07 May 2024

The Monday Briefing 6th May 2024: Jump

Monday Briefing 6th May: Jump

“They need to address the funding for wider services. Special educational needs funding is a car crash and needs to be resolved. We need a strategy around children in poverty that befits a country as wealthy as we are. Teacher pay has fallen in real terms since 2010 – pay matters, because it’s a statement of value, and at the moment, the message is that society doesn’t really value education. They have to rescope what they’re asking schools to do and ask them to do a lot less, or put a load more money in to allow them to resource the gazillion things they’ve asked them to do. That’s it. That’s the choice.”

Sinead Mc Brearty, CEO of Education Support

This fairly damning assessment of the urgent need for government action on education featured in an article in The Independent today, entitled ‘The mental health crisis crushing teachers – and what it means for schools.’

The system appears to be unsustainable for those delivering it on the front line, and heading for far worse according to the statistics supporting the premise of the article:

- In 2017, 67 per cent of schoolteachers were reporting feelings of stress – by 2023, that figure had risen starkly to 78 per cent.

- Among 12,000 teachers, 23 per cent reported drinking more alcohol, 12 per cent the use of or increased use of antidepressants, and 3 per cent said they had self-harmed as a result of their work.

- 40,000 teachers resigned from state schools in 2021/22 – almost 9 per cent of the teaching workforce, and the highest number since it began publishing the data in 2011.

- There is a Facebook group called “Life After Teaching – Exit the Classroom and Thrive”, which currently has 159,000 members

From my perspective, my passion for the profession, to give as much as I can for every student I can, has never waned in the twenty years I’ve been involved, and I’ve never been tempted to jump to something else - I simply could not fathom it. I’m a career teacher and perhaps the teaching life is too ingrained within me now to consider alternatives.

But I’m incredibly lucky - I work in a school with manageable class sizes, teaching groups of biddable students who are, overwhelmingly, polite, kind and keen to get down to work in the hope that they can make the very best of themselves. Yes, we have a significant number of students with a significant number of issues, but the College works, it makes differences to lives, and, with it, brings a certain degree of personal pride in the job I do.

As a leader, I also work to ensure that staff conditions are conducive to supporting a healthy work-life balance, and I put the wellbeing of both staff and students very high up the priority list. I do this because I know just how difficult recruitment and retention is - and I understand that morale in the profession at present is low. We have to make the role attractive here, and the best way to do that is by allowing teachers to teach. I work to ensure that there is a pervasive culture of hard working students in the College who pay due respect to the staff. Any lapses in that are challenged immediately and with purpose. That is not the case in every school though - and levels of behaviour and positive engagement amongst students is extremely variable. I’m of the opinion that this, school culture, is the key reason why teachers move on - whether it resonates in the student body, the staff body, or both. 

I was drawn to a post on Facebook by one of my friends and former colleagues the other day, where a school I used to work at is offering staff an arrangement whereby they would work for 9 days in a two week period, whilst being paid in full for the entire fortnight of work. They intend to bring this in for all staff from September.

I know that this school has a big staff turnover, and finds it difficult to retain and recruit staff - they have 15 adverts active at the moment looking for staff to start in September. There must be considerable consternation amongst the leadership as to whether those positions can be filled. 

Again, I’m very fortunate to be in a position to say that we have no teaching vacancies for September. Only from such positions can one plan moving forward with any certainty. I see this as an indictment of the culture at Ealing. If staff are happy to work here, and to remain committed to the project we have, then we must be doing something right.

I also know that the leadership at my former school is innovative, and that it has, in the past, come up with some good solutions to difficult problems. I do not know of many, if any, schools which are adopting this approach. So, could ‘work nine, paid ten’ work?

The offer sounds incredibly appealing. 

“The premise is simple, you will work nine days but be paid for ten, using the tenth day to ‘reset’, and thus giving you the opportunity to manage your work-life balance more effectively. You will also enjoy a Wellness Day to relax and unwind every year in addition to school holidays.”

Following the pandemic, and along with it, the advent of homeworking, when schools returned, there was no way such a format could be extended to teachers. On the contrary, I recall my happiness when I got back into school, of the ability to experience what I would call the ‘little moments’ again - the conversations with students in the corridor, asking how they are and being a listening ear for them - something which Covid had deprived all educationalists of. Teaching is very much a face to face profession - and the best teachers thrive on the nature of it being that way. They are ‘people persons.’

