June 19, 2024



Has there ever been a more obvious time when UK politics uses “The Joker” as its theme, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.” Whatever else is true in these politically desperate times, Corbyn and Johnson pay little heed to education. There are 10.2 million school age kids in the UK but they don’t have a vote so they don’t matter. And, unlike many of the countries held up as examples of excellence, UK parents don’t always prioritise education when voting. An exaggerated pre-election spendthrift budget and we’re meant to forget the last decade of austerity?

We have a teacher recruitment crisis in our schools. Look at the number of unqualified, supply or overseas teachers employed in any school you know.

An 8% cut in school funding over the last 9 years (Institute for Fiscal Studies) and year on year below inflation pay deals ensures potential, budding and experienced teachers look elsewhere. The phrase, “Come on if you think you’re hard enough,” may aptly apply to some teachers’ lives in some London schools and there is a recruitment crisis in London as everywhere else. Today the government announced that new teachers will start on £30,000 in 2023. That’s sort of ignoring the fact that London teachers already start on £30,479.

It will help recruitment if teachers are better paid but this year’s unfunded 2.75% with inflation at 2.0% is hardly going to turn heads.

The most recently sacked education minister, Damian Hindes, told us to teach older students how often to change their bedsheets. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-48926535) There’s a man with his finger firmly on an alternative reality button – maybe it isn’t just Johnson, Stewart and Gove on various marching powders.

The new unelected (brief?) prime  minister, Boris Johnson has privately, and expensively educated all his legitimate children. He has committed to “levelling up education,” which is a profoundly misleading and potentially meaningless term. (https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/analysis-the-prime-ministers-promise-to-level-up-school-funding/) He will ensure that our kids are funded to £5,000  which is less than 14-16 year olds already.

It’s a wonder that his eldest daughter survived school costing him £33,000 a year or his eldest son at the £27,500 a year Westminster School. His commitment to state education is only in the state schooling of his youngest daughter, Stephanie, but then he fought a court case to deny her existence. Boris does not understand nor want to understand the lives of working families or the challenges to their schools .

Recently, on my favourite 3 Counties Radio I was surprised to silence the presenter discussing teacher’s pay. I have a pay slip, dated October 2010 for one of our teachers and also his payslip in June 2019. His take home pay had gone up, in 9 years, by £5.52.  Inflation was 17.7% for that period.

State funding of special needs is in crisis and there are so many SEND kids now. We have experts telling us that kids have SAD (Separation Anxiety Disorder) ODD (Opposition Defiant Disorder) ASD, ADHD, BAD (Behavioural Affective Disorder) EBD, MLD and SLD as well as a host of others requiring every adult in school to understand the condition and enact individual teaching programmes for maybe half the class.

My school receives not a penny extra to teach these children, and the increasing number of state schools refusing to admit or teach these children receive not a penny less. How can parents send their children to state comprehensive schools which routinely refuse to admit children the school considers ‘not good enough.’

I wonder how we plan for a child with Intermittent explosive disorder (IED) The disorder is typified by hostility, impulsivity, and recurrent aggressive outbursts. People with IED essentially “explode” into a rage despite a lack of apparent provocation or reason.

And she did!

Of the secondary school headteachers aged under 50 who were appointed in 2013, 31 per cent had left by 2016. One in five primary school headteachers quit their posts over the same time period, data from the Department for Education (DfE) reveals. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2018/05/05/almost-third-headteachers-now-leave-within-three-years-official/

If we had 30% of train drivers leaving within 3 years there would be an outcry and few trains. Who has ever shown that they care whether there’s a shortage of nurses or teachers?

At a time when parents are very busy and their kids are entrenched on social media and / or computer games, there are growing reports of stroppy parents displaying what I like, now, to term PPP (answers on a postcard please).

For politicians and Daily Mail journalists there is a simple solution to  every problem in society :  Schools should fix it.

We are responsible for Sex.

Ask your kids how much they enjoy their teachers delivering Sex Education and you can see why they don’t always think we are telling the truth. We employ a theatre group, Tip of the Iceberg, to work with our students on all sorts of Relationships, Expectations, Cyber Safety, LGBTQ+ awareness matters right at the centre of adolescents’ lives and worries.

Or I could do it and maybe teach them some of my catholic Irish prejudice and guilt.

We are expected to look out for Extremist Tendencies amongst our students and we have a legal duty to report children we fear are prone to extreme ideology (That’s EDL and Isis type groups)

In 2017/18, a total of 7,318  individuals were reported to Prevent , exactly 33% by schools and colleges (A fascinating government report: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/763254/individuals-referred-supported-prevent-programme-apr2017-mar2018-hosb3118.pdf)

Schools have to be on the lookout for cases of Female Genital Mutilation and we were instructed to talk with an African girl returning from holiday to check for signs of FGM. Thousands of teachers have done online training on this and we are happy to embrace women’s safety and it is shocking to read an official estimate of 137,000 women in the UK having suffered FGM (https://www.virtual-college.co.uk/resources/free-courses/recognising-and-preventing-fgm)

Our staff have raised over 1,000 Records of Concern about safeguarding, neglect, poverty, self-harm, eating disorders, depression, isolation, domestic abuse, drugged and drunk parents, bereavement, crime, bullying and violence in just 12 months. We work with numerous under-funded, hamstrung agencies to try to help the children and we employ as many support staff as our budget can bear.

