Lynda Brine urges the new government to rethink policies to halt the disempowerment of the teaching profession
Dear Tony Blair
W e are the carpenters; we are not simply the tools. Well-maintained and cared for, we alone can raise the standards in our current education system. Since you were first elected in 1997, you have kept your promise to deliver extra funding for schools. In the secondary sector, where I teach, this has brought investment in specialist colleges, computers and new buildings. Yet welcome though this is, it still falls well short of the requirements that our schools need. This new money has simply provided the tools that enable us to do our work effectively. It is not, in itself, enough.
Your empowerment of pupils and parents is also admirable. However, your simultaneous disempowerment of teachers is shameful. When will we see support for teachers given the serious attention it deserves? In your 1997 election campaign, you promised both "pressure and support" to the profession. Pressure to raise standards I am all too aware of. The support, however, is sadly lacking. The ageing workforce, coupled with the diminishing numbers of graduates willing to enter the profession, threatens a worsening national shortage of teachers leading to even more pupils being taught subjects by staff who lack a specialist qualification. This situation will surely catch up with us over the next four or five years, perhaps while you are still Prime Minister. Now is surely the time to do something to stop this decline.
I am a head of department and senior teacher in a school in special measures. In addition, I am a single parent of two primary-aged children. I leave for work at 7am and return never earlier than 5pm; and my school day does not end there. You do not need to tell me what stress feels like; I feel and see it daily. Endless rounds of inspection, examination entries, behaviour management, monitoring and evaluation, meetings and agendas - and this is all in addition to my much-loved teaching, for which I have been awarded the notable title of Advanced Skills teacher. Thank you! However, at times I feel more like an Advanced Pills teacher.
Having recently watched Classroom Chaos on Five, I feel more than frustrated simply because I am infuriated at the circumstances teachers are put under on a daily basis. Staff shortages and stress are the number one cause of poor attainment in our schools in addition to the urgent funding needed. Classroom Chaos, in my opinion, showed a good teacher whose progress with students was hampered due to a high number of issues but most notably the disrespect of those who had been placed in her care. Supply teachers will always struggle to maintain discipline and learning among students. They lack an essential element in the education process, "the relationship". Developing a positive relationship with students takes time and is the greatest aid to learning.
For schools it requires a static staff who are working in a happy and healthy environment provided with a high level of support, not just from their headteachers but from professionals able to advise and help on issues of stress. Where is the teaching mentor? Where is the adequate funding for heads to enable recruitment and retention allowances to retain a valued classroom practitioner?
Having studied the new Labour manifesto, I laughed. I am amazed at your government's lack of understanding in the processes that ensure quality teaching and learning in our classrooms. When will you realise that it is the teacher on the front line who makes the difference to the quality of education of our children? It is for the classroom teacher that I demand support. Forget "Education, education, education" How about "Teacher, teacher, teacher!" We have school-based learning mentors and numerous support teams to help our children, but for the teacher, nothing.
During the past few weeks I have been contacted frequently by the Teacher Support Network. This is a charitable organisation that seeks funding from teachers for colleagues who suffer from stress-related illnesses - a clear indication of the sad state of affairs this government has brought our teachers to. Yes, Mr Blair, there is a lot of it about. So much so that we have organisations to support professionals who risk becoming nervous wrecks. Indeed, if I were a graduate contemplating teaching, having watched Classroom Chaos, I would swiftly reconsider my options.
The workforce agreement is putting greater pressure on schools, with some reported recently as contemplating closure early on a Friday to release time for planning and preparation. Indiscipline in schools by the minority of students hampers effective learning for the majority and your introduction of Inclusion in Education with school-based penalties for exclusion is frankly outrageous.
I would like to see headteachers with greater powers of exclusion minus the penalty this imposes, and more "Second Chance Schools" for the perpetrators who are destroying the education of the majority and the health of our teaching workforce. Your political opponents' proposals on this are sound.
Listen to the voices of others, but also the voice of people like me, who love and excel at teaching. Enable us to deliver excellence on a daily basis. This country has many a skilled carpenter - please allow us greater freedom to use the skills for which we are trained and relieve us of the need for those pills.
Yours sincerely Lynda Brine
Lynda Brine is head of science at The Armthorpe school, Doncaster