'Theresa May: stop destroying teachers' sense of value and self-worth'

One primary schoolteacher asks the prime minister when teachers will get the respect and recognition that they deserve

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Dear Theresa May,

Having been a primary school teacher for the last 12 years, I have decided there is a need to write to you to express several concerns I have.

This country currently has the best education system and the best generation of teachers it has ever seen – whether or not a school has been judged as "outstanding", "good", "requires improvement" or "inadequate" by Ofsted. Fact.

We work harder than any teacher has done before us. We provide our children with more than any teacher has done before us and we put up with more abuse from the government, parents, Ofsted and children than any teacher has done before us.

The children of this country are at the centre of our concern for over 60-70 hours per week for the majority of us. Yet the legal amount of hours an employee is supposed to work in the UK is only 48 per week.

In my class alone this year there has been a nurture intervention running twice per week, a positive play intervention, a reading recovery intervention, a physical literacy intervention, a times tables intervention, a speech and language intervention, SEND interventions, a PE intervention for overweight children, a focus group for English, a focus group for Maths, a focus group for reading, special focus groups for pupil premium children and several booster groups targeting individual children.

The lessons are often differentiated four or five ways. The resources are differentiated four or five ways. Yet as a teacher all I see and hear from the government is that the education system in this country is not good enough. That we as teachers are still not providing enough for our children. That as a teacher I am not good enough.

At no point has this government publicly praised us for the difference we make to our children or the individual care that is provided.

The booster groups I have mentioned above happen in most classes throughout the entire country by the way, not just my school.

Every single child is accounted for and cared for and educated to the very best level this country has ever seen – yet it still isn’t good enough. Schools still are not providing a good enough level of education for our children according to this government.

You have decided to stop free school meals for our infant children, and provide them with a free breakfast instead. Does this mean that parents are no longer responsible for feeding their children? Does this mean it is a teacher’s job to ensure a child has eaten a meal that their mum or dad or care giver is supposed to provide?

When I heard that this was coming into place, I was utterly disgusted that as a teacher I have now been told it is my job to provide care and food for a child out of school hours.

It seems parents are able to accept less and less responsibility for their children as more responsibility is placed upon the teachers shoulders. We already arrive at school at 7.30am just to get our lessons ready for the day. I suppose this means we will have to begin work at 6.30am so we can feed the country’s children as well as plan lessons for them.

When will this stop? When will we start to tell parents in no uncertain terms that it is their job to parent their children and teachers jobs to educate them? When will we have verbal support and praise from this government? When will people understand that parenting and teaching are two separate jobs?

I have spent some of my time working in a rural school. A lot of the children would arrive filthy, in clothes they had spent days wearing and sleeping in. One boy, approaching key stage 1, wore a coat to school that was designed for a very small baby, every day through the winter.

I experienced a mum who was clearly under the influence of drugs drop her child off at school. The child was filthy, emotionally and physically neglected and academically poor.

Most of the children in the school were experiencing some domestic violence issues, witnessing drug intake and alcohol abuse on a daily basis and/or living in poverty you personally would not even be able to imagine, many of them from broken and dysfunctional families.

Several of the children had all their teeth surgically removed because all they had eaten was sugar their whole lives and their teeth had rotted out. It was obvious to me that some degree of malnourishment was present in a lot of the children due to poor diets governed by poverty.

I witnessed parents screaming and swearing at their children on the street. There were refugees in the school who had witnessed murders on their doorsteps in their home countries, and had fled in order to survive and find safety.

Many of the children had some kind of social service involvement within their families or were classed as children requiring protection. Barely any of the children spoke English at home and were learning the language solely at school. Fifty per cent of them had not been toilet trained and could not use the toilet independently when they began in the school.

The most shocking part of what I have just said? All of the children I am talking about were in key stage 1. I was at this school for less than a year, yet in that short amount of time, this is what I had witnessed. 

In the same school, there are 38 different languages spoken and a large percentage of asylum seekers and refugees. The accommodation most children live in is squalor that is overcrowded. In some cases 13 people are living in a one-bedroomed flat. Yes, believe it nor not I am still talking about the children of the UK in the year 2017, not the year 1850!

