Tag Archives: Gove

Why anyone has to be better than Gove

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When I heard the news on the radio this morning I felt my spirit lighten: after all of the heartbreak he has caused as he dismantled our education system brick by brick, Gove was being removed as education secretary. Finally it appeared that teachers, parents, children and educationalists up and down the country were being listened to: we had roared ‘Gove must go’ until we were hoarse, and now our pleas had been answered.

Of course I am not naive enough to think that placating the victims of Gove’s reforms was Cameron’s motivation. I cannot allow myself to hope that now that he has been replaced the misguided direction of the Tory education policy will change significantly. I’m trying to avoid finding out too much about his successor, Nicky Morgan: I’d rather spend just one day in blissful ignorance. From what has seeped into my twitter feed I gather that her politics are at least as unsavoury as Gove’s, but then given her political allegiance that’s not entirely surprising.

The thing is it was not just his politics that made me so angry whenever Gove opened his mouth to say something about education. In fact the political stance he was taking was generally the least of my worries – after all, there were so many other things to be angry about.

There was the way he completely disregarded the professional opinion of people who had devoted their lives to education, presuming that his own experience of school could over-ride decades of evidence-based research.

Worse, there was his coining of the term ‘the blob’ for those who disagreed with his reforms – the sneering condescension with which he dismissed their concerns about the impact those reforms might have on young people.

There was the exploitation of those young people for photo opportunities to try to disguise the archaic nature of his mission with a vulgar attempt to get down with the kids.

The total failure to acknowledge the impact his race to lead the world might have on the mental health of young people and their teachers – along with his buddy Wilshaw he seemed determined to wear down all of the stakeholders in the education system, deciding that misery was a mark of success.

Another thing that made me furious was the way new policies appeared to have been scribbled on the back of a cigar box after one too many glasses of claret at a dinner party. Dropped on to breakfast tables with the Sunday papers they often bore more than a whiff of the public school education of his peers, and very rarely stood up to tight scrutiny in the cold light of day.

There was also, of course, the way he held up the private sector as the pinnacle of education, blithely ignoring all of the other factors that influenced the success of its alumni to wrongly presume that these fee-paying schools were fundamentally doing everything better than their state-funded equivalents, that within their ivy-clad walls and manicured lawns was the cure for all the maladies of the education system.

At the core of all this was the way Gove completely ignored the truth wherever it got in the way of his vision. He took this to ridiculous lengths – if rumours are to be believed he rewrote syllabi for English and History GCSEs, an absurd arrogance and grossly overstepping his role as education secretary.

There is so much more I could add to this list, but I can feel my blood beginning to boil just remembering all of the injustices served to our nation’s young people by that man. I am however finding great solace in the repetition of the phrase ‘there was’. He is now in the past, at least as far as our education system is concerned, and hopefully schools and teachers and students and everyone with their best interests at heart can begin the slow process of recovery from the damage he has done to their sense of worth.

There is much for Nicky Morgan to consider as she steps into this role, but there is one key thing I would ask of her: to listen. To recognise how much people care, and how much they know. To rebuild the bridges between the policy makers and the professionals, so that together we can work to carve out a better future for our children.

 

Why schools need to do what they know is right (just don’t tell Gove)

So after many, many months of reasoning, protesting and pleading from teachers and parents alike, Gove is still ploughing on with his ill-guided reforms of the education system. With Tristram Hunt pledging to undo little of this government’s bad work it looks like we’re in this for the long haul: a system devoid of creativity, culturally narrow and reducing the next generation to empty vessels to be filled to the brim with facts, neither questioning nor challenging the status quo and most definitely not thinking for themselves.

But it doesn’t need to be like this.

Some big hitters in the world of education finally appear to have given up hope in the state system altogether. Sir Alasdair MacDonald, one time head of Morpeth Secondary School in Tower Hamlets and now the Welsh Assembly’s ‘Raising Attainment’ tsar, has claimed that the only chance British pupils have of a rounded education now is to go to a private school. Michael Rosen has just finished a book written for parents to help them fill the gaps in their child’s education left by the direction that schools are being forced to take.

