A open letter to Labour from an unqualified teacher.

Dear Labour Education policy team,

In 2015, I quit my job to campaign for Luke Pollard in Plymouth. Following electoral defeat, I delayed my entry into politics. I expressed interest in becoming a teacher instead.

Department for Education policy will set you up with two weeks work experience before applying for a teacher training course. Within my first week of work experience I taught my first lesson and was offered a job as a supply teacher, and at the end of my second week I was made a full time maths teacher, despite no qualifications, training or experience in either education or maths.

This is the Conservatives ghastly legacy of demonising Unions while ever-increasing the demands upon teachers in pursuit of global league table success.

Ironically – this pursuit has tragically backfired. We are now in the eighth year of the teacher recruitment crisis. Our results do not show much gain for this direction either – in 2019 we were 14th in the world for reading, 14th for science and 18th for maths. We can do so much better.

The crisis means that all across the country, schools are failing to recruit the incredible and inspiring teachers every student deserves. For eight years.

Instead – many schools are barely able to fill their vacancies, taking literally whoever is available – even if they are woefully unprepared for the role.

This is a huge affront to equality and a huge factor in our nation’s mental health crisis.

It is hard to stay as angry as we should be over a crisis that has lasted eight years, but the figures do not lie, and the timespan of these issues only deepens my dread.

A driving force of the global league table results obsession are the changes made by Gove and Cummings, based on ghastly beliefs in “genetic superiority” as detailed here.

I’ve also written on the blind political loyalty that has kept decent Conservative voices from speaking out against this catastrophe, that all involved know is harming student futures.

I have been researching solutions to the problem however. We must do more than criticise we must set forth a clear plan of action, I detail the context and plan in detail in an open letter to Gavin Williamson here.

My plan is this:

1.  Accept that a plan prioritising results cannot work without teachers to fill every classroom.

We can only succeed in education by making the role of a teacher one that teachers delight in. We have not had that in much longer than 8 years, but now it is interminable. It is exacerbated by constant attacks by the government on Unions and teachers who are working their butts off to try to tread water working impossible 60 hour weeks. Let teachers, instead of government Bozos, focus on student grades and they will achieve them.

2. Scrap Ofsted.

They are the enforcing arm of the governments mad grade target obsession and a driving force on the negative atmosphere (inspections drive a culture of fear) and workload (endlessly changing arbitrary demands) in schools. Why would some government Bozo in an office somewhere. who has never taught a class in his life, know better than an experienced teacher of 30 years in a classroom? If we were not in the eighth year of a crisis, I might be willing to listen to counter-arguments – but the data is clear, this is a total failure.

3. Take the existing framework of Ofsted and turn it into an advisory body.

They can still support schools and give them the coaching they need to succeed. Ofsted has a huge wealth of education knowledge in their staff, but they currently enforce nonsense and fail to help the schools in the way they would like to. Schools that do not have to fear Ofsted will be able to contact them for help should they need it. No school wants to fail their students, but at the moment Ofsted is the grim reaper of education. In the current system Ofsted exerts top down fear and pressure, that filters and amplifies through head teachers, middle leaders, teachers and eventually students. This must be replaced with a culture of support and coaching, which we know is far more effective.

4. Use Ofsted to train up local governors to hold schools to account.

Ofsted currently cannot do a good job on accountability due to the practicality of short inspections. Governors, familiar with the local area, school and students, are much better placed and motivated to hold schools to account. They can still ensure government dictats are met, without schools having to exist facing the horror of an Ofsted inspection.

5. Fund education properly.

Teachers are creatives who need time to create incredible learning experience. Currently a teacher can expect to have 10% of their time dedicated to preparation – this is woefully inadequate for what the job now entails. We must do better by our teachers and students. I recommend doubling this to 20% or 25%. Some systems have up to 50%. This will allow teachers to better manage the hours of dynamic interactive performance that constitutes classroom teaching. Give the most amazing teachers enough time to plan the most amazing lessons, and we will see incredible results.

6. As teachers return, we must allow schools to diversify.

One size does not fit all in our education system, variation is the human norm. Give schools the freedom to really specialise in arts, sports or trades. Let parents decide what schools most closely reflect their values and reap the benefits of diversity. The academic pathway is not one that all students should be forced into. Some students do need pushing, but others do not. The only person qualified to make this decision are the teachers that interact with them on a daily basis. This will allow schools to build systems for the future with the latest science and technology – which will be vital for our students to master.

I would love to help shape Labour Policy in this area.

Our students deserve better and I’m going to raise hell until the system is fixed.

Kind regards,

Joshua Russell

Russell Wellbeing.

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