The children in this school can be unpredictable, violent and academically, socially and emotionally poor. They are mostly unable to attain well or progress well owing to the home circumstances they are suffering on a daily basis. But what shocked me the most was that this school is classed as "inadequate" by Ofsted.

How dare they? What a poor, ignorant and ill-informed judgement Ofsted had truly made. This school is the only safe place these children have. This school is providing outstanding care and attention and education to these grossly neglected and abused, vulnerable children.

The teachers are working 14 hours a day or more to provide an education these children can access. Non-funded nursery children are being offered full-time places at the school’s expense, just so they can be removed from their chronic home lives for as many hours as possible during the week, all at the headteacher’s discretion.

I have mentioned the issues in the paragraphs above because I once heard you say that children should make the same amount of progress as one another irrespective of their parental situation. I was shocked and horrified when you said that.

I couldn’t believe that someone running the country could possibly be so ignorant and so removed from reality. Do you really think that a middle-class child who is loved and well-fed and cared for, and a child who is starved, beaten, witnessing drug intake and frightened on a daily basis can make the same progress as one another?

Do you truly think that is possible? Or is it yet another stick to beat teachers with? Is it another statement that is made out of a lack of experience of the real world and used in order to gain votes?

As teachers we are feeding children. We are brushing their teeth twice per day. We are disciplining them where there is no discipline at home for most children. We are counselling them. We are changing their nappies because parents no longer feel the need to toilet train them.

We are dressing them when they arrive in clothes they have worn for days. We are providing opportunities for them to do homework at school (I thought it was called homework because it was supposed to be done at home with parental support).

We are trying to instill morals and spiritual growth in them. We are teaching them. We are trying to prevent them from becoming obese and cure obesity. We are trying to teach them English and keep them awake during the day when they are barely able to due to horrific domestic circumstances.

At the same time that all of this is happening, money and resources are being slowly snatched from schools. Teachers are working longer and longer hours and are becoming more accountable for things that they should not be responsible for or asked to be responsible for. Nothing we do seems to be good enough.

We are being shouted at and in some cases attacked physically by parents. When we try to discipline their disrespectful, badly behaved and poorly raised children we are shouted at and argued with in front of the child in question.

We are being verbally and physically attacked by children who won’t be excluded because schools don’t want the exclusion figures.

We are being verbally attacked by the government and constantly being told that we need to do more and more in order to raise the country’s children. We are being given all of the responsibility and none of the power. It is a miserable job.

Our job is now virtually impossible, highly stressful and very unhealthy. It came to my attention that there is a school this year in which every single member of staff handed their notice in for the summer term:16 teachers and two senior leaders.

Nearly a third of teachers stop teaching within the first five years. More than 10,000 teachers each year leave to go and teach abroad (because there is less stress in teaching in other countries and the workload is completely manageable).

These things should be screaming at the government that we need help and support and encouragement.

It should be common knowledge that the teachers of this country are the best that it has ever been seen and that the education we are providing compared to our predecessors is truly outstanding in all schools in this country.

Our workload needs to be reduced and parents need to be told that anything aside from education is their job. Not ours. It is time for a change. It is time for teachers to get the respect and recognition that they deserve. It is time for teachers to be given a workload they can carry. A workload that will not cripple them.

I voted for you, Mrs May, and yet since that vote I have been very disappointed in my choice.

This government has abused its teachers. It has, step by step, systematically worked on destroying the education system and teachers' sense of value and self-worth.

Ofsted couldn’t accurately make a judgment on a school if it were paid a million pounds. I have worked in "outstanding" schools that don’t offer anything like the support, resources, education, safety and extracurricular activities that the "inadequate" rural school I worked in offers. Ofsted is a joke. An unreliable source of judgement whose inspectors need far more training and experience in order to truly judge a school.

It was important to me that I wrote this down and sent it to you. At least then you have been warned that your actions are having a direct impact on the people who work for you.

The teaching profession is in crisis. Our workload is back-breaking.

It is clear that in a short time from now, this country will have lost teachers that it cannot replace.

Yours sincerely,

Vicky Beresford


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