It is 4:47 am on Friday the 12th of Feb. This is the first time in my career I have been unable to sleep because of my job.
I was at a head teachers briefing yesterday and I was shocked at the level of morale, (I was told by the facilitator it was a lot more upbeat than the briefing earlier in the week!). There was a real sense of, ‘what is going on?’ and ‘well, we just have to wait on that one’. One particular moment is fresh in my mind as the facilitator read out the assessment changes for this year to explosive conversations, double takes and general ‘huffing and puffing’ filling the room. It was interesting to see this then turn into laughter. The hardworking professionals in the room seemed to find laughter the only response to what is happening in education right now. My personal favourite was no support in spelling for dyslexic children (They can resit in Year 7 and be magically cured of dyslexia!).
But that is not why I am writing. That is not why I am in my kitchen and unable to sleep.
I got an email from a member of staff last night, after I had got home from the head teachers briefing and was sending another head advice on how to deal with a social media attack. It simply said,
“I looked for you today but could not find you. I have put my letter of resignation on your desk.”
A talented and, very, needed teacher has resigned. She is not the first and I am sure she will not be the last. I have lost this night’s sleep to many, many thoughts:
What could I (should I) have done to prevent this? (There’s a great title for some training!)
What am I going to tell the parents? (One parent will be so angry I cannot imagine her response)
How are the children going to respond?
How am I going to find a replacement? (This is a challenging role and needs an experienced teacher)
Is the climate at my school so wrong?
Who else is going to walk?
I am putting the blame very much at my own door. I was foolish enough to trust you when you said that the profession’s ‘wellbeing’ was a priority. If it was why did we have an Interim Assessment Framework released (This week?) that increased already ‘at the brink’ Year 6 teacher’s workload? Why is it that, despite the many testimonies from head teachers, there is a recruitment crisis in ‘many’ of our schools which seems to be ignored? Why is it that the head teachers I support in schools are at breaking point? Why is it that almost everyone I speak to talks about a wellbeing crisis in our profession?
I was foolish enough to believe you when you said you were going to do something about it? Are you really happy with the response so far? Have I missed something and am I being a little melodramatic?
I was foolish enough to believe that things would get better. I was too slow to do it myself even though wellbeing is a priority on my School Development Plan. This year I have done a comprehensive teachers wellbeing survey, listened to each and every teacher face to face, written back to them (Ironically the letter was going out today) to set out my vision, trust and belief in each and every one of them, I do not knee jerk, berate, pressurise, set unwieldy dictates… I am trying to create a climate of trust and moral purpose… I’d love it if you could help me on this?
Maybe the current climate is a social experiment. Maybe we are weeding out the weak ones? When the dust settles we will be left with this super human army of teachers, able to teach 35 kids, write their reports, mark their books, assess their objectives, close the gap, attend child protection meetings, mend family breakdowns, cure mental health issues, solve social deprivation, stop cyber bullying and bring peace to the middle east… It will be a great day!
Teaching is tough, never more so than it is today. We need resilient souls at the chalk face, testing their mettle and cutting their teeth. I have spent 20 years in this amazing profession. I can confidently say I have worked in some of our country’s most challenging circumstances. I am no shrinking violet and I enjoy a good challenge but I need to do this with others. I need teachers who want to be a teacher. I need them to go home at night and not worry that they are not worthy. I am no lunatic head teacher and yet teachers are walking out? My school is full of delightful children, and yet teachers are walking out? I need teachers, I need them to be positive and believe that they are making a difference. I believe in them and I am happy to look at my practice and change it to make things better for them. Are you?
February 12, 2016 at 7:05 am
This is a very important blog as many of the points raised are happening nationally and the work-life balance of all teachers is becoming unmanageable to say the least. I am currently a primary school teacher looking to change the way schools approach the structure of their school in order to ensure all workload is completed between 8:30-5pm. I am working with a ‘lean’ expert who is confident that the principles that have made lean businesses some of the most well ran, as well as the most successful, in the world can be applied to schools. Our key remit is to allow teachers time to teach and ensure the workforce feel empowered by the bottom-up approach the lean model brings. I would love to speak to someone as passionate as you about your thoughts on our model. Thank you for such a passionate blog.