‘Work nine, paid ten’ could well be a game changer, but it initially raises questions for me, and we have a number of part time staff who work their number of allocated hours by choice, so I have some insight:

- Could such an arrangement be initiated in the education sector? 

It is not as though teaching is a 9-5 job like some others. 

I recall finishing my week at the school, looking to implement this, and feeling like my role was rarely, if ever, kept on top of. I always felt like there was something to attend to and that feeling does not go away easily. If I am not there, and school is ongoing, then the work continues to grow. It would, to me, seem like going back to school after a day out training every fortnight, which brings with it more stress. I know of many staff who would rather be in school than out. What about the staff who would rather ‘work ten’?

- How would a student feel if they had a major issue and the member of staff they trust the most was not in as it was their ‘day off’?

Some students are willing to confide in only one person, and if the time to act is missed, that can cause knock-on effects.

- How far is it possible in teaching to have an effective ‘reset’, given the fact that most of those in the profession that I know, at the end of a term, take days if not weeks to fully decompress? 

Would staff members not just feel the need to take their marking or other admin home and clear that burden on the ‘reset’ day? I know that I couldn’t just switch off. The job is always, to some extent, on my mind.

- What does a wellness day look like? 

My mind is drawn to staff activity days which draw more stress to some staff than a normal day of work.

Such an arrangement would take a great deal of creativity in terms of timetabling - so, straight away, I would commend the member of staff responsible for that.

And I also commend the idea itself. 

It is obvious that teaching is no longer the attractive proposition it once was, and that something needs to be done, with some thinking outside the box, which, hopefully, brings positive results. 

A few weeks ago, there was considerable media attention on a school close to us which is trialling a 12-hour school day between breakfast time and dinner, as well as bringing in public speaking lessons and a smartphone ban in order to prepare pupils for adult life. Education is an ever changing industry - and innovation should be welcomed, with the hope that the sector, as a whole, can be strengthened.

I will follow these developments with interest.

News Teaching and Learning
  • 14


    Monday Briefing 13th May 2024: How High

    When are luxury goods not luxury goods? When they become a necessity. That is not in any way a joke, although the phrasing may have led you to b...

  • 07


    The Monday Briefing 6th May 2024: Jump

    “They need to address the funding for wider services. Special educational needs funding is a car crash and needs to be resolved. We need a str...

  • 29


    The Monday Briefing, 29th April: You'll See

    To study leave or not to study leave - that is the question. As we draw towards exam season, and anxiety levels amongst the student (and staff) bo...

  • 22


    Monday Briefing: Can't Stop

    I have always liked to use analogies, as far back as I remember. Not only does it help with the process of teaching by clarifying explanations of...

  • 19


    Ealing Independent College soars through Inspection

    We are pleased to share the results of our latest ISI inspection with you. In February 2024, The Independent Schools Inspectorate visited the coll...

  • 04


    Lesson Swap

    This week at Ealing College we did a Lesson Swap exercise. The focus is on questioning to empower students to take ownership in lessons and ask questi...

  • 28


    Amazing Biology Presentation: Nourulhuda Mohammad

    "Ever heard of the endoplasmic reticulum? Yeah, it sounds kinda complex, but stick with me, and you'll see it's not as complicated as it seems."

  • 05


    Monday Briefing: Time Stood Still

    On Friday, we hit the 100 day warning. 100 days to go until the commencement of the Summer Exams Series. Three figures, in days, still seem like a lon...

  • 29


    The Monday Briefing: Borderline

    This week has been quite an interesting one in terms of boundary testing on the part of students.

  • 07


    Y12 Conference - Exploring post A Level options

    Possible routes to become a solicitor, a day in the life of an Oxford University student, and degree apprenticeships were some of the topics of the an...

  • 06


    The Monday Briefing: Drowse

    Last week, the blog focused on the first of a series of comment pieces aimed at providing useful advice for the maximisation of preparedness for the e...

  • 22


    Model UN - Our trip to Boston

    The weekend before half term was one of the most eventful ones for some of our Sixth Formers: Five EIC adventurers flew across the world for a three d...