In any working environment motivation is provided either by carrot or by stick. Carrots materialise in the form of incentives, bonuses etc. Those unlucky enough to be employed by establishments that use the stick to beat their employees tend not to stay long. Staff turnover is high, mental health issues increase. This is what is happening in teaching. Half consider leaving in the first two years and around two fifths do leave within the first five years. In some schools almost 20% are supply teachers and even more are inexperienced or are teachers that would not normally have been considered for the post. Teacher shortages are starting to bite. There are fewer applicants for advertised posts, especially in key subjects. In secondary schools, subjects like Maths and English are being taught by non-specialists, more so now that they occur more often on the timetable.
Over the last few years teaching has changed beyond all recognition. Those entering the profession soon become disenchanted with what has become teaching by numbers. The days of being inspired by teachers who had a passion for their subject and a belief that they could transform lives are fast disappearing, replaced by automatons that are made to teach to a highly prescribed script. Innovation and enterprise are consigned to a few guerrilla tactics by those who dare defy. The sole aim is supposed to be to ‘raise attainment’ but this political sound bite is misleading the public.
Teachers now work to a strict meter. Lessons follow set workbooks, each lesson a new page. Every child, in every subject has a ‘flight path’. From a base point their progress is monitored, plotted against a predicted linear progression. But children do not learn in a linear fashion. If a child falls below expectations teachers begin a paper trail eating up precious planning time. Learning walks by superiors ensure teachers are following instructions. It all boils down to micro-management of ‘nit picking’ proportions. Big Brother is watching you! It is soul destroying. There are no carrots.
To quote Leicester City’s manager Claudio Ranieri; ‘volere è potere’; “To want is to be able to do”. Parents want results, children want to do well. In this respect nothing has changed. But expediency is exploiting underlying anxieties to the extent that children, often as young as five or six, are being taught in a toxic atmosphere where they fear failure rather celebrate effort. The motivation to succeed has always been there, it is how schools manage and channel that desire that is key. Children are not financial investments they are human beings that need to be nurtured.
Parents in England are taking action to protect their offspring. Assessment, formal or otherwise, is essential but it is the emphasis that is being placed on the outcome and the effect it is having on wellbeing in the classroom that is eating away at the profession.
The motive behind the push to ‘raise standards’ in education was revealed by the UK Schools Minister, Nick Gibb. In a recent interview on the BBC he let slip that tests and assessment;
“….are there to hold teachers to account. They do not affect children.”
There are numerous other ways to ensure accountability within a workforce. And to fail to recognise the extra-ordinary pressure our children are being subjected to in order to achieve that aim is, at best, naive. If what is happening in schools compromises a child’s wellbeing it should not be taking place.
The reasoning is, that by holding teachers to account this will increase competition and so teaching standards will rise. The reality is a counter-productive scenario where broader achievement is compromised. Intelligence is certainly falling.
There are teachers who will remain, for financial reasons or because of habitualised altruism. Like any workforce, others will step up to the plate but whether like is replaced is like is an unknown. Teaching was once seen as a vocation but the integrity of the profession is being eroded and this legacy will impact on future generations.
There is a third way of managing employees, empowerment. But this involves trust, handing staff responsibility. I have worked in ‘failing schools’ that have turned themselves around and what they all had in common was Ranieri’s belief that by empowering a workforce this provides the motivation to deliver exceptional results.
This article has been adapted from my book Children in Need: Education, wellbeing and the pursuit of GDP. I’m also the author of Understanding Behaviour in the inclusive classroom (Routledge).