But it doesn’t need to be like this.

There are three secondary schools in the UK that I can currently claim to know well, and I know that all of them are full of teachers doing their best to provide the education that they know their young people need. They will jump through the ever-changing hoops presented to them by the government, play by the rules as much as they need to to be left alone, but they will keep on doing what they know is right. The leaders in those schools will seek out frameworks to support a more holistic education: Building Learning Power for example, or the International Baccalaureate. They may no longer be required to filter personal, learning and thinking skills through the curriculum – but they will, because they know it’s right. Speaking and Listening may no longer be assessed, Music and Drama may have fallen down the pecking order – but these aspects of their students’ learning will not be ignored because they are vital to their all-round education. Multicultural texts may no longer appear on GCSE syllabi, but these schools will find a way to fit them into their curriculum because to do otherwise would be to do the young people in their care a disservice.

And yet there are other schools who are, if media reports and TES forums are to be believed, collapsing under Gove’s reforms and following his rules unwaveringly. They are narrowing the curriculum in order to teach directly to the tests that he says matter, they are closing Music and Drama departments because those subjects are invisible in league tables.

And on one level I don’t entirely blame them. Because it’s hard, jumping through all those hoops. When teachers and school leaders are worked almost to breaking point it’s easy for them to forget what brought them to their classrooms in the first place. It’s easy to think that all that matters is being judged good by whatever the latest criteria happens to be, to climb up that league table and away from the reaches of those who would remove you from post if they deemed you to be failing.

But it doesn’t need to be like this.

In the arts, tight constraints – whether externally enforced or self imposed – have generated some of the most innovative and creative results. The Iranian film industry always comes to mind when I think of this: so many rules and restrictions and yet a body of work that almost any country would find it hard to rival.

The constraints facing our teachers operate on a different level, but they are still numerous and growing: restricted finances, an archaic new curriculum, seemingly endless bureaucracy, narrowly focused and high stakes tests. Rather than being defeated by these, schools need to see them as a challenge to be overcome. School leaders and teachers need to remember why they are doing what they do and find the confidence and strength to trust their professional judgement.

Because the pleading and the protesting and the reasoning is getting us nowhere, and if we’re not careful a whole generation of young people is going to be trampled underneath Gove’s stampede for standards. We owe it to them – and to our own sanity – to do what we know is right.

 

Thanks to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt ‘rules are meant to be broken’.

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Why the DfE is wrong to dismiss OCR’s new English A-Level as ‘rubbish’

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In a response to Gove’s demands for more rigorous A-Levels the exam board OCR seem to have thrown him a bit of a curve ball. They’ve worked closely with the brilliant English and Media Centre to create an English Language and Literature course which celebrates diversity in the texts it has chosen to examine – from Emily Dickinson to Dizzee Rascal, from William Blake to Russell Brand. Turns out this is not what Gove had in mind when he said he wanted to increase the potential for pupils’ ‘thinking skills and creative ability’ – at least not if we are to believe a DfE source who has dismissed the course, carefully constructed by education professionals, as ‘rubbish’.

This is yet another example of the narrow-minded approach that typifies all that is wrong with the people running our education system at the moment. They are stuck in the past, and have no understanding of how people learn or what constitutes good teaching. Worse, they appear to be afraid of innovation and change for how it might upset the status quo which they have relied on so heavily to gain – and keep – the power they enjoy.

Having taught English and Media in secondary schools for ten years, I know that there is nothing intrinsically dumbed down about the study of contemporary texts, whether they are literary fiction such as the work of Jhumpa Lahiri (also on the new OCR course) or come from the wide range of multi-modal communications that surround us in our daily lives. In fact I would argue that it can be more intellectually challenging to dissect a text that we are less culturally removed from – to unpick the assumptions that our media is laden with and see how language is being manipulated to create effects that we are usually just passive consumers of.

This is particularly important for young people, and gives them power in a world where they are surrounded by overt and hidden propaganda, where the written word has celebrated a resurgence in social media and where everyone now has a myriad of public platforms to choose from if they want to be heard. The ability to know how to use that voice and to interpret the cacophony around them has arguably never been more urgent than it is for our young people today.

