“I’m sure that doing what’s right for children – and being the teacher they need us to be – shouldn’t be such bloody hard work with the battling every day. [M]aybe one day we’ll be trusted and listened to.”
That was the direct message sent on Twitter to MP and former headteacher Thelma Walker from an early years teacher in her constituency.
Speaking at the New Visions for Primary and Early Years Conference, Ms Walker said: “The tweet was exactly how I felt as a headteacher – in that I used to think when are we going to be listed to and when are we going to be trusted as professionals?”
Ms Walker, who is a member of the Commons Education Select Committee, was a primary teacher and headteacher for 34 years before she was elected Labour MP for Colne Valley in Yorkshire at the last general election.
She said: “In Finland, for instance, if you talk about formal lesson observations many teachers will ask why do you need that if you have already agreed as a profession that this is what is going to be delivered at the curriculum – and this is what the children need.
"But why then do you need someone to come in and keep telling you ‘oh yeah that’s OK’ - because, as professionals, we have already agreed that it's the right thing for children.”
More pressure, less funding
The former head said that many of the teachers contacting her via direct messages on Twitter “don’t believe in the job any more” because of increased accountability, a narrowing curriculum and pressures on funding.
“Teachers and support staff and the school family always used to work together to make things work," she told the conference on Friday.
"For example when a teacher was off sick, someone would cover – and that’s historically how it always was, and that still happens in many schools. But many professionals are also now saying to me ‘we’ve crossed the line.’”
Ms Walker added: “I had a conversation with the education secretary and I asked him, ‘Why are teachers were leaving the profession in droves when it’s one of the best jobs in the world?'
"He said, ‘Well, it’s a hard job, Thelma!’ And I said, ‘Yes I know that because I’ve done it for 34 years and it’s always been a hard job – but I’m sorry it’s not just about it being hard, it’s about people having to believe in what they are doing, and people having to buy into to an ideology and a philosophy, and many professionals are now saying to me that they don’t believe in what they are doing and this isn’t right for children'.”
She said "the curriculum should be a waistcoat not a straitjacket", adding: “There doesn’t seem to be fun in schools any more. The joy seems to have gone and people are constantly driven by targets."
Following her conference speech, Ms Walker told Tes that the “sole purpose” in schools now seemed to be accountability under Ofsted, and that the curriculum was now focused too narrowly on English and maths. She also spoke of a “squeezing out” of pastoral care and cuts to SEND (special educational needs and disability) provision and the creative arts.