Move forward? We can barely stand still

28th February 2003 at 00:00
What a surprise. The General Teaching Council's research on teacher mobility has discovered that a third of staff are likely to leave the profession within the next five years. Half of them cite workload as a significant factor.

While the research doesn't tell me anything new, it does remind me - as if I could forget - that for teachers there is no such thing as work-life balance.

That's why I was so negative after attending the Department for Education and Skills' national roadshow for school leaders, entitled Making a Difference Together, at which the ministerial team went out of its way to canvass our views and concerns. The conference should have filled me with confidence, yet I came away feeling worse. Why? Because for all the much-trumpeted openness, honesty and zeal, there is no public admission of the attrition our schools are suffering. The reality is unacceptable levels of stress and exhaustion among staff who are trying to make today effective and tomorrow possible.

I'm committed to the remodelling of the profession, but none of it takes account of maintaining the school's core business, and my core funding.

While we have a school policy that could read "if it moves, appoint it; if it doesn't, bid for it", I'm confined by my budget. So far this school year I've spent pound;27,500 on recruitment - and retention - of staff. My supply budget is exhausted and the two advertisements I placed in January offering a pound;2,000 recruitment package have attracted no applications so far.

We raised the figure again for recruitment and supply at our half-year budget review. Costs for the latter and for temporary contracts are already more than pound;90,000. Yet none of this is reflected in my annual budget.

This recruitment nightmare means we have to consider the unacceptable. We may have to reduce our RE curriculum if we fail to recruit for a sixth time.

This term, four of my teaching team of 40 - two of them middle managers - are pregnant. There's the patchwork of temporary contracts of largely non-specialists from agencies that are charging almost pound;180 a day.

Some are great teachers, but many are not used to the UK school culture, and find behaviour management a challenge.

The fall-out for permanent staff includes covering colleagues' classes, writing lesson plans, supplying resources and marking work often inadequately and inappropriately delivered.

A member of my senior management team spends most of his working day outside the classroom trying to recruit a succession of short-term teaching replacements and, like a quack doctor, tries to persuade me that today's will be the elixir of life, not another bottle of coloured water.

Then you have to field the fortunately rare but entirely understandable concerns of parents about the shortcomings of their children's education.

Before you get the idea that this is an unusual school in challenging circumstances, ponder this: a four-year improvement trend at key stage 4, students moving from just below national average to well above at key stage 3, and an Investors in People judgment that aspects of our work are at the leading edge of professional development. We've also created two national pilots and achieved specialist college status.

I have a marvellous team who come back for more. I love my school and the children. But I'm concerned that we may be so weighed down by the present that the effort every day to lift our heads and look towards the horizon will be too great.

The writer is head of a secondary school in the south-east

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