There is, too, the question of diversity. Whilst the DfE dismisses it as ‘patronising’ to presume that young people can only be engaged in Literature through culturally relevant texts, I would argue that they have again missed the point. They have latched on to the headline grabbing names which are sure to make every self-respecting Daily Mail reader weep into their bran flakes and decided to ignore the fact that these texts are only part of a varied patchwork compiled to enable young people to see the power of language across boundaries of time and place. The OCR course in question has not done away with the canon – it still finds space for Shakespeare’s plays, for the works of Charlotte Bronte for example – but it tells students that language does not stop there, that other voices are just as relevant and worthy of discussion.

The urgent need for increased diversity in the books available to our young people has recently been highlighted by the We Need Diverse Books campaign. But until they are written, perhaps it is by exploring a range of different types of texts that the diversity that enriches our society can form part of an English education that truly reflects where we are – not just where we’ve come from.

Of course there’s nothing really new about what OCR are doing – for years teachers have used a range of texts in the classroom, and this has been reflected in source material provided by exam boards. So what is it about this new course that has sparked such derision from the DfE?

It all comes back to that lack of understanding, really. They don’t understand how an education different from their own could be as good – or better – for the young people of today. They don’t understand how contemporary texts they’ve never really engaged with could possibly stand up to a linguistic analysis worthy of A-Level study. They don’t understand how young people might learn from the words of people with similar origins to themselves, rather than by being indoctrinated by the status quo of white, male supremacy that has held such disproportionate power up until now.

And perhaps there’s another lack of understanding too, one of which people like Gove and Cameron are even more afraid. Perhaps they do not understand the world that people like Russell Brand and Dizzee Rascal speak of, perhaps they do not understand the new cultural norms which are sweeping the globe – perhaps they do not want to, but perhaps they are even more terrified by the thought of being surrounded by people that do.

Perhaps this is why their spokesperson resorted to such an immature and unsophisticated rebuke. To dismiss this new course as ‘rubbish’ is insulting on so many levels – and such a dismissal can only have come from someone who really doesn’t understand, and is afraid that in their lack of understanding the world is just going to start to pass them by.

We owe our young people more than that. We owe them an education which prepares them for the world they live in – this includes the opportunity to study the canon, but also to get their teeth into the complexities of multi-modal communication that surround them on a daily basis. OCR should be proud that they have used Gove’s cries for increased rigour to produce a course which is more rather than less innovative than what has come before, and Ofqual would be very wrong to miss the opportunity to add this level of diversity to the range of qualifications on offer.

 

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Why we need to lay off the tests and give our children space to learn

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If this article had been published today, I would have had it pegged as an April fool. Testing and academic rigour for two year olds? Surely a predictably unfunny joke dreamt up by someone at the DfE to keep us on our toes. Sadly of course that is not the case. The letter that Wilshaw sent to Early Years inspectors was published on Friday, and it appears that he is deadly serious.

It comes as part of the latest onslaught on childhood and a meaningful education system which, if Gove et al get their way, will result in formal testing from age four, the reinstatement of national tests at seven, and the raising of the bar for schools as well as individual children in the year 6 SATs.

I am not an Early Years specialist: my expertise comes from ten years working in Secondary, and more recently as the mother of a fifteen month old. I do not intend to comment on Early Years provision, either current or proposed. What I do have an opinion on – and a strong one at that – is the damage that this regime of testing will cause.

Firstly, there is the stress and psychological pressure that comes with any test, however much its proponents try to play it down. Even if we are to consider the reception ‘check’ as a baseline assessment, nervous parents will no doubt want their offspring to do the best they can – and despair if they are found to be wanting. This nervousness and sense of expectation will naturally be passed on to the kids themselves. To be honest I’m having trouble marrying the idea of this as a baseline with the testing that will already have been going on for the previous two years: these tests will generate data, the data will have to be kept and compared, and suddenly the reception ‘check’ becomes a summative assessment of progress – at least for those children unlucky enough to have been in the system from the start.

Then of course there’s the question of what will be done with the data, how it will be applied to the provision of education for children in their primary years – a period when there will of course be regular high-stakes testing on the cards. The first and most obvious answer is that pupils will be set or streamed by ability. In fact in much of the comment I’ve read on this issue grouping by ability seems to be a given. And yet the research shows that this is damaging to pupil progress – particularly for the ‘less able’ pupils who this regime of testing is ostensibly meant to protect.

Children will be labelled, told what they are good at (perhaps) and where they are failing, and thus will begin the cycle of diminishing self-esteem that will serve to crush their potential.

There is also the question of what happens to the curriculum. With all the will in the world, when the stakes are high schools will teach to the test. Succeeding in the narrow framework the test defines is vital for the pupils and the teachers – far more immediately valuable than the pesky business of creating a lifelong love of learning. And what can be tested is necessarily narrow – it needs to be objective and quantifiable when so much of learning (especially for very young children) quite simply isn’t.

What happens to the space for children to play and explore and discover? What happens to the opportunities for them to surprise and delight with a fresh solution to a problem? What happens to the freedom for them to follow a spark of interest and have the satisfaction of finding something new? It strikes me as so spectacularly arrogant that this government can believe they know what is best for our children. My son amazes me every day: if I was focused on teaching him my truths there is so much I would miss, and so much of his potential that would go unrealised.

The irony of this all is that Wilshaw claims his goal is to prepare children for the demands of their education further down the line, and yet my experience of dealing with shell-shocked eleven year olds as they transitioned to secondary school taught me that testing does anything but. Though each cohort would come in with increasingly impressive KS2 scores, they would be broadly the same in terms of their actual ability. As an English teacher, much of year 7 was spent freeing them up to be creative again, to have their own thoughts, to realise that there was more to a good story than a range of connectives and lots of semi-colons. Some students were afraid to write anything at all for fear of not being able to spell correctly – and when they did they restricted their vocabulary in order to play it safe. Even by Wilshaw’s narrow view of the world, in order for students to have a hope of reaching the higher grades at GCSE they would need to be able to be perceptive, to offer original ideas and read between the lines, to take risks in their interpretations and in their own writing. And even to get that far they would need to have a sense of why they were doing it – the lure of yet another high-stakes test just isn’t going to cut it for most kids.

It is ultimately this goal of his that is the most telling thing of all. Education at any stage should be about preparing young people for the rest of their lives, not just the next phase of education.

In the early years it is not so much what children are learning that is the key, but who they are becoming: each experience lays down the very foundations of their personalities, shapes the people who they are going to be. By reducing this process to easily measurable goals that can be tested we will be doing our children a great disservice, and very possibly causing irrevocable damage that society will be left to fix for years to come.

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Why Gove getting down with the kids really gets my goat

gove selfie

Yesterday, despite the constant onslaught teachers are under at the moment and the disruption caused by Wednesday’s strike, teachers from 1000 schools nationwide found the time and energy to support over 30,000 students to take part in BBC School Report‘s News Day.

I love School Report. As an English and Media teacher, I was involved in it from its very early stages. It is a brilliant project to engage Key Stage Three pupils in the practical, hands-on application of the skills they’re learning, and from humble beginnings with a small group as an extra-curricular activity we built it into the year eight curriculum so that all students could benefit from what it had to offer. Through it, we were able to promote media literacy, creativity and current affairs. It encourages independent and collaborative learning, and provides the perfect opportunity for teachers to step back and act as facilitators rather than leading from the front. And this is where Gove’s involvement in yesterday’s News Day really winds me up.

These are all areas which, if Gove had his way, would be squeezed out of the diet we offer our young people in favour of more academic, traditional approaches to learning. And yet there he was, performing a ‘Wham’ rap and posing for a selfie to the bemusement and amusement of his audience of teenagers.

In 2008, I took a group of students to the Houses of Parliament to interview David Cameron, then leader of the opposition. Whatever my opinions of his politics, there was no doubt that he conducted himself appropriately: he was respectful and friendly as they took him to task over tuition fees, and politely declined to answer when the questions strayed into the personal. Unlike Gove, who ended up grinning like a goon as he tried to convince the kids that he was ok.

