Education secretary Michael Gove is “bullying” talented, high-flying Teach First graduates out of the profession by threatening teachers’ status and working conditions, it has been claimed.
The warning could be seen as particularly embarrassing for the government because it is coming from exactly the kind of ambitious, dedicated young teacher ministers want to attract to state schools.
James Case became a head of department only two years after starting his Teach First placement. He works 60 hours weeks, did not go on strike, believes in performance related pay (PRP) and is not even a member of a union.
But now he fears that hard-working colleagues who have followed him through the elite graduate teacher training scheme will leave the job because of ministers’ policies.
He said the threat to teachers’ dedicated planning preparation and assessment time (PPA) and six week summer holidays, are de-motivating them and driving out of schools.
Mr Case spoke out at an event launching the Varkey Gems Global Teacher Status Index
earlier this month where he claimed that the main reason for teachers joining the current strikes was not the introduction of PRP.
“I think most young teachers and most teachers in general agree that that is a course we need to take,” he told the conference.
“However lots of my department are Teach First and I think there is a feeling that they are being bullied out of teaching with the threat of preparation time being taken away.”
“Lots of Teach Firsters that I know are not staying beyond the two years,” Mr Case told TES. “The conditions in schools are very, very difficult. They are taking on a huge amount of responsibility very, very early.”
Reduced holidays and PPA time could be the last straw that forced them leave. “My staff will regularly say if ‘Is this was to happen then I wouldn’t stay in teaching’,” he said.
“It is great to hear conversations about raising the status of teaching and this is what we all want to do. But if that is the route the government is going to take then I don’t see how that is going to be possible.”
He said the proposals were lowering the profession’s status by encouraging the idea that teachers were “lazy” and “work-shy”.
“Teach First is fantastic and for those two years the kids get some really brilliant teaching,” he said. “But these are young people who can go out and earn a lot more money.
“How do we make them want to become a leader in schools rather than a leader in a bank? The conditions have to be right.”
The head of English at the Quest Academy in Croydon said several good teachers had already left the school because they were de-motivated. He stressed this due to government policy rather than the school.
Mr Case added that four of the five teachers in his department were Teach First participants who could leave next year under the scheme’s rules.“It is heart breaking to see my department particularly work so, so hard and to hear them saying ‘I don’t know if I will stay in teaching’,” he said.
He would not go on strike but could understand why his colleagues were – “People are feeling very aggrieved and what else do we do?”
Mr Case said a lot of teachers would “completely back” PRP. “But what we will not back is [losing] the small things that make our job bearable like preparation time."
He said he could not cope without the guaranteed non teaching time. He already worked for two thirds of the summer holiday, often worked until midnight in term time and was in school by 6.15am.
“I am in school before most people are thinking about getting up,” Mr Case added. “We are working hard and that’s what angered me so much.”
A Department for Education spokesperson responded: “We are committed to supporting Teach First which helps get some of our brightest graduates into some of our most challenging classrooms.
“Our proposals on PPA time will simply give schools the freedom to decide how best to allocate the time… we have recommended that the 10 per cent of a teacher's timetable that is devoted to PPA is retained.
“We are clear that schools should not be entering children for exams before they are ready and that schools should be free to set their own term dates in the interests of parents and pupils.”
A Teach First spokesperson said: “We encourage Teach First participants to come to us with any issues they may have which are affecting their ability to be effective classroom practitioners.
"Of our 2011 cohort, over two thirds have stayed in teaching for a third year, following the pattern of a rising trend for every cohort."