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February 12, 2016 at 7:12 am
Thank you. I already believe I am leading from the allowing teacher to teacher principles (Behaviour clouds this slightly)… But still feel that they feel at breaking point.
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February 12, 2016 at 9:24 am
Nicky Morgan certainly has power, but less that we seem to believe. You’re thinking long-term about your school and that’s important. What are your thoughts on the College of Teaching? For me that’s the biggest thing happening now; I’m running a free eCrouse based on content of the recent Politics in Education Summit (the one that sparked the Select Committee enquiry into the ‘purpose’ of education) and it includes Angela McFarlane’s presentation on the College, if you want to easily see a current overview – it’s on my website and more than 50 education professionals have followed the eCoruse so far. All the best and please do look after your own well-being first. Leah
February 12, 2016 at 10:52 pm
Love the letter – and as an ex Bristol head who has bitten the dust absolutely understand the point when the jib is no longer possible. I take my hat off to all of you who are able to keep up the fight – your bravery and resilience are far more than you should ever need to give. And never doubt yourself – that is the beginning of the end of a career xx
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February 12, 2016 at 10:59 pm
Did you get a reply from her?
February 13, 2016 at 7:42 am
Nope… I didn’t last time, though Vic Goddard did. Once I have 10k followers… We recently wrote to her about a major unfairness regarding data and Specialist Provision. That got a reply from Nick Gibb…
February 13, 2016 at 5:23 am
I hope you understand, but I am not prepared to put my name out there publicly concerning this matter. I need work. What I would add to your discourse is the culpability of heads of schools for hiring teachers on supply in numbers and for lengths of time that, simply, erode the profession. The lack of planning and marking time, quality CPD in subject areas and decent pay, support for behaviour (in many schools) results in teachers working dangerously long hours, and that causes the exhaustion and frustration we’re speaking of. But let’s go one step further, on an issue I have been raising for awhile: over 60 teachers a year kill themselves in the UK, and work stress is a key factor. As an international educator who has left the UK system, I blame: the government, unions and heads of schools and school governance mechanisms as well as HR directors of schools alike. I believe the vision needs to change, first of all, and then the goals and strategies to follow. Messing about with tactics alone simply messes teachers about, who are busy enough dealing with the multitude of factors that change on a yearly basis. I’d love your thoughts on this.
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February 13, 2016 at 9:24 am
You are right when you talk about ‘blame’ being at the doors of us all. With great power comes great responsibility and all that. If people in the positions to make it different don’t act then what chance is there. At the very heart of this is moral purpose, vision… ethics. My letter was born out of frustration, desperation and to a degree guilt. I have been in education long enough to have stared at the stress and fear from the bottom of the flooding well on many occasions.That stat (where did you get it?) of 60 teachers is a wake up call. Shocking. I wonder if it is higher when more responsibility is thrust forward?
February 13, 2016 at 10:43 am
What a passionate letter. Tears in my eyes. I recently left leadership, worried about my wellbeing and health as I have never ever felt more pressure and a sense that everyone else’s lives and issues were in my hands and I just wasn’t doing a very good job! I have had time to reflect… and your letter sums up how I now feel. I was just so frustrated that my values, the moral purpose were clouded by outside pressures out of my control and so the path to making a significant difference, to creating an exciting and engaging experience for all pupils and staff was often meandering and running off course. However, what you have conveyed in your letter is someone who truly cares and wants the best for all, you are inspirational, someone I would love to work with as I am sure others would also…. the sad thing is that I don’t think ‘they’ are listening and so we all have to make the best of the situation and keep reminding ourselves why we are in this job and the goals we are aiming for. I think ‘they’ should read Black Box Thinking and consider the damage being caused to the public sector. Don’t waver from the things you believe, the great ideas you have the compassion that you have.
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February 13, 2016 at 12:04 pm
Thanks for sharing this. I do think that maybe the publishing of the interim assessment exemplification guidance alongside the so- called ‘coasting’ schools accountability measures may be the final straws that finally pushes the profession over the edge. Let’s go,over that edge together- collectively and constructively as possible. First of all, reassure our yr2 and yr6 teachers that we fully expect about 65% of our children to ‘ fail’ these assessments so not to worry themselves on that account. Secondly to lobby for either a mass boycott or – my preferred option- mass returning of 0% results – rendering them meaningless. ( even more meaningless).
