Guest blog by Ian Bauckham, CEO of the Tenax Schools Trust
Becoming a teacher, either as a career change or straight from university, for some is a fulfilment of what they have always wanted to do, a natural step, and for others is a major decision preceded by months of inner wrangling. During the decision making, all sorts of factors can tip the balance, not least what messages we receive from the media about the working lives of teachers.
This autumn’s latest ‘fly on the wall’ documentary about school life, BBC2’s School, is potentially one such influence. It coincides with the start of this year’s round of recruitment to our initial teacher training arm, Teach Kent and Sussex, and I have viewed it through the eyes of those considering starting teacher training next September. What impression are they getting of life working in England’s state funded schools? Are they thinking that this is what they will be coming into if they train to teach with us? And, most importantly perhaps, is it an accurate and representative impression?
I should start by saying that I do not wish to criticise or doubt the experience of the teachers at the schools featured. While the programme portrays both the highs and lows of school life, the message about the teachers’ lives and well-being is, I think it would be fair to say, pretty challenging.
However, I would like to offer a different perspective, and propose that those stepping forward to join this great profession can expect to gain the tremendous sense of satisfaction that developing the expertise to teach and form the next generation brings, and indeed to derive joy from working in great teams alongside children and young people with all their enthusiasm and raw talent.
Let me pick up some of the issues that may worry a potential trainee.
Behaviour is often at the top of the list. Ofsted actually rates three quarters of England’s schools as having at least good behaviour, and in many, including in our own partnership, it is outstanding. In fact, I can say from personal experience that behaviour overall is far better than when I first started teaching in secondary schools over 30 years ago. There are now schools which set behaviour expectations which would have been unheard of back then in the state sector. Unsurprisingly, results are excellent in these schools and parents want to send their children there. What’s more, young people actually enjoy being in disciplined and orderly environments.
An issue related to behaviour is the mental health of young people. Now, no-one can be deaf to the rising number of young people whose mental well-being is clearly under pressure. Teachers are all too aware of this. Schools certainly need to be in a position to respond to youngsters who self-harm, are depressed, or display extreme anxiety, or, dare I say it, have suffered from poor parenting.
But where we focus only on responding to the symptoms and not addressing the causes, we find that the problem becomes all consuming. Rather, we need to nurture resilience, self-confidence and self-belief in our children and young people, and assertively manage some of the pressures that social media place on them. Help them, in other words, to be mature, well-rounded and confident adults, something in my experience new teachers often say motivated them to come into teaching.
And there are many schools which are doing all this and doing it excellently, including both primaries and secondaries in our teacher training partnership. Those schools establish a strong ethos and high expectations for behaviour. These are places where teachers are strong and positive role models for young people.
What about the connected issues of workload and funding? Let’s take funding first. Here in the shire counties funding has long been harder than in many urban areas and it is true to say that in recent years the margins have become less generous. That has understandably caused anxiety for many and some schools have had to adapt how they do things.
But a further key question for those considering becoming teachers is perhaps not whether money has got tighter over time, but rather whether, right now, when they join the profession, there is sufficient funding to deliver a good standard of education without imposing unmanageable workloads on teachers. And the answer to that is that there is. Moreover, in this area, broadly speaking, we stand to benefit, modestly, from the reforms to school funding.
On workload specifically, we ensure that we help teachers to focus on teaching by strong expectations on behaviour supported by the school’s leadership. There is a sensible and collaborative approach to preparation and marking and which does not have teachers with full timetables repeatedly burning the midnight oil.
I am not claiming that teaching is not hard work. When you know you are responsible for the success of the next generation, most people cannot help but go the extra mile. But that is the point: teachers in great schools work hard because they want to, and because they see a direct connection between what they do and the academic and personal success of their pupils. They do not spend time doing pointless paperwork because they are told they have to. It is that direct connection between the teacher’s effort and the pupils flourishing, supported by the school’s leadership, that makes for the great job satisfaction that teaching can give.
And more than ever teaching is informed by research. We have never known more about how to teach so that pupils learn than we do now. Doing what is proven to work enhances satisfaction and streamlines workload, because you don’t have to spend time re-inventing the wheel. We invest in you by introducing you to this research when you train with us, and show you how to apply it in your teaching.
Don’t be put off by what you see on TV, or hear or see anywhere else. Come and try it for yourself.