GP Taylor: Learn the lesson - we must value teachers more than meddling Ministers

Columnist and author GP Taylor during a school visit.
Columnist and author GP Taylor during a school visit.
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IT was a bright sunny morning in the centre of the Northern Powerhouse. Parents were dropping off their children at the gates of a junior school. I waited in reception until it was time to take the assembly. It is one of the privileges of being an author and a priest that I get invited in to talk about my writing.

At the door to the school there was a sudden commotion. An older boy was fighting with his mother as she dragged him across the playground. He screamed that he didn’t want to go to school. Dutifully, she tried her best to get him to the doors as a teacher ran to her assistance.

They both tried and tried to persuade the lad as he pulled away from them and headed to the gate. He had won.

In my experience of visiting state schools, I can honestly say that this is not an isolated experience. Teachers have to put up with so much. In secondary schools, violence and intimidation are a constant threat and I have witnessed this at first hand.

Disorder is commonplace and schools do not have the sanctions to deal with unruly pupils. At one school I visited, the chaos was tangible. Teachers battled with disruptive children whilst those students who wanted to work were marginalised. Pupils no longer respect teachers and parents no longer respect education.

The situation is made even worse by the number of pupils who need extra support because they can’t speak English.

Thankfully, this is not the case in every state school and I have seen some fine examples of well- behaved children learning in a calm environment.

Sadly, this is the exception rather than the rule. It is often achieved by the diligence and hard work of a traditionally-minded headteacher supported by committed staff and parents.

With Ofsted breathing down the necks of teachers and with mounting piles of paperwork and stress, it is no wonder that so many teachers are choosing to leave the state sector and teach in public schools both here and overseas.

Last year more than 18,000 people left to teach abroad in English language international schools and only 17,000 people trained on post-graduate routes. In the 12 months to November 2014, the state sector lost nearly 50,000 teachers. That colossal number represents the highest rate of exit for a decade.

Often with sylvan settings in beautiful old buildings, public schools are vastly different from their free counterparts. Smaller class sizes, more teachers, better discipline and facilities all create a conducive learning and teaching environment. No wonder then that they are popular places to teach. A recent study, carried out by researchers at the University of Durham, showed that private schooling pushed GCSE students an average of two thirds of a grade higher in each subject.

In contrast, there is a rot in state schools that set in with New Labour and continued with the hyperactive reign of Michael Gove, a man hated in staffrooms up and down the country. His policies made teachers work longer hours for less money, and with even more stress. Constant changes in curriculum and league tables made teaching an ever decreasing career option. The blame for teachers leaving state schools should be laid heavily at his door.

The current state of crisis in the schools system could so easily be changed, but it would take a brave politician to do so. Something needs to be done immediately to avert the greatest catastrophe in education this country has ever seen.

This Government must to do a complete U-turn with its education policy. Funding has to be given back to schools so they can spend money on books and furniture without the fear of bankruptcy.

Teachers have to be protected from malicious students and parents and given the powers to enforce discipline to make schools safe again. There has to be the immediate closing of Ofsted and its powers passed back to the local education authorities.

League tables, which have been so destructive, have to be abolished. A sane curriculum that empowers teachers to teach has to come into force with an emphasis on making students literate and numerate. I see so often that poor literacy leads to poor discipline.

The Government may say there are more teachers now than ever before and this is true, but it fails to mention that the pupil population is at an all-time high and will get worse with hyper migration. To keep class sizes at a manageable level, the country will need thousands more teachers at a time when so many are leaving to teach in the private sector.

Teaching has to be made into a profession where people are valued for their hard work and not made to feel marginalised or taken for granted. Changing schools into academies and giving pupils a new uniform does not change the plight of teachers, but only serves to bring in more unnecessary and unwanted change.

GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor