Daring to dream

2nd January 2015 at 00:00
Jo Brighouse

It's 2015 and my new year's resolution is to work in a school where teachers are happy.

I had always thought of primary teaching as a pretty contented profession. You get to spend your days with enthusiastic, unpredictable young people; you are never bored and, if you're having a bad week, you can tear up the timetable and spend Friday afternoon making Tudor houses out of shoeboxes.

But things change. The current climate of performance-related pay, dialogic marking and assessment of anything with a pulse doesn't help. In the past, at the end of a busy day, you could decompress in the staffroom for 10 minutes before going off to tidy your classroom. Now, 3.30pm feels like a starting gun as you rush to tackle as much marking, assessing and form-filling as you can before the caretaker kicks you out at 6pm and you go home to finish the job.

Yet even this would be manageable if you felt valued and trusted. In my school we work in a climate of fear where teachers are kept on an increasingly tight rein and managers are ordered to rule with a rod of iron.

Even at Christmas time, when the excitement is palpable and the hall is filled with carols and miniature shepherds, stress levels remain high. In the last week of term I had three teachers crying in my classroom.

As we continue to do all we can to boost children's happiness and lift their self-esteem, the idea that teachers might occasionally need the same treatment is distinctly out of vogue. Even small things designed to brighten the daily lives of staff have been banned: the boxes of cut-price books for sale in the staffroom; the dinner ladies' habit of congregating for a cuppa before their shift starts; chatting to the cleaners at the end of the day (teaching staff and cleaners are now officially forbidden from conversing).

I suppose you can run a school this way, but people management that is all stick and no carrot comes at a cost. In the past few years the turnover rate among teaching staff in my school has reached more than 90 per cent. Sats levels may be rising but the number of teachers who can greet past pupils and locate the megaphone from last summer's sports day is at an all-time low.

And it is about to get lower. Having handed in my notice with no plan in place, I somehow found myself with three potential new jobs. The first was in a school so wonderful, so creative and exuding such happiness that I was worried it would be too great a shock to my system - like moving from Stalingrad to the Land of Oz. It was also a long drive away. The second was at a school where a former colleague reliably informed me that staff were content. The third was at a school with a good reputation and very low staff turnover.

I threw all my efforts at number three and was offered the job. I am hoping it will turn out to be just right. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to a happy new year.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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