Dear Carole...

24th March 2000 at 00:00
'Throughout this excellent expose of all that is wrong with the drive for improvement, Carole and her staff stand up for the rightsof the child in the classroom.'

That was how one TES Friday reader responded to our article about Norfolk head Carole Clayson's fight to get the Government to listen to teachers. The letter was typical of the scores received by both Carole and this magazine within days of publication.

Her "alarm bell" campaign goes right to the heart of widespread dismay and despair in a profession that only two years ago was eagerly anticipating a new, teacher-friendly Labour government. Teachers feel demoralised, deprofessionalised, exhausted and stressed, wrote Carole in a letter to David Blunkett last November. Three months later and still no reply, she publicised her fears through the pages of TES Friday, saying the average workload meant staff were "too tired to have a life outside teaching".

Worried for the future of her colleagues, she identified eight common grievances, notably the constant stream of "initiatives", unreasonable levels of written planning, and judgments about teaching being made on test results rather than the progress children make from baseline entry. Education policies, notably national tests, league tables and funding based on "bums on seats", were harming the very children Mr Blunkett claims to want to help, she said. Children such as those at her school, Wellesley first school in Norwich, where 60 per cent are on the special needs register and 45 per cent are eligible for free school meals.

Realising she has struck a chord, Carole plans to set up a website, continues to take calls and receive letters from all over the country and has invited Mr Blunkett to visit her school and meet her staff. "It would be letting people down not to take this forward. I feel the messages I and The TES have received are just the tip of the iceberg," she says.

Today we publish your views about Carole Clayson's plea to be heard - a selection from over 70 letters sent by teachers, teachers' spouses, and even their parents. Discard the rhetoric, says one to Mr Blunkett, "and just for a change respond with honesty, integrity,and, most importantly, humility". Will he listen?We hope so.

I'd like to say how much I enjoyed the superb article by David Newnham about Carole Clayson and her letter to David Blunkett (TESFriday, February 18). The article and the views of the teachers expressed in it articulate so much of what is wrong with government policy. Although the message Carole Clayson sends to David Blunkett is rightly angry, the effect of the article is in the end encouraging. I'm just hoping that other schools will feel inspired by Wellesley first school's example to "take back ownership".

Michael Armstrong


I have been on the roller coaster of government initiatives for nine of the 10 years in which I have been teaching. I am utterly weary of them. What happened to my creativity? What happened to my professional integrity? What happened to the fun in teaching and in learning? What happened? It all disappeared under a hurriedly prepared pile of government bureaucracy (and I refer to both Conservative and Labour governments here), which involved as little consultation with the teaching profession as possible.

I love teaching, but I hate with a passion the unreasonable levels of stress, pressure, initiatives and paperwork that go with the job at present and that is why I had to leave - I could see cynicism creeping up on me, despite my best efforts. I am angry and genuinely sad for my fellow professionals and for the children in our schools.

I say to Mr Blunkett, for the sake of this and the future generations of children and teachers to come: read Ms Clayson's letter, digest the contents, discard the political rhetoric and just for a change respond with honesty, integrity, and, most importantly, humility - something we teachers would dearly love to see in a secretary or state for education.

G E Johnson

Mapperley, Nottingham

Carole Clayson was very brave to put her head on the chopping block.

Hilary Thompson

Hastings, East Sussex

PS: I think she deserves the Friday Hero bouquet (and a big one at that!)

The heroines and heroes of teaching are those who make a difference in places like Wellesley first school. Faced with unprecedented pressure from people remote from classrooms who tell them not only what to teach but how, they go back to first principles.

Throughout this excellent expose of all that is wrong with the drive for improvement, Carole and her staff stand up for the rights of the child in the classroom. For example, it is their right to have a trained professional judge their needs, rather than have an outsider impose a learning package designed for little Betty Average, or Jimmy Noname.

Let's face it, not everyone can be above average (though Kenneth Baker did once suggest as much). Why then must we always assume that a child's progress should be only measurable in quantitative terms? Some children may never make the huge leaps forward that the statisticians demand, but look at the quality of change in them at the hands of professionals such as the Wellesley staff. They perform minor miracles each day, like so many teachers in poorer parts of our cities.

Andy Garner

ATL executive committee member for Suffolk, Ipswich

Bloody marvellous article. Why is it that only women have the balls to speak out?

Val Prestwood

Headteacher, Maybury primary school, Kingston upon Hull

I have been teaching for two-and-a-half years. I joined my current school as an NQT about six months after it had been put into special measures. The school seems very similar to your own, in a deprived area with approximately 47 per cent of children on the SEN register and 73 per cent on free school meals. My teaching colleagues and I put in phenomenal efforts to improve our school and we were brought off special measures in February 1999. Since then, there has been no thanks, no let up in the workload or stress levels, and staff morale is at an all-time low.

I love my job. I take pleasure in the children's achievements, in watching the sullen, uncommunicative, withdrawn, sad ones begin to open up to the world and respond to encouragement and praise; in being a part of their lives. And yet I find myself wondering where it is going to end. I am exhausted, stressed, demoralised and de-professionalised by the constantly increasing workload. I am, as you said in your article, "too tired for a life outside teaching".

I am getting married this autumn, and taking just a five-day honeymoon. This should be the happiest time of my life, but already there is a cloud over it: when will I get my planning done for the half-term up to Christmas? I find myself thinking that the only way I can save my sanity, my health and my relationship with my future husband is to leave the profession. I don't know what else I could do, having wanted to teach all my life, but I feel I am being forced out, forced to choose between a life and teaching.

Your article, and your letter to Mr Blunkett, has proved what so many of us suspected: that no one is listening. Teachers deserve to be heard and we deserve more people like yourself in our corner. Schools aren't businesses, and children aren't pieces of paper and test results to be filed away and shuffled around. My hope for the future is that the powers that be see this before it is too late for this generation of children - and teachers.

Name and address supplied

Congratulations on a wonderful article! You have said everything and more which both my staff, myself and every colleague I meet are saying at present. Thank you for taking the time to voice your feelings. If you don't get a reply then you will know for sure that the Government doesn't care as long as it gets some more votes on the back of our hard work. If you do get a reply then you will know that the minister is doing a damage limitation exercise.

Mr J N Walker, headteacher

Church St Nicholas C of E SchoolAccrington, Lancashire

Initiative and organisational overload at school level has become an untameable beast that is curtailing effective school and classroom management. Is Mr Blunkett really aware of the toll this is having on staff in primary schools? I was prompted to write to him because I have lost, and am going to lose, "excellent" practitioners, both within my school and in our cluster group. Headteacher colleagues whose effectiveness has been acknowledged are also frustrated with the present situation. I am sure this is not peculiar to our part of the country.

I came into education from industry 12 years ago, had a successful Ofsted report in February 1998, but I find the job less invigorating and my role more tedious due to the current educational climate. Don't let 'em grind you down!

Kevin Bullock, headteacher

Fordham primary schoolEly, Cambridgeshire

Well here I am, sat in front of the school computer at 11.30pm on a Sunday evening with two more hours of work to go before I can even begin to feel on top of the week - ridiculous!

Our school sounds similar to yours and I have always believed that one of our success criteria is just how many of the children carry on attending secondary school and thus succeed long term. Can't measure that with a test, can you?

So, thanks for cheering me up. Like you, they tell me I'm a successful head - so why do I feel so deskilled, undervalued and fed up?

Primary headteacherName and address supplied It was good to have corroborated what our daughter, a primary school teacher in her sixth year in the profession, has been saying for months.

We hope you will receive lots of letters of support and encouragement and that David Blunkett will at last listen to what primary teachers are saying.

Sheila and Andrew McCall

Crewe, Cheshire

I'm on half-term. I promised myself at 3.15pm yesterday I would shut my mind to teaching for at least a week. This morning I went shopping and again promised myself that if I bought The TES I would only look at the job vacancies in the hope that someone had created a 40k slot for a disaffected teacher exhausted by the sheer day-by-day existence. There were no such vacancies, but I continued to put my tortured mind through PRP, thresholds, fast track, Ofsted etc, until I came to your enlightened words and instantly thought, 'My God, there's a woman who is taking the words out of the mouths of 80 per cent of teachers in this country'. But why is no one hearing?

Why don't they understand that each year group will be different and you can't measure progress by statistics? I teach Year 2. Last year, 19 of the 32 in my class were "W" in reading. Surprise, surprise, our results dipped but only one remained at W, which was a big achievement and we celebrated.

I am exhausted by 70-hour weeks, planning, monitoring, Investors in People, twilight sessions, literacy, numeracy and NOF to mention just a few.

Name and address supplied

What has happened to the teaching profession? I was a primary school teachers for 22 years, but left in 1996 because I was not prepared to sacrifice the children for the glory of politicians and their business plan for education.

It was good to read that you haven't abandoned the values of child-centred education. All teachers know you can only lead a horse to water; politicians think they can simply order teachers to order children to learn and all will be OK.

The centralised control that has dominated schools since 1988 has caused terrible damage. You are absolutely right to speak out. It is completely immoral to set school against school, teacher against teacher, and pupil against pupil. Inspiration, creativity and love are forced out of schools and replaced with systems, tests and league tables.

Don't let them grind you down.

Christopher Draper

Penrhyn Bay, Llandudno

My youngest son is a teacher in a school similar to yours; from speaking to him I know that your experiences are not unique. One of the key decisions ministers must take is to return to trusting the professionalism of teachers and other education service professionals.

What I believe you and the rest of us are suffering from is the destruction of a system of running the country which worked with great success for many centuries under which politicians set the vision but asked other professionals - civil servants, local government officers, teachers etc - to design the pathways. Now politicians have decided they can set the vision and the route, and I am afraid most of the time they lack the skills to get the latter bit right.

It will take a long time to return to more sensible ways of working I am afraid. But good luck. Your children deserve you to be successful.

R R Lewin, principal and chief executive

Bracknell and Wokingham college Berkshire

I rarely read The TES as I don't have time. I am the head of a small rural primary school in a deprived area (seven on the scale of seven) which has just been Ofsted-ed. But my husband insisted I read your article. I'm glad I did.

You've said most of the things I would want to say. It does not surprise me that David Blunkett did not answer you. He's not interested. He doesn't care. His aide told me he was too busy to visit my school last year. I wanted him to see, at first-hand, poverty and deprivation and a hard-working staff busting a gut to give a good education. However, we don't reach up to expectations... No level 3s at seven and no level 5s at 11, in the bottom 5 per cent nationally.

We are doing our best as I know you are. Keep going. Keep fighting.

Dawn Whittaker, headteacher

Haswell primary school, Durham

I have to write this now before returning to school after the half-term and finding once again that real life gets put on the back burner.

You are a champion. We need more brave heads like you and more teachers who can take time out and realise what our lives have really become. Your staff must feel so good knowing they have a head who is putting their needs high on the agenda. Ican tell you what it's like for some of the others: hell!

Name and address supplied

I had thought it was well nigh impossible to register a serious protest with such elegance. There was cheering in this room when Iread out what you did. Dubai has a very pleasant climate, but you still brought a ray of sunshine, particularly because of your insistence on being heard. Your pupils and their parents are fortunate to be served by such top quality teachers. Iwish you fortitude, continuing success and enjoyment in your work.

Chris Woolford

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

I too wrote to David Blunkett three years ago, when he was shadow minister, and received a detailed reply. I have written to him since he became a minister and guess what - no reply.

A school in our area featured on the front page of the local newspaper recently, as Chris Woodhead used it as an example of an outstanding school in his annual report. While Iam pleased for the school, I wonder what this will do to other very good schools and their hard-working staff who do not share the sameprivileged catchment area. Iam all for publicity and accountability, but Ifeel there is just too much competitiveness around at present.

