.
These are not the views of a small self-selecting group of permanent malcontents. These are the results from a survey of a representative sample of teachers, carried out by respected pollsters YouGov last month. This is what your profession thinks now.
The dominant message is that the vast majority of teachers feel unloved and overworked – 84 per cent do not think their profession is valued by society, and nearly as many – 83 per cent – say they are “stressed”, with nearly a third (32 per cent) “very stressed”.
And the situation appears to be getting worse. Nearly half (46 per cent) of teachers say their morale has declined in the past year; with more than a third (38 per cent) saying they have “low morale”.
It’s worth pausing here to reflect that things may not be quite as bad as teachers think, certainly in terms of how they are viewed. The profession may feel undervalued. But the reality, according to another poll published earlier this week, is that teachers are actually the third most trusted profession in the country with only doctors and nurses finishing higher.
The 58 per cent of teachers who told YouGov they do not feel that they are paid a fair salary for the job they do may be correct. But they can at least take consolation in the fact that on this issue the people are on their side. Earlier this month research for the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Status Index found that the great British public believed that teachers deserved a £7,500 pay rise.
Government 'undervalues teachers'
As Geoff Barton, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary, said: “I think what this [YouGov] survey shows is that there is an inherent mismatch between how teachers feel they are valued by society and how society itself feels about teachers.”
“The Global Teacher Status Index shows that in this country teachers are valued more than in many other places. So why doesn’t it feel like teachers are valued?
“There is probably a number of reasons. One is workload. We have a big job to do here, Ofsted, the government, but ourselves as school leaders also need to be making sure we strip back as much as we can so that as much time as possible is available for teachers to do the most rewarding part of the job, which is helping young people to learn.
“Another issue is pay, where I am afraid the government itself has demonstrated that it undervalues the teaching profession.”
The reasons to be miserable do not end there. Nearly half of teachers (49 per cent) are pessimistic about future pupil achievement, with only 27 per cent optimistic. And marking, Ofsted, changing education policy and behaviour are all making them stressed. Time to collaborate and training opportunities are falling. Then there is the small matter of squeezed school budgets and rising class sizes.
It’s enough to make 40 per cent of teachers say they are likely to leave the profession altogether in the next five years, the YouGov findings reveal.
And yet, despite all of that doom and gloom, when asked how satisfied they were with their job as a teacher, a clear majority – 58 per cent – gave a positive answer, saying they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied”.
How can that be, when so many things seem to be going against the profession? Susan O’Brien, principal lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University’s teacher education department, thinks she knows. Her department’s researchers questioned teachers thinking of leaving the profession, those who had left, and those who were happy.
“One thing that came through was that those people who felt happy in the job had been able to separate in their minds aspects of the job that they didn’t enjoy from the part which they did enjoy, making a difference to young people’s lives,” she says.
“Their resilience to some of the pressures they face is high. We have found that for teacher resilience to be high they need to be working in a supportive school environment, irrespective of the intake or type of school.”
She’s right – the opportunity to see pupils develop and achieve was cited by 83 per cent of teachers when asked why they did the job; far outweighing the mere 23 per cent who mentioned salary.
So good news then? Teachers are a happy, resilient bunch who will go the extra mile so long as their school supports them properly. Well, that’s certainly part of the story. But it does leave a lingering sense of unease that such a dedicated phlegmatic workforce could be open to exploitation by someone who might try and cut their salaries in real terms for example, or even their schools’ budgets.
And Stephen Tierney, the chair of the Headteachers' Roundtable group, has greater misgivings. “I would say that the figures for the number of teachers who are satisfied are actually very worrying.
“Yes, the survey says 58 per cent are satisfied but 37 per cent are dissatisfied and elsewhere the survey says that 40 per cent think they are likely to leave the profession.
"What would happen if they all left the profession, even if half of these people leave the profession, where would that leave our schools?
“I think if we step back and look at the whole landscape, this survey shows a worrying picture. Morale is declining, 83 per cent feel stressed and most feel like they are not getting a fair wage. It shows us that teachers are feeling fed up.”
“Desmond Tutu once said: ‘At some point we are going to have to stop pulling people out of the river and go upstream and find out why they are falling in.' I think on this issuepolicymakerss need to go upstream.”
It is a bleak picture. This polling confirms just how tough times are for teachers at the moment. But they are also more valued by the public than they believe. And if there is one thought to take away it must be that there are so many teachers who still love their jobs. They are right to. It is worth it.