"It is time the Government’s plans matched our teachers’ formidable efforts" - Dr Patrick Roach raises his concerns about England's education recovery plan
Throughout the pandemic, the Government has failed to deliver clear and effective support for schools and teachers.
The Government’s ‘Catch-up’ programme, announced this week, could have been a once in a generation opportunity to recover and renew our education system - just as the NASUWT has been urging for months.
However, yet again, their plans have raised the hopes of teachers and students, only to fall far short of expectations. Compounding disappointment further, the Government has said it will not be considering the investment needed until later in the year.
It is unreasonable to expect teachers simply to soldier on in the meantime, without adequate provision of additional support. Support which would address both lost learning and, ultimately, ensure that we do not see a lost generation as a result of these unprecedented events.
Many children and young people have returned to school requiring not just time to catch up, but also in need of mental health and behavioural support which has been exacerbated during lockdown. If the Government is sincere in its intentions of a post-pandemic recovery, a raft of essential services is needed to support children and families, including investment in mental health and counselling services.
Schools alone cannot fix the problems caused by the pandemic. Dedicated teachers cannot be left to pick up the pieces whilst the Government dithers and delays over the question of how to reverse the damage caused by a decade of drastic cuts to children and young people’s services.
Teachers and headteachers are already working flat out to support children and young people whose education and wellbeing has been impacted significantly during the pandemic.
No programme of enrichment can be delivered meaningfully or effectively if this means that existing teachers and headteachers will be asked to do even more. Significant funding is required to recruit more teachers, school support staff and other children’s service professionals to meet the education, pastoral and care needs of children and young people.
Whilst recruitment is imperative, it must also be coupled with retention of our existing workforce - put simply, we cannot afford to lose the teachers we have. Yet the stark reality is teachers’ pay has been eroded in real terms by 17% over the last decade and two thirds of teachers are seriously considering quitting the profession. Instead of inflicting a pay freeze on our highly qualified keyworkers, the Government needs to invest in retention by offering pay that reflects teachers’ value.
Beyond the quantity of teachers, increasing their capacity must be at the heart of education recovery plans. We need to properly utilise teachers’ time to ensure that teachers can focus on teaching, rather than being overburdened with unnecessary tasks. Much of the focus of the announcement has been centred on extending the length of the school day. However, such action would be a futile exercise if teachers’ time continues to be deflected onto other activities.
Reducing class sizes is also essential in enabling teachers to focus more of their time on meeting the learning needs of individual pupils. The impact of rising class sizes in primary and secondary schools leaves teachers with less and less quality time to focus on the teaching and learning needs of their pupils. By reducing class sizes, we can maximise both students and teachers’ time in the classroom.
However, if the Government proceeds with cutting corners on education recovery, our children and young people will pay the price of their futures. Tutoring must be delivered by qualified and skilled personnel, rather than being delivered on the cheap. An obvious solution is to recruit from the army of supply teachers who have missed out on work opportunities in the last year. Supply teachers should be a key component to boost opportunities for pupils and to support the recovery effort.
Our pupils deserve to be taught by qualified teachers. To guarantee this, every teacher must be given time for professional development as a contractual entitlement throughout their careers. If the Government is serious about education recovery, it cannot continue to peddle the view that quality education can be delivered without qualified teachers.
We now have a once in a generation opportunity to move ahead with a teacher-led education recovery and renewal that will secure the country’s ambition that this should be the best country for children and young people to grow up in.
Any impediments to securing this ambition must be addressed by creating the best conditions that will enable schools and colleges to secure pupils’ learning and development by creating the conditions that let teachers teach.
We have witnessed tremendous efforts by the profession over the course of the last 12 months. Teachers have once again demonstrated their ability to step up and deliver the best possible opportunities for pupils.
It is time the Government’s plans matched our teachers’ formidable efforts.