From The Editor - The year may be new but will it be happy?

4th January 2013 at 00:00

It's traditional at this time of year to reflect on the highs and lows of the previous 12 months, make a couple of wild guesses about the next 12 and end with bland reassurance. But frankly, reviewing the rubble of 2012 and the unpromising look of 2013, it's tempting to crawl back under the duvet and hope that 2014 arrives sooner than possible.

The best thing about 2013 is that we can say good riddance to 2012. Yes, the Olympics were brilliant but education had a torrid time. It wasn't just that pensions were cut, Ofsted got tough and Ofqual presided over a qualifications meltdown. It wasn't even that the sector was inevitably infected by economic gloom. It was more intangible than that. The profession became seriously demoralised.

Many teachers will not accept that diagnosis. The thousands who got a new job, or a promotion, or helped their pupils to unprecedented achievements probably wouldn't. But there are indications that large numbers are quitting teaching altogether and suspicions that many who remain are fed up.

This ennui extends beyond the usual suspects - the ranting union militants, predictable Gove-haters or serial staffroom pessimists. And it's not so much political fury as emotional exhaustion. Not the typical, end-of-term enervation but serious deflation, a feeling that the joy has been squeezed out of teaching, prompting many to question if it's worth soldiering on.

The cause is not necessarily the nature of the changes introduced but their sheer number. Ofsted overhauled, the curriculum reformed, pensions restructured, funding restructured, schools restructured and on and on. Permanent revolution can become very, very wearing.

Even sensible reforms haven't always played out sensibly. An emphasis on the importance of grammar, for instance, is reasonable; a rigid system of marking that insists on the proper use of a semicolon but is blind to the fluency of an essay is not. Tracking school progress through exam results is justifiable; turning exams principally into school targets at the expense of pupils' needs isn't.

And then there is the government. To blame the education secretary for all the ills that afflict the profession is foolish and wrong. But his department has made unnecessary enemies and has too often treated schools much as Cortes treated the Aztecs. It plays tribal politics with education policy, prefers partisanship to consensus and spins faux-Thatcherite stories for the press. Above all it gives the impression that teachers are always the problem and rarely the solution. "What can you do with people like these?" seems to be its attitude, an ironic echo of those few feckless teachers who excuse mediocrity by blaming pupils.

It is 2013, the third year of the coalition. In education, at least, it cannot be accused of a lack of ambition. But it can be charged with a failure of leadership. Those schools it continually challenges are its responsibility, not someone else's.

Changes bed down, creases are ironed out, idiocies can be ditched. As the dust settles, teachers may get back their mojo. But change would be more palatable if the department upped the love and reined in the contempt. Then 2013 could end up being a lot happier than it looks like being at present.

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