It is often said that few people really like change – even the ones who say they do. Me? I like to tell people I’m a change agent. My friends and family scoff.
The small minority who genuinely embrace reform can, in my experience, be divided into two camps: those who recognise that in the right circumstances a case can be made for considered and long-term change, and those who love change for change’s sake.
Members of the first group are all too rare (although often present in successful school leadership teams), while the second group is rather well represented in Westminster’s corridors of power. Reform gives politicians a great sense of self-worth – otherwise, what would be the point of them?
Pulled this way and that, hither and thither, teachers know better than most what it’s like to be on the receiving end of political deckchair-rearranging. It was a surprise to almost no one that one of the most commonly voiced complaints in the Department for Education’s Workload Challenge earlier this year was about endless top-down reform.
The 2014-15 academic year, now coming to a close, has been a classic, not least because of the introduction of a new national curriculum and the painful side-effects that come with such intrusive surgery. The results of our YouGov survey of teachers to mark the first full year since the launch of the curriculum appear at first to confirm that such drastic reform goes down like a cup of cold sick in the nation’s staffrooms (see pages 6-7). The majority of respondents are clear that the new curriculum is not “fit for purpose”.
Of course, some teachers – like the rest of society – are inherently resistant to change, but if you dig a little deeper into our survey, what you find is somewhat counterintuitive.
The reasons teachers give for their dislike of the new curriculum are not an innate conservatism, but in large part a distaste for the content they are now expected to teach and the effect it has on their classroom practice.
What emerges is a picture of a profession that is resistant to the more traditionalist tone of the “fact-heavy” new curriculum: one teacher says it is like a pub quiz; another describes it as a “quite staggeringly dull straitjacket”.
It turns out that teachers aren’t the roadblocks to reform that they have been characterised as. In fact, many want the freedom to experiment, iterate and innovate.
But all this breaching of boundaries and challenging of received wisdoms – especially when battling a torrent of reform – comes with a flip side: stress.
You need only talk to a few teachers to realise that the levels of pressure in the profession are astronomical. Gone is the time when school staff could relax for 12 weeks a year. One head of department I know tells me that “there really isn’t any such thing as the Easter break any more – the pressure of the looming exams sees to that”.
So the next two or three weeks – before schools start gearing up for results season and the autumn term – are an essential airlock if the profession is to maintain its dynamism. Teachers are the real change agents – just ask those whose lives have been transformed by education. Let’s try to keep it that way.