We really do want to educate the child about the world and themselves and we would love to be able to point troubled children and parents to where they will receive practical help.

But, our jobs depend on the pointless  KS2 SATs where 28% of our 10 year olds had extra help on top of the endless revision and there are 6 categories of underachievement with “Below, Below, Below, Below, Below, Below (age related expectations) now replaced by PK6. The kids need help not labels. The schools need to be let teach Art, Music, Geography, History, Technology. PE and the children need to be learning about problem solving, teamwork and resilience whilst enjoying being 10 years old. Or schools may hammer the subordinate adverbial clause, because SATs demand it (the last 4 words forming, of course a subordinate adverbial clause – look how useful that is.)

We are happy to do what we can and want to see the world a better place.

Knife crime is killing our children and we teach about knives, show stark videos , have police officers explaining to assembled kids, reformed gang members  talking to parents and we stay vigilant. I permanently exclude anyone with a weapon in school but I’m not sure we can allay the fears of teenage boys outside our buildings.

We are also being asked to sort out

Gangs, Drugs  and County Lines

Mental Health issues including anxiety, depression and self-harm


Sexting and Access to Pornography.

We have been asked to identify children at possible risk of succumbing to Violent Crime. The Home Secretary has threatened teachers and nurses with arrest if they don’t notify the police of suspicions of children at risk. (https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/teachers-and-nurses-could-be-responsible-for-not-spotting-youth-violence-warning-signs-a4106481.html?

As the curriculum grows in content and narrows in scope; we watch the arts relegated to lunchtime clubs and technology decimated by funding crises.

We have so, so many accountability measures, some imposed by over zealous ambitious assistant headteachers justifying their position and others by government departments almost clueless in their assumptions. Recently they demanded we fill a spreadsheet showing that all 172 children in Year 10 were studying Textiles at the same time because one group of 12 was so doing.

But our own school leaders seem obsessed with plans, meetings, targets, evaluations and allocating blame when they should be reducing the layers of management, clamouring for resources and celebrating their teachers’ work.

Is managing student behaviour getting any easier? Are the support services – like youth workers and mentors – in place to help disaffected children prosper in our areas of high unemployment and poor schools? Do we see signs that Mr Johnson wants to dedicate resources to building self-esteem, ambition and hope, or does he want to build prisons?

We are teaching more, better than ever before and teachers overcome government attacks as best they can. So when Michael Gove promised that more students will fail exams, we just worked harder. The proportion “passing” has got to stay the same each year and there will always be the artificial, harmful and unscientific 66-34 pass- fail figures published no matter how much better we teach and the kids learn.

Oh, for goodness sake, teaching is not worth the heartache.

So why on earth do they do it? Why Do Teachers Teach? I asked teachers and made notes of direct quotes:

Within moments of entering the school a kid smiles hello.

I come back in September and the children are so pleased to be back in school and they’ve all grown.

Adults come up to me on the street to thank me.

I’ll never forget the boy who 10 years later called at my home to thank me for saving his life. All I’d done was spend some time encouraging his ambition when everyone else was just frightened by his solvent abuse.

There’s a rush of seeing the results for my exam classes.

The realisation that I have helped them achieve and move on in learning.

Sometimes I can be the only person who listens to a child, who cares what they think and wants them to develop as people.

Being trusted by the students.

I love it when they challenge preconceptions.

Being around young minds.

I love my subject; I think it’s really important and helps young people grow intellectually.

It’s amazing when a student opts to study my subject when they have a chance not to : GCSE, A Level University.

Seeing kids enjoy learning, particularly when it’s in my subject.

When a student achieves what she thought she couldn’t.

Seeing kids learn and knowing – I did that.

Watching children’s knowledge , skills and understanding develop over time.

Kids are so funny.

Teaching is never boring.

Every day is different, every class changes according to the time of day, a wasp or the wind coming from outside the classroom or from inside a child.

Making a difference to students’ lives.

Sometimes helping break a family cycle of underachievement, unemployment and poverty.

I love having the freedom to teach, trusted by SLT and free of bureaucratic restrictions and petty criticism.

Being able to try different things in the classroom, to experiment and keep trying to improve.

Nothing, anywhere in my life beats the lightbulb moment – when a child “GETS IT”

I work long hours in term time and have great holidays.

Our teachers have risen above the political interfering, insults from Michael Gove, apathy, ignorance and condescension from the Eton Boys. Teachers will be upset by the odd shouting parents and rarely suggest the cause of dispute is really the parent’s own problems, issues and struggles. There are troubled kids – we didn’t create social inequality, unemployment, drug, alcohol and domestic abuse – and we try to help them as best we can. That half the people in prison were excluded from school is a result of social problems and awful support, not caused by teacher indifference.  Our teachers love what they do and they do it with all their energies and commitment. In happy schools we are cult-like in our obsessions to help children learn about the world and their place in it. Some of us have done decades hoping that we will help develop the changers, leaders and good people of the near future  and yes, there is no more moral or political job in society. We are missionaries and agitators, challenging conformist ideology. Outside of family, our students learn post 16 that they never meet anyone, anywhere who cares more about them than their teachers.

So, why teach?

You still don’t know?

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