Describing 2021 as turbulent would probably be an understatement for those working in our schools and colleges. We began the year in a state of chaos with some schools opening for just one day before the third national lockdown was announced by the prime minister and we end it repeating the uncertainty witnessed 12 months ago in the midst of a monumental surge of Covid-19 cases.
Teachers and headteachers are overwhelmed and exhausted. Workload pressures and a lack of practical support for schools have damaged morale. Many teachers are leaving the profession and teacher shortages abound the length and breadth of the country.
Teachers have given everything for the pupils in their care, despite deep concerns over safety. Headteachers have worked tirelessly to provide support and reassurance to parents and school staff, often without adequate and timely guidance or the resources they need.
Cases of Covid-19 have risen sharply. Long Covid rates amongst education staff are second only to workers in our NHS. And, whilst teachers have continued to deliver education to pupils in school and to those who are isolating at home due to Covid, the strain on the profession – physically, mentally and emotionally – has been immense.
And yet teachers have continued to do everything possible to minimise the disruption to pupils’ learning, delivering centre-assessed grades for pupils due to take public exams, and enabling their pupils to secure the qualifications they need to progress on to further education, training and university. The country has witnessed first-hand the capacity of teachers to deliver against the odds.
Where the government response has been found wanting, school and college leaders and their staff have stepped up – putting in place their own plans to ensure that children’s education is not disrupted in the event that the government’s ‘Plan B’ fails to hold back the tidal wave of new cases of Covid-19.
But, despite this monumental effort, the government’s ‘pay pause’ in September, against a backdrop of rising inflation and cost of living pressures, was a slap in the face for a profession that has worked tirelessly to keep the country going.
Contrast the 17% real terms erosion in the value of teachers’ pay over a decade with the high public esteem expressed for our teachers. No wonder many teachers tell us they question whether ministers truly understand and value teachers.
Teachers want ministers to make good on their promises to increase teachers’ starting salaries and for all teachers to be recognised and rewarded as highly skilled professionals.
The pandemic has reminded the entire country that children need teachers. So, if we are to secure the education recovery that our children deserve, there must be better support for and investment in our teachers. With two in three teachers reporting that they are seriously considering quitting the profession, there can be no room for complacency. Urgent and concerted action to retain and support teachers must now be the government’s key priority for education.
And, teachers also want to see concerted action for children, too, so that no child is left behind.
Additional funding commitments secured for education in October’s Spending Review were welcome. However, the money pledged thus far for education recovery falls far short of the £15 billion reportedly recommended by the government’s former education recovery commissioner before he resigned in June with the stark warning that the government now risks failing hundreds of thousands of pupils.
We cannot deliver the best for children and young people without significant investment and if teachers and headteachers are simply expected to soldier on. Levelling up in education will require even more effort to recruit more teachers and support staff, and investment in boosting the capacity of wider children’s services working alongside schools to support children and families.
No child left behind and every child guaranteed safety and security – these must be foundational principles in our national endeavour to ensure that this truly is the best country in the world for children to grow up.
Our new year’s resolution should be to make 2022 a better year in which government supports and invests in teachers.
Teachers have always stepped up to deliver the best for their pupils. It’s time the government’s ambitions for the profession match teachers’ formidable courage and achievements.