I don't think the Government will listen to our opinions. They have a transparent agenda to improve results in very narrow terms and they will manufacture these results in any way they can.

I wish Icould be optimistic about the future, but I don't think we are heading in the right direction and Ifear we are creating a generation of disaffected, disillusioned failures.

Fred Sandhall, headteacher

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

I used to teach at the middle school that took pupils from Carole's school, so I know the problems that schools like hers have.

I want to highlight the problem of premature deaths, caused by the pressures of teaching. The headmaster of the middle school, Thorpe Hamlet, struggled to get the school through its Ofsted inspection. I asked him how it was going and he replied: "Pete, stress like this gives you cancer." Oddly prophetic, as he died of cancer two weeks ago, aged just 51. Another colleague of the same age has just died of leukaemia.

I wonder if it would be possible to research into the undoubted mental and physical damage that Ofsted has done (and is still doing) to a generation of teachers.

Peter Davies


Many years ago, I was Sir Alec Clegg's deputy in the then West Riding. From time to time, he would come back - he was seldom in the office - in a state of great excitement. He had found splendid teaching going on in some mining village out in the countryside. He would describe it in graphic detail. We - the six or seven of us he had called in to describe what he had found - would be uplifted by what he had to say. And then he would add in his best chief executive officer voice: "And not one of you is to go near that school for six months. You'll find they are breaking some regulation or other and get in their way!" I once visited a primary school with him. We had gone our separate ways, but a few minutes later he came out, looking distressed. We drove away in silence. Suddenly he spoke: "I went into this classroom and watched and talked to the children. It was marvellous. A wonderfully gifted teacher. And, before I could say anything she asked, 'Do you think I am on the right lines?'" "Right lines?" Sir Alec nearly had us in the ditch as this burst out of him. "She's been teaching in the county for 20 years. Twenty years! And no-bloody-body has thanked her for what she has done or let her know how much we could all learn from her. It's unbearable." At this point, we really were all over the road. I persuaded him to let me drive; but I never forgot what he said.

There are certain principles, it seems to me, that have constantly to be reaffirmed. Simple but genuine thanks for good work is one of them. Sir Alec used to quote a long-dead HMI, who spoke in the diction of those days of "that recognition which our natures crave and respond to with renewed endeavour". And there was that reference from longer ago: "The bearer of these presents is Michelangelo the sculptor. His nature is such that, if he be treated with love and concern, he will do such things as will make the whole world wonder." Nothing about the need to pay him an extra height allowance for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel!

Feeling valued? Of course that is for others to deal with; but 10 minutes of the time of a stranger is a tiny something perhaps - even shared amongst 5.5 members of staff!

Sir Peter Newsam, chief adjudicatorOffice of the Schools

Adjudicator Darlington

As I work in a fairly disadvantaged primary school in Wolverhampton, your article was very relevant and I endorse it wholeheartedly.

The Government's drive to raise standards is important, but there are many related teaching issues (lack of professional support, behavioural and social issues) that are being neither recognised nor addressed. In addition, recognition that the majority of teachers are committed, conscientious and care about their pupils would be a welcome change from seeing teachers in terms of measurable targets.

Thank you for putting forward a point of view that is deliberately being ignored by the present government.

Elizabeth Cody


I posted a letter to David Blunkett just a few days before your article was published. I described how I am faced daily with children who have little or no substantive care or support from home amidst considerable poverty andor neglect. Not for them the inner sense of self and pride to spur them to work their way out to something better. They see grandparents, parents and older siblings all on benefits of various sorts and aim only to join them when the time comes. They don't discuss having a job, just ways to pass the days and nights. Many are from single-parent families, but experience serial relationships on both sides.

I want desperately to help these children, yet I am thwarted again and again by the way the education system is being developed. I can't believe that the Government is missing the beat as obviously as the Tories did about what is needed on a patch like ours to help these children and raise the standard of their academic performance.