I think your well- being survey sounds like a great idea- would you mind sharing it?
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February 13, 2016 at 12:44 pm
Not at all… have shared it with others before. On half term this week, so when I pop in to work I will be happy to share it.
February 13, 2016 at 1:55 pm
I’m sorry, but all of this melodrama regarding teaching is way overboard.
I was a teacher for 2 years via the Teach First route and once I was able to teach effectively my quality of life was pretty good. I’ve since left the profession to enter into management consultancy and my working hours have increased significantly and my pay has dropped.
Anyone who complains about the hours / pay in teaching needs to stop thinking the grass is greener on the other side. It isn’t, so stop crying.
February 13, 2016 at 2:13 pm
That was not the point of this… I am quite sure it is tough getting up and doing the bin round this month, or out there farming…
The point was that the climate IS worse (I have been doing this for 20 years), good teachers are leaving, the work load HAS increased, the expectations are higher and teaching is tough… It is not a comparison with management consultancy or any other job. It was a reflection of where I am and how I see others dealing with it. I am very pleased that you had the resilience to manage it so well buy clearly others do not and are leaving the profession in numbers and in ways they did not before.
If the job had been so great (Better pay etc) interested in why management consultancy? And if your consultancy offers me – Buck up, get on with it – the grass ain’t greener advice… I may feel I should have spent my money elsewhere.
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February 13, 2016 at 6:11 pm
What a strange post. Most entrants (including ex teachers) into management consultancy expect limited salary levels and long hours. These sacrifices are made in the short term for lucrative benefits in the long term.
The idea that state the of the English education system, workload and stress might be illuminated by the experince of one teach firster who has quickly stopped teaching is an odd one.With such incisive skills of analysis I fear you may not last long as a management consultant.
An interesting perspective however which might illuminate the thought processes of the present government. Sad situation.
February 14, 2016 at 5:13 pm
Honestly? If teaching was so much easier than management consultancy and “anyone who complains about the hours/pay in teaching needs to stop thinking the grass is greener on the other side” is correct then I am intrigued to know why you aren’t still teaching? What stops you going back into teaching? There are plenty of jobs available….
February 13, 2016 at 2:33 pm
Teacher of 20 years experience 11 of those in Year 2 and things have never been as crazy as they are now. Just received the writing exemplification materials and there is no way I can retrospectively apply these to the writing of 30 children. If this year had been designated a trial year I could live with it but no children, teachers and school futures depend on the results. It is obscene.
February 13, 2016 at 6:12 pm
I believe the fact that you have been able to retain teachers at all is a testament to your leadership. There will be many who owe you much.
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February 14, 2016 at 5:22 pm
Sadly all of this resonates with me, and I don’t see that it will get any better. I’m teaching in a special school and find by job fascinating, there is never a dull day, but my Lord it is hard work. The only way I can manage my job and actually see my husband and have time for my own children is to work part time. Even then I work for five hours on both of my days off and on the evenings of the work days as well as being in work from 7.30 am to 5 pm. This half term is bringing at least three days worth of planning to be done. I would like to work four days a week, and my school would love to have me as I am good at what I do and they can’t recruit (wonder why…) but if I worked for four days a week I think I would burn out. So we are living on a much smaller income than if teaching conditions were more reasonable. If I were qualified for another job outside of education I would take it… I hate what my profession has become. I will encourage my own children to follow any career but teaching. How sad is that?
February 15, 2016 at 9:20 am
Lovely piece. I too am quitting. Don’t want to at all. Made the stupid mistake of giving the twenty best years of my life to teaching. In the last two, I was systematically bullied by my Hod and HT, then suffered a heart attack, miscarriage, and massive skin allergy which was about to cause Stevens Johnson syndrome. At that point, even the toughest person will crack. Wondering what caused such a sudden breakdown? Being threatened with formal capability by a new head and vile deputy head for academic. I was a good teacher and had good results. But Gove has ‘reformed’ the disciplinary procedures, making it so so easy to kick out good staff because they have reached UPS. I was treated abysmally. I am happier now running my own tuition business. I’m not the only good older teacher to have been treated like this. I am glad, though, that some Heads remain who do care…but you are few and far between. These days, it is all Americanised edubusiness, and the bulk of Heads I have encountered do not inspire my trust or confidence. Best of luck to you though, and sorry to hear about your troubles. I think it’s night time that good HTs took the lead and gave Morgan the ‘v’ sign, and ran the schools as they thought fit, NOT as they feel government want it. They’re going toe voted out soon anyway!