Quite aside from the fact that his mere involvement was astoundingly hypocritical given that his reforms stand to destroy everything which BBC School Report tries to promote, I can’t quite get over quite how insulting and disrespectful his behaviour was to hardworking teachers the day after tens of thousands of them were striking in protest against his decimation of the education system.

Because ultimately what this boils down to is propaganda – he was portraying himself as a man who just wants to have a laugh with young people and support their creative projects in schools when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. And the BBC – our supposedly impartial public service broadcaster – was doing everything it could to corroborate his story. The context of BBC School Report makes this even more galling: the learning materials accompanying the project emphasise the impartiality of the BBC, and there would have been a far larger audience than usual of impressionable young people to soak up the persona he was presenting.

There’s a darker side to this too: much as Gove was happy to expose the poor woman with whom he shared his first kiss to ridicule he clearly has no concern for the potential implications of sharing a selfie with a teenage girl. It seems that anyone in his path who might possibly help him advance his agenda is fair game.

I would like to think that teachers will be able to use Gove’s actions, and the subsequent coverage of them by the BBC, to illustrate the insidious way that propaganda works in our modern media machine, but I fear that with everything else going on they may not find the time.

But Gove, quite frankly, should be embarrassed. And the BBC should be hanging their heads in shame for such blatant manipulation of our young people at a time when their future has never looked so bleak.

Comprehensive, creative and democratic: my three wishes for education

With another national teacher’s strike looming next week, I’ve been pondering a lot about just what is wrong with our education system at the moment. As a former teacher, a governor and a parent, I fully support the difficult decision NUT members have made to strike. Of course a strike will cause disruption, but with the rhetoric often levelled against teachers in the press it’s easy to forget that ultimately the people who will suffer in a dysfunctional system are our children. Teachers who are overworked, undervalued and disillusioned will not be able to provide the education our children need and deserve. As the professionals at the frontline of Gove’s misguided reforms, society needs to trust teachers when they say that things are not OK in our nation’s schools – and to support them in the face of the bullies who are powering on regardless.

However as well as thinking about everything that is going wrong with the education system under the Tories’ guard, we mustn’t forget to hold on to our core beliefs about how our education system should be. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the minutae, particularly when any time to think is being eroded at an ever-increasing rate. Every teacher I know entered the profession with a philosophy that guides the choices they make in and beyond the classroom and keeps them focused on what’s really important. It would be a sad day indeed if, when teachers finally feel able to raise their heads above the parapet, they realise that the barrage Gove has unleashed upon the profession has eroded those core beliefs that led them into the classroom in the first place.

With this in mind, I’ve revisited my own philosophy of teaching and condensed it into three wishes for education: three core things which I believe if we could find a way to encompass would create a system fit for our young people and the futures they will carve for themselves and for society.

I wish our education system could be:

1) Comprehensive

I am a staunch supporter of comprehensive education: a system which rises above the divisions and inequalities in our society. As a teacher (and now as a governor), I gravitated towards schools that were called comprehensive, but the problem with our current system is that no school can truly call itself that.

Whilst we have a system that includes private schools and grammar schools – and increasingly a confusing patchwork of options which chip away at the comprehensive ideal in different ways – then the schools that are left are missing vital sectors of society. In order to have a system that everyone – particularly the most powerful and influential – is invested in, we need everyone to be a part of it.

I have made no secret of the fact that I went to private school – and have written about why I wish I hadn’t. Many people I speak to dismiss the idea that we could get rid of private schools in this country as naive. Perhaps it is, but it isn’t without precedent. The much-revered education system in Finland has no private schools – they were abolished in the 1970s – and its achievements come from a focus on equity rather than excellence. Public figures from Warren Buffett to Alan Bennett have called for the abolition of private schools to promote social justice. If Gove was really serious about the gap between rich and poor in this country being “morally indefensible”, then I would have thought private schools should be the first thing to go.

