When you're drowning, don't ignore a lifebelt

31st July 2015 at 01:00

Ask Google this question: "how many leave the profession?" Three out of the four suggestions it throws up relate to teaching. That won't surprise anyone and the reasons are well-documented.

"People come here with lofty aspirations and leave with obesity and fewer relationships owing to the stress and number of hours worked," said one respondent to a survey on work-life balance. Sound familiar? Yet this was not a teacher speaking, but an accountant.

Every professional thinks they are hard done by, pressured to work ridiculous hours to the point of wanting to quit.

A study of college graduates in the US, by University of Pennsylvania academic Richard Ingersoll, found that more than 41 per cent of those who became teachers had left the profession within five years (similar to figures from other studies). Teachers, Ingersoll found, had twice the attrition rate of pharmacists and engineers and about the same as police officers. Worse than teachers, however, were secretaries, childcare workers and paralegals.

Many things add to a teacher's workload: deep marking, assessment, the demands of meeting what they think Ofsted wants (or, more to the point, meeting what their senior leadership team thinks Ofsted wants).

In fact, the recording, inputting, monitoring and analysing of data was cited as particularly burdensome by 56 per cent of respondents to the government's Workload Challenge. This week, a leaked report from the Commission on Assessment Without Levels provided some comfort. It says that too much time is wasted by teachers recording children's progress when it could be better spent in the classroom (see page 10).

Nicky Morgan has waded into this, saying that schools are often too "accepting" of the long working hours (see page 7) and suggesting policies limiting the number of out-of-hours tasks teachers are expected to do, such as not answering emails after 5pm. She cited a secondary in her constituency as a case in point. For this, she was branded "delusional" by the teaching unions, who said she showed a complete lack of understanding of teachers' problems (bit.lyMorganWorkload).

That's not fair. The education secretary is correct to draw attention to anyone who has got it right. We should all learn from people who have found a solution to a problem we face, no matter how small. Teachers are happy to share teaching resources and expertise, so why not experiences such as these?

Schools such as Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire have helped their staff by changing the email culture. By limiting internal email traffic to between 7am and 7pm on weekdays, the school says in a blog that staff now see it as acceptable to ignore evening and weekend emails. That's a great idea.

Teachers feel the problems they face are not of their making. That is undoubtedly true, but it applies to a lot of other professions too. It is perverse to reject suggestions that could help.

There is a recruitment crisis (despite what the government would like to believe) and accountability pressures are huge. But these are problems that will take time to resolve. It is true that schools cannot "magic away the bureaucracy that is routinely dumped on them", as one union leader said, but if they can learn a few tricks in the meantime, they should welcome them with good grace.


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