the impact of restrictive school policies
Journalist Greg Hurst in the Times today highlights a growing problem, with male teachers such as myself, leaving the classroom in their droves. The explanation by Hurst backed up by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) narrows the debate to issues around pay. Yes, pay is important and the pay freeze implemented by the coalition government and the subsequent 1% pay rise has not helped and it is true that on the whole males are more responsive to salaries than females. However this explanation does not cover the full story.
Mary Curnock Smith the widely admired former Chief Executive of UCAS suggests that the lack of male role models has a seriously negative impact on the outcomes of boys, particularly in the case of white working class boys. I have seen first hand that white working class boys are being left behind by a more dynamic and ambitious first and second generation immigrant population. London is outperforming the rest of the country in terms of student progress and there is a serious issue with white working class boys which successive governments have failed to address. Indeed there is an argument that Michael Gove’s curriculum reforms have hindered their progress further as the content delivered is both uninspiring and too narrowly focused. However this is a by product of the issue and does not help to explain why male teachers are leaving the profession.
Workload is a perennial teacher complaint and there is certainly some value in that. According to a recent (NEU) National Education Union survey, 80% of classroom teachers have seriously considered leaving the profession in the past 12 months because of their workload. And a recent online poll by Teacher Tapp has found that only half of teachers reckon they’ll still be in the job in 10 years. According to Mary Bousted joint general secretary of the NEU, The increase in workload is caused by government policy innovations, including significant changes to how pupil progress is assessed at both primary and secondary level – a programme that has been “far too hastily implemented”. However, it is the way individual schools interpret and implement this quite vague direction causes larger issues. School policies can be over zealous and too directive, with senior teachers undertaking book checks and learning walks armed with clipboards to ensure the policies are adhered to. We’ve all heard horror stories of how a teacher has been put on capability because they refuse to mark in purple pen, or have not written the letters VF in a book every time they have given verbal feedback, yet this is real and happens much more frequently than people realise.
Some of the male colleagues have worked with have been truly inspirational teachers and consistently deliver outstanding results, yet regularly fail the school checks because their methods are considered too unconventional. Subject knowledge is considered of equal value to providing evidence that every student has underlined the title and date, it’s crazy and hugely frustrating.
The issue here is school policy – there is a perception that Ofsted are primarily looking at school policies, how schools implement them and how they are reflected in practice across a school.
Schools therefore try to make their policies as detailed as possible to impress inspectors and then use a sledgehammer approach to force those square pegs into these artificially created round holes.Tweet
The constant cycle of testing, marking, feedback, reflective learning and responding to the reflections slow down the pace of learning, significantly add to workloads and add to the frustrations in the classroom. Again I have met male teachers who have a real passion for their subject yet are straight jacketed by this focus on assessment. It means that the primary focus which should be the imparting of knowledge is spent more on administration of assessments, the passion for learning is lost.
The impact of school leadership is therefore the bedrock on which any study on ‘why male teachers are leaving the profession’ should be based. School leaders are ‘teachers’ promoted to new opportunities in schools, many are not trained in management and the impact of poor management cannot be underestimated. School leaders have a huge responsibility to consider the impact of their policy driven approach to the quality not just of delivery but also impact of recruitment and retention of staff. I have worked in policy driven schools and can attest from first hand experience that not only do they have a staff retention problem, but the staff who are there are too afraid to speak up as they have mortgages to pay and mouths to feed and therefore choose to put up with this nonsensical approach.
By harnessing the outstanding knowledge that many male teachers possess, making them feel valued, including them in decision making and ultimately providing inspirational leadership the sector can arrest this decline. School leadership needs to change to move away from the fixed mindset approach to school policies, allow more creativity and unconventionality in the classroom and persuade male teachers such as myself to return to give the boys in the class the role models they so desperately need.