Personally I wouldn’t stop there though – in order for our system to be truly comprehensive I’d get rid of grammar schools too. There are only 164 of them anyway, against over 3000 secondary schools in total, and they are concentrated in particular geographic areas where they undermine the comprehensive system: heaping pressure on parents to try to do the right thing by their children and skewing the intake and results of schools that do not select by ability.

And whilst on the subject of ability, I’d actually go one step further in my quest for a truly comprehensive system and, as Finland has done, outlaw setting by ability even within schools. The damage it causes to the aspirations and self-esteem of children consigned to bottom sets is indefensible, and evidence collected over thirty years indicates that, counter to popular opinion, it actually damages pupils’ achievement.

Our schools should obviously be places of academic learning, but they are about so much more than that too: by making them truly comprehensive we could begin to build a better society from the outset.

2) Creative

The second foundation of my ideal education system would be creativity: not just in the curriculum, but underpinning the system as a whole.

Particularly at the moment, with the sidelining of arts subjects in the secondary curriculum as a result of the now-defunct EBacc, school seems to be a journey away from creativity for young people. As pre-school children their minds are open and alert to a multitude of ways of seeing and interacting with the world, but for many as they move through the exam factory their minds are narrowed. This is of concern not only for the creative industries: as the human race faces increasingly complex challenges, creative thinking is key to find solutions to the new problems we face.

So much of what Gove seems to want to do to the curriculum is backward looking: a return to a 1950s education stuffed with facts at the expense of learning. We need to encourage our young people to think, not just to regurgitate, if they are ever going to be well equipped for their futures: futures which in reality we know close to nothing about.

This space to think is a privilege that should be extended to our teachers and school leaders, too. No-one is saying that our schools were perfect before Gove came along, but education professionals need to be give the time and professional autonomy to creatively develop a system that really works. There is a wealth of research that can be drawn on to encourage this, and teachers should be encouraged to do their own research too to find out what helps their students in their classrooms. I was lucky enough to engage in such research whilst completing my Master of Teaching qualification, and it was incredibly powerful for my motivation and sense of pride in my work – something which all our teachers deserve.

Teachers don’t need to be told how to do their jobs by the government any more than young people need to be told what to think by their teachers. A system built on creativity would allow all stakeholders space to grow.

3) Democratic

The third thing that I believe should be at the heart of education is democracy – again both within and beyond the classroom, for pupils and teachers alike.

I believe in child-centred learning. Not in the unfocused, wishy washy way that has recently been denigrated in the media, but in a way that puts the child at the centre of their learning experience and structures an appropriate learning journey around them. There are a myriad of ways that this approach can manifest itself in schools: from getting students’ input into policies and procedures, from enlisting their help in planning schemes of learning, or simply by providing them with projects where the outcomes are not set in stone but can be crafted by their interests. Even better are approaches where young people’s learning can be rooted in projects whose impact is felt beyond the school gates, helping them see that their efforts really can bring about change in their communities.

For so many young people, there is so little about their lives they can control. In our schools we should teach them that what they do does matter, that they can have a positive impact on themselves and society by the choices they make.

Teachers and school leaders too need to feel that they are part of a democracy. There is not much worse for morale than feeling like your voice doesn’t count, and yet this is the reality for the majority of professionals in education under Gove’s regime.

Of course in all of this someone is going to have the final say: but everyone benefits from listening to the people who are really affected by what happens in our education system, and very few do if they are silenced.

So there you have it: I wish for an education system that is comprehensive, creative and democratic because I believe that is what is best for our young people and for our society. When you think about the teachers striking on Wednesday, remember that they too will have strongly held beliefs that are at the core of what they do, however much the government and the media may try to represent their actions as selfish and narrow minded. And if you are a teacher, or a parent, or in fact anyone with an interest in education, I’d love to hear your ideas too. What are your three wishes for education? How can we create a system that will work – now and for the future?

