Leaving early with a heavy heart
Some weeks ago I decided to resign from my post as head of a community college in Cambridgeshire (TES, February 3). I was no longer willing to "paper over the cracks".
Most people saw this as a protest against the current round of cuts; letters of support poured in to my office, particularly from areas hardest hit by reduced budgets.
My cri de coeur, however, goes much deeper than this. I perceive a national crisis, growing each year, as schools respond to a wave of new initiatives most of which are under-resourced, and as teachers take on more and more responsibilities.
Most of the changes are for the good, but the simple fact is that the workforce is too small to carry them through properly. Such changes demand a huge investment and, as a nation, we should be prepared to make that.
But if we look at the life of a typical teacher, the cost of the current changes seems impossibly high. Let's call the teacher Arthur Chalk, an old-fashioned fellow who started out in one of the grammar schools so much revered by John Major. This evening he is writing formative statements for records of achievement. He muses on the time when "could try harder" sufficed. (I have looked out my old reports. Comments vary from "capable and industrious" to "31st-31, v. poor".) Arthur has only just got back from a middle management meeting which debated departmental development plans for the next three-year cycle. He can recall a time as a young head of department when curriculum was a half-hour annual discussion in the head's study. When he finishes his statements, he still has his marking to do and he must remember to complete the review sheets for the three special needs kids in his formIand he really ought to prepare his PSE lesson properly on grief and bereavement. The worksheet won't be enough. Thank God he used the Easter holidays to plan his teaching so thoroughly! Now, what's on the cards for tomorrow?
He has one hour set aside for mentoring his two trainee teachers but the chap is having a tough time and will probably need two detailed lesson observations. At lunchtime he must fit in an IT training session because English is a "strand deliverer" and he has problems with delivery when his own skills are so limited. After school, he has to see Thompson's parents and then moves on to the Education Business Partnership working group. He must remember to cancel his chess club at lunchtime.
Truth to tell, he's feeling overloaded but he can probably squeeze in a record of achievement interview if he skips assembly. He often muses on the fact that in this country, few go to church but we have to bother with collective worship whereas in the US, most go to church but religion is banned in schools. He's feeling overloaded because he's lost two of his four "frees" this week (only four now with the cuts).
Staring him in the face is the "overloadIillnessImore coverI overload" cycle. If he's going to get to Thompson's case conference he'll have to put off Mrs Blyth's appraisal interview. The strange thing is that his teacher friends in France and Belgium and Germany tell him that they just go in and teach, and he remembers his exchange year in the States where the head of department taught half-time and there were weekly team meetings in timetabled time to share good practice.
Perhaps John Major is right. Perhaps the days of "v. poor" were the good old days. But Arthur doesn't really believe this. He sees that change is for the good but he wants to feel that he can do his job properly.
I don't believe that Arthur Chalk is untypical. I am deeply concerned when young staff leave the profession after a year or two because they have no life other than their work, and deeply concerned when I hear that view echoed despairingly by older colleagues with families.
This is the national dilemma. We have, quite properly, raised educational demands and responsibilities but have failed to provide the human and material resources to see through this undertaking.
As David Blunkett said at the recent Secondary Heads Association conference there will be no quick-fix solution. "We have to look at how we can re-commit ourselvesIto a 10-year investment programme of planned improvements to give you some certainty and security." At a recent poll in my area, 150 people voted unanimously against tax cuts and for better funding for education and health.
Roger Daw, 52, leaves his post with unenhanced early retirement as head of City of Ely Commmunity College, Ely, Cambridgeshire at the end of term.