During my relatively short time in teaching to date (in relation to the 46 years I will have to work from the beginning to the end of my career to receive a full pension), I have witnessed a massive amount of change. This isn’t just in education policy, but also in the way that the teaching profession is perceived by the wider public. The teaching unions state that as never before, education policy is being driven by ideology and not evidence. Every statement the DfE has made in recent years, which is a sizable amount, has been loaded with myths about teachers, schools and the wider education system. It is my belief that the education secretary, Michael Gove, is leading a propaganda war against the teaching profession in his mission to privatise the school system. In this blog, I wish to address a few of the many myths floating around about teachers by passing on information I have come across.
9-3: The working day
The old myth that a teacher works from 9am to 3pm is still out there. Granted, the time we have with pupils is shorter than standard office hours but when you add in the preparation, marking, assessment, extra-curricular activities and wider responsibilities, the teaching week can be upwards of 60 hours. Research has shown that 55% of teachers regularly spend more than 56 hours a week working. Even when you take into account the time teachers have off for holidays, this still amounts to an annualised average working week of 48.3 hours. Indeed the DfE themselves accept that almost all teachers work in excess of 50 hours weekly. The long hours and increasing pressure is having an alarming effect on the profession. It is no coincidence that there is a worrying level of stress in teaching in recent years and a recent survey has found that out of 37 European countries, UK teachers scored the highest for ’burnout’.
Qualified Teacher Status
The best education systems in the world place the highest status upon their teachers as they realise that no education system is better than the quality of its teaching force. South Korea, for example, recruit from their top 5% of graduates and Finland from its top 10%. Both of these countries have demanding initial teacher training programmes and teachers cannot enter the profession until they have completed this. The rigorous criteria involved in achieving Qualified Teacher Status ensures that all teachers are trained to a basic minimum level. It ensures that all teachers enter the profession with a solid understanding of planning, monitoring, assessment and class management. Non-qualified teachers may be experts in their individual fields, but may also be ill equipped to deal appropriately with behaviour issues, child guarding issues and may not have the skills required to convey their expertise. This cheaper alternative may lead to a decline in educational standards. A recent YouGov survey found that 89% of parents said they do not want their children to attend a school where teachers do not have professional teaching qualifications.
The government wants teachers to work for longer, pay more into their pensions and receive less after retirement. Ministers say that public sector pensions cost too much and that they aren’t affordable. However they have failed to prove this claim. The Hutton Report found that the cost of the existing structure of public sector pensions would fall from 1.9% of GDP currently to 1.4% by 2060. The government have also still failed to carry out the overdue 2008 valuation of the Teachers Pension Scheme that should have informed any changes to the scheme. Therefore the changes to the scheme by ministers are carried out on an uninformed basis. Since the TPS was set up in 1923, teachers have paid in £46.4bn more to the scheme than they have been paid out in pensions. Knowing that most teachers wont be fit to work until 68, the vast majority will have to retire early on significantly reduced pensions.
Schools are expected to meet floor targets which currently requires all primary schools to have 60% of their pupils at Level 4 or above in English and maths. In 2014 this will increase to 65%. Every teacher in the country would wish for much higher figures than this and works to ensure their pupils achieve all they can, but being above floor targets isn’t always possible. These floor targets can therefore be counterproductive. There is no explanation about how floor targets are set or how increases in them are determined. Moreover, national exams measure performance only and thus fail to account for challenges a school may face. As educators, we know the effect such factors can have on pupils’ learning. Schools who are below floor targets tend to have more pupils from areas of deprivation and more pupils with special education needs. Under pressure to meet targets, the broad and balanced curriculum pupils are entitled to disappears in an effort to raise standards in maths and English. Schools below the targets should be supported adequately, not intimidated into narrowing the curriculum significantly.
There are many more issues that could be discussed here. The impact of forced academy status on school improvement, Britain’s ranking in the International League Tables, the policies surrounding Free Schools, the possibility of profit-making schools and school league tables are other issues that immediately spring to mind. The government often seeks to misrepresent the information available to paint teachers in a bad light and push ahead with their agenda. We, as teachers, shouldn’t let them. At the end of the day politicians are elected to government to represent us and to listen to us; not to dictate.
 http://www.standard.co.uk/news/education/please-sir-will-you-wake-up-hopelessly-outmoded-headline-that-probably-has-very-little-to-do-with-reality-in-modern-schools-7853999.html  Teachers Workload Diary Survey 2010 available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teachers-workload-diary-survey-2010  Impact of psychosocial hazards on education and workers’ health: Teachers Work-Related Stress European – wide survey http://teachersosh.homestead.com/Health_and_Safety_in_Crisis/HealthandSafety_PLA.html  http://mckinseyonsociety.com/how-the-worlds-best-performing-schools-come-out-on-top/  http://www.teachers.org.uk/node/17949  http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130129110402 ttp://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/indreview_johnhutton_pensions.htm