Thank you to Sara at ‘Mum turned Mom’ who inspired this post with her prompt: ‘If I had three wishes…”

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Why we should not ignore teachers’ ever-increasing workloads

On Friday, a year after it was carried out, the DfE finally published the results of the teacher workload survey. It does not make pretty reading, and it’s hardly surprising that Gove wanted to sit on it for as long as possible, finally slipping it out on a Friday ahead of its planned publication date and not accompanied by a press release.

What is frustrating is that it was virtually ignored by the mainstream media, the story being picked up by only The Guardian and The Mirror. With the press being quick to pounce on stories which paint our schools and teachers in a negative light, this was one insult that those over-worked professionals really didn’t need.

Because the fact is that over-worked teachers should concern us all. And there is no doubt that they are over-worked: even before the results of this survey were released, and before the impact of Gove’s interference was really felt, surveys indicated that teachers are ‘amongst the hardest workers in the country‘ and are ‘more likely to work overtime than employees in any other sector‘. Even the DfE survey is unlikely to reveal the true picture – after a further year of Tory reforms, and certainly if the experience of my former colleagues is representative, the hours teachers are working are if anything even greater.

It is personal experience – mine and that of my colleagues and friends – that makes these figures especially pertinent. Teachers regularly falling ill as holidays approach and using their time off to physically recover from the stresses of the term-time workload. Teachers attending 7am meetings as there is no time to fit them into the working day. Teachers holding classes on Saturdays and throughout school holidays to help students achieve the grades they deserve in the face of changing qualifications. Add to this the stark evidence of the ‘sharp rise in serious mental health problems among school staff‘ and it’s clear we have a problem.

Teachers who are stressed and tired and over-worked are simply not going to be able to do the best for our children. Teaching is a job which requires intellectual rigour, creativity and empathy. In the classroom, you need to be able to think on your feet, to juggle numerous different tasks and to slip seamlessly between many different roles. You need to be aware of, and act upon, the needs of each and every child in that room – that’s thirty different learning journeys, not to mention the huge variety of personal needs that children arrive at school with each day. Stressed out teachers will snap, will make rash comments or miss the needs that are really important. A knock-on effect on behaviour is inevitable, and in the interests of survival learning will fall further down the list of priorities.

Most of the teachers I know will put the students’ needs before their own: will work themselves to the bone in term time, sacrificing social lives and personal relationships because they feel that their job puts them in a privileged position, one which they should not take for granted. It is an amazing feeling to be able to enable young people to learn, to help them break free of the shackles of their lives and to become who they want to be. It is this I think that leads to the somewhat ironic situation we are in where despite drowning under their workload and frustrated by constant challenges to their professionalism teachers are still found to be the happiest workers in Britain.

There are also of course the minority of teachers who refuse to sacrifice their own mental health for the sake of a job, and will put in place their own safeguards during term time to reduce their workload and make their careers more sustainable. And then these are the ones who are branded lazy, letting down our young people. But I wonder sometimes whether they’re not in fact the sensible ones.

Because what is the alternative? Seemingly to abandon the profession altogether. I am guilty of this – at least for the time being, I can see no way of combining the demands of a teaching career with being a mum. And I am not alone: despite loving their job, almost half the nation’s teachers have considered quitting the profession in the past year. Ofsted chief Wilshaw has commented on the ‘national scandal‘ of two-fifths of teachers quitting within five years. He cites inability to cope with pupils’ poor behaviour as the cause, though studies indicate that unsustainable workload alongside bureaucracy and lack of professional autonomy is more likely to be to blame.

It is partly for this reason that Tristram Hunt’s declaration that he will not seek to reverse any of Gove’s initiatives if Labour are elected is so galling. I understand his point that teachers do not need more change for the sake of it, but Gove has done so much to undermine the profession and to fracture our education system that someone needs to be prepared to put it right.

There are a raft of education professionals clamouring to be heard so that we can begin to do just that, but we seem to be at a particularly low ebb in terms of the nation’s respect for teachers. Our politicians (as well as the media) need to acknowledge that our teachers are working too hard, and then, alongside those education professionals, they need to work out what they’re going to do about it. Because whilst it might be our teachers who suffer in the short term it is our children’s futures that we’re really risking here.