Dear Sir Michael Wilshaw,
As teachers and educationalists we are wholly committed to the improvement of teaching and learning for our children and young people. To that effect we advocate a logical and workable system based on a multi-intelligences approach to learning. This means that all pupils in our schools should concentrate on developing all of their intelligences, all of their skills and develop a real love of learning, which in itself will raise the standards and attainment which are clearly your main concern.
Let’s just say there are various ways to skin a cat.
One of the issues that we feel passionately about is supporting teachers to do their job effectively and intelligently. Teachers are the greatest resource for our children, even in these days of knowledge being available at the click of a button on a computer. Teachers facilitate and enable learning. Their guidance and support is invaluable, as is their knowledge of the children and young people in their care. They can lead by example, empathise, encourage and demonstrate, amongst other things.
We are extremely concerned for the wellbeing of individuals and the ability of people of all ages to work collaboratively and intelligently, understanding and appreciating the needs of others as well as themselves. The effects of negativity on the entire workforce, when someone criticises their commitment to their job, is something that we are also concerned about. It can take months or even years to recover from unjust criticism – something as a teacher, we are sure that you are aware of.
When you first took up the position of Chief Inspector, there were media reports that suggested that you felt that the staff in schools where you were head teacher worked harder if they were under extreme pressure. Some even suggested that you advocated a bullying of staff, which clearly was not the case. However, it left a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of teachers.
Your criticism of the profession has continued in various forms, though once more, we believe it was intended as positive encouragement rather than damning insults.
However, the reports in the press today are somewhat alarming.
It appears that you think that teachers should be rewarded financially if they work longer hours. You also suggest that if teachers leave school when the pupils do, then they shouldn’t have a pay rise. You also raised concerns that even though 40% of your Ofsted-inspected lessons were deemed inadequate people were still receiving pay rises.
Finally, for now, you suggest that teachers who don’t act as surrogate parents to pupils in poor areas should also not be in receipt of a pay rise.
One could argue that some of these issues may be valid points but there is an underlying message here that, for the layperson who has never worked in a school, could convey a wholly inaccurate impression of the profession.
To this end, we would like to make the following points
Where on earth have you been visiting where you have seen a mass staff exodus or even a partial one at 3.30pm? Due to the pressure of Ofsted in itself, staff wouldn’t leave at that time with inspectors present. Furthermore, due to the pressures placed on staff these days, there is no way that staff could leave at that time and do their job properly. Furthermore again, if they were leaving at that time, they would have to be getting in to school extremely early to fulfil their statutory hours. If they weren’t doing this, then it would be a capability issue that the head teacher would quite rightly have to deal with.
In these times of technical sophistication, there is every possibility that a teacher may indeed walk out the doors earlier than you would consider appropriate, but how do you and your colleagues know they are going home to put their feet up to watch television? Have you considered that it is highly possible they are going home to do an additional three, four or five plus hours of work on a computer that is connected to school intranets? Time spent in school doesn’t account for the hours a teacher works; not now, not in the times before technology enabled more work from home, not ever!
It is preposterous to suggest in a national newspaper that there is anything like 1% of teachers who leave at this time of day. It is grossly negligent on your part to even imply to an uneducated public that this happens as a norm. Surely you know this is absolutely NOT the case? I cannot think of a single colleague, even those who were seemingly less hard-working than others, who has ever regularly left school at the same time as the pupils.
Do you honestly think that people go into this vital profession for financial reward? There may be a few people who think that this is a reasonable starting salary for a post-graduate but there are very few people who choose and continue in this profession for financial gain alone, and if they do, they soon realise that you have to work extremely hard in order to function, and that the pay is totally inconsistent with the number of hours one has to work and the responsibility involved compared with other jobs with similar salaries.
Teachers choose this profession, in the main, because they have a vocational purpose. They value working with children and young people; they want to make a difference. As a consequence, they tend to work for long unpaid hours that are constantly ignored or unnoticed by a society which is still preoccupied with complaining about the length of the holidays that teachers supposedly get. Of course, if you sent your Ofsted inspectors out in the month of August, particularly the last two weeks, you would notice many, many teachers in school working hard, preparing for the next academic year. I cannot think of one single 6 week holiday as a teacher where I didn’t work at least three of them, and I most certainly wasn’t alone in doing so. Teachers work these hours because they care, because they believe in a brighter future for our children. If they get financial gain or promotion because of their commitment then they accept that with gratitude but these people are, in the main, not influenced by money. (Just another aside, ask your inspectors to ask most class teachers how much they subsidise their class budgets with their own money.)
As I am sure you are aware, there are, and always have been, plenty of teachers who work well beyond their statutory hours. Some of us worked these hours because we wanted to ensure that our children had the very best teaching and learning experiences, and we did this “for free”. Are you going to consider retrospective pay for all of us who put in those hours and didn’t receive either financial reward or promotion due to a range of circumstances? How divisive to suggest that the promotion will happen if you work hard. Some of us worked in single form entry schools where resources were limited. There wasn’t the money for promotion and still we did our extra – both in planning learning and in providing after school activities for the pupils.
The system, since Local Management of Schools, doesn’t allow for equity of time and money between one person doing a job in one school and another person doing exactly the same in another. If the money isn’t there or the management and governors choose to spend on other things, then the disparity of earnings is there regardless of whether it is appropriate or not.
So, 40% of lessons are inadequate. Well, we could have a long debate about the criteria for judgement that excludes a wealth of what teaching and learning is all about. A systematic, formulaic approach to teaching is what Ofsted inspectors seem to want, and if any element of that is missing, then the teacher is deemed to be inadequate. Of course, poor teaching should not be rewarded. This is our children’s education and future we are talking about, but one has to question the reality of this 40% figure. I have known teachers who have been deemed as outstanding in Ofsted inspection after Ofsted inspection, who have delivered what they thought was a perfectly decent lesson, only to be told by someone visiting them for 30 minutes that they had missed one element of the tick-box checklist, and then they are categorised as inadequate. Qualify such statements as 40% of teaching is poor. Qualify it with the fact that this is in your judgement of lessons that have been seen by your inspectors. Do not please suggest that this 40% number truly reflects the state of teaching in this country.
Apparently, if you don’t act as a surrogate parent to poor children then you shouldn’t get a pay rise. So what if you act as a surrogate to a child who is not impoverished? Or what if you have no ‘poor’ children in your school that would enable you to be a surrogate? No money for you?
You are right that we should value the underpinning work that teachers do to support the social, emotional spiritual and personal development of the child as well as their academic attainment but when do YOU value it? If all pay is linked to attainment and performance management, what structures do you actually have in place to reward teachers for the important task of genuinely caring for and supporting their pupils in their wellbeing as well as their academic achievement?
Most teachers are unsung heroes who work long, long hours in order to do their job to the very best of their ability. There are teachers who hardly have five minutes free to look into the faces of their own children. There are teachers who have dedicated years to doing extra-curricular activities, who provide enjoyable experiences for children who are deprived, who work bloody hard for no desire or means to additional pay.
Each and every one of them deserves to be paid for the long hours that they put in. Each and every one of them deserve to be paid according to their time, commitment, expertise and intelligence. We suspect that only a minute percentage will get their just reward financially.
Perhaps next time you do an interview with The Times, you might like to talk about them.
Footnote for our readers outside the UK
Sir Michael Wilshaw is the Chief Inspector of schools in England. Previously he was head at the Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, where academic attainment had increased significantly.
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