Teachers are fast becoming the forgotten frontline in the covid recovery. There appears to be ample support within the labour movement calling for NHS pay rises, better working conditions for those in the gig economy, and greater protections for shopworkers – all valid and necessary campaigns – but very little by way of supporting those in the education sector.
Are we that quick to forget how teachers sacrificed their safety to look after the children of NHS staff and other keyworkers during successive lockdowns? It was teachers who facilitated the work of our frontline heroes, yet there seems to be little recognition of their contribution during the pandemic.
The education sector, along with everything else has been subject to over a decade of Tory neglect and harsh cuts to funding. Now, following the pandemic the government has unveiled a pitiful £1.4bn recovery package that will equate to around £6,000 per primary school – barely touching the sides. Labour is calling for a £15bn comprehensive package which would include:
- Small group or one-on-one tutoring.
- Breakfast clubs and activities for every child.
- Quality mental health support for children.
- Continued professional development for teachers.
- Targeted extra investment from early years to further education to support young people who struggled most with learning in lockdown.
I have no doubt that if delivered this would reduce the educational impact of the pandemic on children. Having lost eight weeks plus of education it is totally understandable that there needs to be a focus on ‘catching up’ so that we can ensure children who missed key milestones do not miss out on opportunities later in life. However, most of the deliverables stand to put additional strain on teachers, creating more work and stress for no extra benefits.
Even before the pandemic the education sector was haemorrhaging teachers in record numbers. As someone married to a primary school teacher, I have seen first-hand the realities of the teaching profession – leaving for work at 6am, returning home at 7pm to continue marking and completing other tasks until 10pm. Yet teachers are only contracted to work approx. seven hours per day.
Neither the ‘Vision and mission’ or the ‘Priority outcomes’ of the Department for Education’s 2021/22 Delivery Plan mentions teachers. The Tory education recovery strategy does not mention teachers, and Labour’s plan only references that there will be more training and development on offer. I bumped into a teacher recently who was on three weeks leave due to stress and exhaustion. How on earth can we expect ‘outstanding’ outcomes when children are reliant on educators who are regularly pushed to physical and emotional extremes?
This week’s call from Wes Streeting MP to reduce class sizes, which have grown across the board by 20% under a Tory government are welcome, and whilst the priority is given to supporting children, it will undoubtedly have benefits for teachers. This is a good start but more needs to be done. We need to make a better offer for our teachers and as a start I would suggest the following:
- Teachers working hours need regulation, which means that our expectation of what they should be delivering needs regulation.
- Clear role parameters need to be set, as too many teachers are now operating as social workers and in extremes some are performing basic parental duties such as potty training.
- The pay needs to be re-evaluated to reflect the challenges of modern teaching in a post-Covid world, as does the training and skills development.
- Quality mental health support must be provided on-site for teachers to reduce the need for stress leave and create a more positive teaching environment.
- Schools must be given funding to employ more support staff, to help deliver extra-curricular activities such as breakfast clubs and catch-up provisions.
There is a real worry that the education recovery strategy will prove to be the straw that broke the camels back for what is fast becoming a fragile education system in England. The best way to support our children, ensuring that no child is left behind, is to ensure our educators have the support they need to deliver outstanding outcomes.