February 15, 2016 at 10:07 pm
I’m stumbled across this piece via a social
media ‘share’ from a parent of your school and it was titled : Written by the Head of my sons school – not a happy read.’
Firstly I couldn’t disagree more. Your truthful words are words that all parents feel refreshed to hear, why? You show that you are human, you throw your neck on a very fine line for the heart of your school.
Secondly what a powerful and educative piece. This is not a glum read, more of an ensighttful and quite powerful one. Parents need to be proud that they have a head teacher not afraid to speak out, not afraid to point at the elephant and lash his hierarchy for its flaws. I am truly overwhelmed with how amazing it is to see a head with such passion and care and this entire piece has changed my view on what I thought was a “good” school on paper, but was really an over populated, under nourished school at heart…. it looks like the mouths are finally being fed and the voices are finally being used.
Finally as a fellow blogger, educator and ex-pupil of the school (I mean almost 20 years ex) may I say that your warmth and heart has not gone unnoticed. Nope not even by us parents who’s kids attend the attached nursery on the other side of the town. we feel it and we love it.
My mother in law (God rest her soul) was an educator, in fact she co-founded our local PRU unit. And she spoke like you. Her whole educative ethos was built around “don’t let the bastards get to you” – pupils, parents, educational boards, the government, staff. what ever, just don’t let them get to YOU. she spent a happy and very very sought after 40years educating and sure she got the frowns and some disapproval but over all, every man and their dog loved her ballsyness attitude and many teachers admired her strength!! I see this in you, and that is one amazing person to be compared to.
February 15, 2016 at 10:29 pm
Crumbs… firstly thank you for saying this. I did not expect the blog to go beyond a head teacher using writing to deal with his thoughts. I care deeply about our school but I know that I will always be on a very fine line. Your comment was warm and heartening. I have a follow up this week that digs a little deeper. The teacher is not leaving because the school has a rotten core. We have spoken and it is, as the blog indicates, a bigger issue with teaching in general.
To be compared to anyone who served their community for so long is humbling and very respected. Thank you!
February 17, 2016 at 8:55 am
Wow- you have communicated exactly how I feel about our education system and the ever increasing unrealistic challenges placed on leaders and teachers. Having worked in education for over 20 years, I sometimes look back on the fantastic first 7 years I enjoyed as a teacher and HOD; I worked hard but there was a balance to life! I felt appreciated, loved my job, and had the freedom to be creative, ensuring that the curriculum matched pupil need.
Fast forward 15 years; I too often wake at 4am. I work 12-14 hour days (if not more), rarely see my family -all with the threat of not fulfilling the ever changing demands. This can not be sustained.
February 18, 2016 at 11:10 am
I really simpathise with this headteacher. I am one of those experienced teachers who resigned in December. I hated my job and I hated what has become education in school. After 20 years I had to give up. I loved teaching and I took pride in what I achieved with my students in one of the most difficult core subjects..maths. I’m a secondary school teacher and I have proof of great achievements my students gained over the years.
In spite all that with all the ridiculous pressures in school I gave up a highly paid job. I lost sleep and worried always sick that I might not be able to complete all those ridiculous requirements and demands made by everyone in the higher position than mine. I don’t blame them, they are under pressure to provide with money the school and to be able to pay us even if some have used tricks to get rid of highly paid teachers to bring newly qualified ones. Some are good and majority can’t control a difficult class and rightly don’t have that experience, but all have something in common: they don’t stay too long in one place and I don’t blame them either. I wouldn’t stay in a job where the demands are ridiculous and you work every day and in weekends up to 11 pm marking, writing reports, preparing and shuddering at all those inspections,
There is life after this as I work now part time, teaching and covering in a lovely independent school which don’t seem to have been touched by this demon and though I earn half of what I was earning I’m happier. Shame though as I liked being a maths teacher.
February 21, 2016 at 11:31 pm
Reblogged this on The Teaching Novice and commented:
Thoroughly inspirational… “We need resilient souls at the chalk face.”
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