The job of primary headteachers is hard enough anywhere as we are all being over-loaded with more and more politically driven, rather than service-driven, initiatives and bureaucracy. We don't need constant adjustments to the national curriculum and SATs, or new teacher appraisal and performance management initiatives that lower teacher morale over and over again. We need additional specific human resources to bring about a genuine personal and social development curriculum that has equal status and resourcing with the academic curriculum.

I am seriously wondering, for the first time, if it is worth my health, my sanity and my party membership.

Mrs Chris Massender

Headteacher, Westcliffe primary school,Scunthorpe

As a teacher with 30 years' experience, I totally agree with all your concerns. My colleagues at work and I frequently discuss these issues, but always feel that no notice is taken of "ordinary"teachers' views.

We wrote to Tony Blair about 18 months ago, voicing similar worries. The letter was diverted to the DfEE and we received a standard policy reply.

Mrs Heather Haykin

Nr. Keighley

West Yorkshire

What joy and relief to see someone in education in a position of authority and actually in touch with the real world, standing up for her own staff and all the other teachers overburdened by paperwork, demoralised by constant revision of documents and unrealistic targets, frustrated by repetitive and overprescriptive strategies, their creativity totally denied.

But where are all the other headteachers who are aware of the groundswell of opinion and who should be joining her protest? I suggest that, having despaired, they are in early retirement or in the process of being edged out by higher authorities as "unwilling to change" or, most alarmingly, so afraid of inspectors and for their own careers that they shut up and even try to curb those teachers who do speak out.

In such a situation, can there be any hope for improvement? Keep it up Carole! If only there were more heads like you!

Name and address withheld

What never ceases to amaze me is that so many teachers are still in the classroom, desperately yet still cheerfully turning this way and that to fulfil the needs of the latest politically inspired tactic to prevent teachers from becoming complacent!

In the (thankfully) little educational jargon I see these days, the word "children" rarely appears; it's as though they are mere nuts and bolts on some distant production line, and it angers me to see them treated so clinically in their most sensitive and formative years.

I've overheard teachers say they'd rather be stacking shelves in a supermarket than be as demoralised as they are now. I can foresee the day when we no longer train students how to teach - they'll just get a manual children everywhere will be following the same lesson plan. Their bums will be on the seats, but their brains will be out to play. You must continue your fight for free thinking, creativity, inspiration, child-led enthusiasm and spontaneity.

Roma Oxford

Mobile Minibeasts, Huntington, York

Teachers need to grab back the agenda, and it is letters such as yours which will provide a catalyst for action. Talented teachers with qualifications in foundation subjects are being wasted. They and I see their subjects being sacrificed on the altar of literacy and numeracy. Their personal time is no longer their own and they feel unable to contribute to the children's broader education using their subject expertise.

Consequently they are either lost to the profession or, worse still, they move to the private sector where they are much less constrained.

Jim Price

Headteacher, South View community primary school, Peterborough, and president of Lincolnshire branch NAHT

I am a key stage 1 teacher with 30 years' experience. There are numerous schools in our area that have at least one member of staff off sick or on long-term sick leave, which is either directly or indirectly linked to stress. I have known many of these people for years and respected them as dedicated teachers. They are not, as Mr Blunkett and Chris Woodhead would have us believe, incompetent and unable to reach the expectations of the job. Three of my colleagues have given up teaching to become classroom support assistants.

Mrs Ann Field

Bideford, Devon

I am headteacher of a nurseryinfants school in a social priority area. My school has supportive governors, hard-working staff, decent parents and lovely children, who do well in a caring community. We recently received a good Ofsted report. In these circumstances it would have been reasonable to presume that under a Labour government I could look forward with confidence to a fairer world for my school and the children. Sadly this is not the case. The burden of paperwork, which the Government promised to reduce, has increased. The flow of bureaucracy has multiplied.

I am the last person of my college year still at work, and sadly I am now joining the ranks of despondent professionals who like me had such high hopes of a Labour government and are now totally demoralised.

Patricia Martin


Carole Clayson can be contacted by e-mail on: To read the original article about her letter, go to or call 020 7782 3045 to order a copy of the February 18 issue of The TES (pound;1 inc pamp;p)

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