By Will Bickford Smith
Being a teacher is a wonderful privilege. Every day in school we shape young minds and stretch our own. We have the opportunity to introduce our pupils to think and feel about the best that has ever been written or said. Outside of school, we can open our pupils’ eyes to the wonders of the world, whether on first trips to the seaside or city, or on more adventurous trips abroad. This privileged position is enhanced by the respect offered to us by the rest of society; according to the Global Teacher Status Index, we are among the most respected teachers in Europe (third after Greece and Holland).
Dig a little deeper, however, and all does not appear well in our schools. Teachers are feeling increasingly stressed with 84% of teachers in a recent study stating say their job has “impacted negatively on their health and well-being” in the last 12 months. So whose fault might this be? Who is responsible for piling misery onto the plates of some of society’s most respected workers?
For many teachers, the answer is (and has always been) clear: the Government. No matter what shade – red or blue – the teaching profession has often seen the Government as the source of our ills. In some circumstances, it is clear why; examples of half-baked policies, dreamed up in a boardroom in Whitehall by those who have never stepped foot in a classroom, are clear for all to see.
However, I believe that it is time to acknowledge two truths, which may be uncomfortable for some to swallow: firstly, that the difficulties in our schools often stem from the actions of misguided school leaders with good intentions, not the Government or Ofsted; secondly, that the current Government’s policies have in in fact yielded positive outcomes for our pupils in recent years.
Despite these truths, the teaching unions and teaching establishment, who ought to be our constant support crutch, drip-feed a plethora of negativity so incessant that it is virtually impossible for even the most optimistic of teachers not to be worn down and demoralised by it. The never-ending and one-sided moaning and groaning regarding Conservative policy in particular is unhealthy and it is wrong and must be challenged.
This situation would not be so pitiful if it weren’t for the hypocrisy that exists at present: the head teachers criticising the expansion of the academies programme whilst lining their own newly converted academy’s coffers with generous grants from local businesses; the teachers bemoaning an increased focus on rigour in the curriculum whilst chastising their own pupils for idleness and a lack of intellectual curiosity; the politicians criticising the free schools policy nationally whilst campaigning to protect them in their local areas.
The launch of conservativeteachers.com is a ‘call to arms’ for all those teachers who have felt voiceless for too long. For decades, those on the Left have acted like they have had a monopoly on the teaching profession with uncompromising individuals berating those who might even dare to suggest that supporters of the Conservative Party might in fact care about the plight of our school children.
The fact that a number of individuals have informed me that they do not feel able to write on a conservative platform for fear of reprimand in their own schools suggests that something is fundamentally wrong in a country which prides itself on freedom of expression. Moreover, the fact that left-wing teachers who privately express support for the Government’s reforms since 2010 refuse to do so publicly for similar reasons suggests that it’s time for a more balanced public discourse.
So cast away the negativity and side-step the name calling; it’s a privilege to be a teacher and whilst every day has its challenges, grinding down the profession with a barrage of negativity and misinformation helps nobody. It’s time for a broader, more positive and more inclusive conversation about the state of our schools.
Will Bickford Smith is a Politics teacher at an independent school and a Teach First ambassador. He is the Editor of conservativeteachers.com – a new blog that seeks to broaden the education debate in our country. He tweets at @WBickfordSmith