The Headteacher: Brewing up for the perfect storm

Steve Woodhouse, executive headteacher, Wolds Federation of Schools.
Steve Woodhouse, executive headteacher, Wolds Federation of Schools.

You may have read the disturbing news earlier this week when it was announced that more than half of teachers in England (53 per cent) are thinking of quitting within the next two years. It is clear to me that something needs to be done urgently to avert this potential catastrophe.

The latest survey, conducted by the National Union of Teachers, found 61 per cent of those wanting to leave blamed workload and 57 per cent want a better work/life balance.

General Secretary of the NUT Christine Blower.

General Secretary of the NUT Christine Blower.

I have written about the demands on the teaching profession is previous articles and about the promises that have been made by the new education secretary, Nicky Morgan. (She still hasn’t replied to my email). Nothing seems to have changed and, if anything, the pressure has become more unbearable for many. Two -thirds of the 1,020 primary and secondary school teachers questioned felt morale in the profession had declined over the past five years. It must be a coincidence that the five year timescale seems to coincide with Michael Gove’s declaration of war. Our school staff are exhausted from constant change and government meddling. It’s time to let the professionals get on with the job in hand: teaching our children.

The findings of the survey are timely because last month the five main teaching unions warned of a crisis in recruitment and retention.

In my role as a headteacher, I see this first hand. The number of applicants and, indeed, the calibre of those applying has been an issue for several years. Graduates are avoiding the profession, and will continue to do so, deterred by the ridiculous paper trails, stolen weekends and impossible targets.

The survey, undertaken with a representative sample of teachers, also suggested many were unhappy with some of the government’s plans:

• 76 per cent said forcing schools that require improvement to become academies would damage education;

• 62 per cent said the plans for 500 new free schools would also damage education;

• 54 per cent were not confident the new baseline test for four-year-olds would provide valid information about a child’s ability.

This is a survey given to our professional, education workforce, the people who trained for several years to work with our children day in, day out. They are the people who appreciate the impact of these ill-thought out decisions and have to deal with the consequences. How can a so-called free school (costing the tax payers millions to set up) be as effective as a local authority school when it isn’t even required to employ qualified teachers? Sixty-two per cent of teachers appear to agree with me.

The General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, said: “This survey demonstrates the combined, negative impact of the accountability agenda on teacher workload and morale. Teachers feel that the Department for Education’s work thus far, to tackle workload, has been totally inadequate.”

“Meanwhile, nearly one million more pupils are coming into the system over the next decade. The government’s solution so far has been to build free schools, often where there are surplus places, and to allow class sizes to grow. Add to this a situation where teachers are leaving in droves and teacher recruitment remains low. We now have a perfect storm of crisis upon crisis in the schools system.”

Sadly, I believe Christine is right. The perfect storm isn’t far away now and I worry about the children, staff and parents who will, inevitably, be caught up in it.