CRISIS PROJECT Social Issues

“I feel hopeless”: Primary Schools at breaking point

Primary school can be one of the most rewarding times in a child’s development. Life-long friendships can be made; they are safe, and nurtured. But the teachers responsible for the UK’s children are at a breaking point.
“I come home, late at night, and just feel hopeless. The school grinds

[teachers]

down and it’s only going to get worse”. This is the feeling that most primary teachers across the country share. Over the last ten years, there has been increasing pressure on primary schools. Funding on the most basic amenities have been cut, teachers have been given huge increases in their school responsibilities, with little to show for it.

“The government sometimes feels like it’s against us. Our schools just aren’t being given what they need. We feel forgotten”. Julie*, a teacher for over 20 years, has seen the landscape change dramatically since she began teaching. “I began teaching after a complete career change. I loved it. My colleagues had the same passion [as I did], I loved going into work every morning. But the love I once had is fading. I don’t see our situation getting better, unless we have some serious reform from the government”. It’s not surprising teachers feel this way.

When a new 2.75% pay rise was announced, The Department of Education said “If we want the best people working in our classrooms, then it’s right that we ensure their salaries recognise the vital nature of their work and the potentially life changing impact they have on the lives of our children”. But TES, the Times Educational Supplement, believe that this pay rise could make teachers in already underfunded schools suffer redundancies. Without initial support from the government, many schools will have to self-fund this pay increase. Teachers in the top pay grade, like Julie, will be most at risk. “Finding a job at another school if I am made redundant will be extremely difficult. Many schools cannot afford to hire someone in the top pay bracket. It’s a worrying thought. Often, I think about taking an early retirement, as the stress of the job can get to me. But I know many teachers in the same position as me are not able to do that”.
Many more longstanding teachers may find themselves in this predicament. The announcement for this pay rise was made by the government just before the school holidays. To many, the timing was not surprising. It was seen as a way to brush it all under the carpet; for teachers to not pay close attention to the details, when they’re wrapping up the year for their pupils. Teachers were now out of term time, unable to work with their head teachers or councils until September. Many then faced the coming months wondering if their job was secure.

This fear of an uncertain future in teaching begins as far back university for some teachers. The love and drive they have for their upcoming careers is often overshadowed by the worry of being stuck on supply work, never being able to get their foot in the door of a lasting position in a school.
Some Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs), despite also being overworked and paid a great deal less than their fellow teachers, remain optimistic about the future of Primary Education. “When I graduated, I was excited. I still am. And the rest of my classmates were just as enthusiastic. We’d all worked so hard; we were ready to start teaching”.
“It was hard at first to find a job” said Robert*, an NQT currently working in Shropshire. “Many schools didn’t want the extra pressure of having someone fresh out of Uni. But I’ve been extremely lucky with where currently am. I love where I work and I’m hopeful for the future, and for my school”. NTQs are constantly monitored. Routinely assessed by their colleagues and mentors, the pressure to conform to school standard can be intense. “It’s at the point where the system is just stats based. It’s turning into league tables and unrealistic targets. It can be tempting for some teachers to fabricate results to make their students look like their performing better, so that they can try and keep up with what the school is expecting. But this will affect the students a lot when they go on to secondary school”.
The constant battle teachers are in to maintain unattainable standards set by governing bodies is causing friction between the levels of staff. Head teachers are demanded to achieve more, and this causes rifts with their teachers. “You are asked to do so much more. 90% of what you do isn’t in your job description, but we have to do it”. In this current climate of impossible goals, hostile classrooms, and lack of funding; you could wonder how a teacher can survive in such an environment.

The short answer is, unfortunately for some, they cannot.
Across all stages of educators, primary school teachers have the highest psychological stress. According to a study by the Educational Support Partnership, 2 in 5 NQTs experience mental health problems. This is an epidemic that the government is pretending isn’t happening. Using badly organised pay rises, and very little to help the people at the heart of our schools; mental health issues in primary educators will only rise.

Unions are trying to cope with the crisis. From message boards run by teachers, to national events and talks, unions such as NASUWT and NEU provide guidance and professional help to teachers struggling. In some cases, unions will also provide legal aid to those with serious issues against their schools. Without unions, teachers often feel that they are without a voice; lost with the 216,500 other teachers in the UK (according to BESA). There is also the worry of getting a union involved in school matters, some teachers worry that there will be an ‘us versus them’ mentality at even the notion of standing up for yourself.

Our education system is not completely lost. Teachers still have a lot of love for their job, and so much more to give. The students, their achievements, and their colleagues make it all worth it. But there needs to be serious reform. Children’s futures are being held by people who are not being given the respect and attention they deserve. It is easy to say ‘well, they do have six paid weeks off in the summer’, but what is forgotten is the hours of work after school shuts, the tears, the stress. Those tired mornings and late nights that all teachers have to contend with for the rest of the year. If we are to create a sustainable future, we need look no further than those teaching the next generation.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

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