Tales of Discouragement and Woe

In the last week, I have had a number of conversations with teachers who are leaving the profession. I have listened to their tales of discouragement and woe. There seems to be a culture in schools of criticism and demoralisation. This filters down from the Government through Ofsted to Headteachers, who are told to do better, to teachers, who are told the same, to children, who have to be pushed through the hoops of achievement deemed to be acceptable. The onus is very much upon schools and teachers to achieve the desired outcomes. There is little responsibility given to the learner. For those that succeed, whether teachers or pupils, great! I was one of those children who went through school as a success - in the top groups, doing well; one of those we celebrate at exam time, when newspapers praise the achievements of local pupils. There will always be those who do well, wherever they are. But what about the children who fail? And they are many ... One friend told me she had a Eureka moment, when suddenly everything became clear. She had been given the target grades she needed to present to her class. These were Bs. The school had decided these kids needed B grades, so that was what was expected. Slight problem ... The pupils in this class' predicted grades were Ds, Es and Fs. One boy looked puzzled, and piped up, "Miss, I'm an F, how can I be a B?" And that just says it all really. I am an F. How can I be a B? I told my friend, "Don't you know? You are supposed to wave your magic wand, transform these kids!" It is an impossible task, and as long as it remains unfulfilled, both this pupil and this teacher are deemed to be failing. For my friend, it was a moment of clarity. "I can't do this any more," she said. And it has nothing to do with pay or pensions. It has to do with integrity, wellbeing, mental health - and with being part of a system we can believe in. Nobody wants to be told they are continually failing.

You would think that in order to do better, teachers would need to inspire more, to engage children's interest and open up new arenas of learning. Another friend told me how she had been told teachers could move from being good to outstanding ... By using the right jargon! By saying, "split diagraph" instead of "magic e"!! For goodness sake! Another story was of a staff room where lists were actually published of teachers deemed to be "outstanding", "good", "satisfactory" or not!! Again, super for those on the outstanding list! Outstanding, I add, by Ofsted's standards.

It occurs to me as I listen to teachers that there is something rotten at the heart of our education system. Too often, schools are not places where people are encouraged and thrive. And, just as expectations on schools and teachers are unrealistic and demoralising, so this same culture filters down to our children. For me, this is not a system in which I want to place my children to grow, any more than I would want to teach in it.