What Exactly Do Teachers Want?

“What do we want?”

This is the classic rallying cry of the striking worker. Here are our demands, it says. When do we want them? Now!

The problem, however, is that answering that one question – “What do we want?” – is likely to take up the best part of what’s left of the spring term. The wish list for education, after all, is beginning to resemble a six year old’s letter to Santa in length, breadth and sheer imaginative scope.

Put it another way: “What do we want? Pretty much everything – have you seen the state of English education? When do we want it? Two years ago would have been nice.”

So, what do we want in education? Well, let’s start with better pay. That was the demand being made (alongside better funding for education – of which more later) during the two days of national teachers’ strikes this week, which followed a national strike at the end of February, and three regional strike days earlier this month.

Around 50,000 teachers attended a rally in London on Wednesday this week – which, if you calculate tube fare as a proportion of a teacher’s daily salary, shows the level of commitment involved.

In fact, only six per cent of schools were fully closed because of strikes this week, according to Department for Education data. But a further 47 per cent were open with restricted attendance, compared with 44.7 per cent during February’s strike.

Meanwhile, in glass-half-full mode, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that it was encouraging to teachers to see that the government has made a pay offer to NHS workers that their unions find acceptable.

What else do we want? Proper funding for schools. Geoff Barton – who, after decades working in education, surely knows that most of the time the glass is actually half-empty – bemoaned the lack of extra funding for schools in this week’s Budget.

He said: “Today, we heard the chancellor announce £11 billion for defence, and not a penny to address the teacher recruitment and retention crisis affecting our schools and colleges, or resolve the associated industrial action that was taking place as the chancellor was speaking.”

What do we also want? Proper funding for the government’s bright ideas. In his Budget on Wednesday, the chancellor of the exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, said that the Treasury would fund schools and local authorities to increase wraparound care at primary schools, so that by September 2026 all parents can drop their children off at 8am and pick them up at 6pm.

The government will provide £289 million of start-up funding to councils and schools to fund the scheme. But this would only last until 2026 – at which point schools would be expected to pay for the provision themselves, by charging parents.

It was left to those actually working in schools to point out that the parents most in need of wraparound childcare were those least likely to be able to pay for it. Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, echoed many school leaders when he described this as a “half-baked scheme”. Once again, he said, “We are left with the feeling that this government is detached from the reality of what is actually going on in our schools.”

For any government ministers seeking elucidation, here is what is actually going on in schools: by 2026, parents may already be paying for any teaching resources the school is profligate enough to want to buy. Assuming that there are any teachers left to deliver the lessons.

What do we want? Proper funding of the early-years sector. Only three per cent of early-years settings, including maintained nurseries, say that they will be able to continue providing their current level of services in 12 months’ time, thanks to rising costs.

A survey of nurseries, carried out by the organisation Early Education, also found that 39 per cent said that their future was secure for the next 12 months, but not beyond that.

What do we also want? Manageable workload. (This is the wish-list perennial: the one that is added every year, just in case. The “a pony to live in the back garden, please” of education.)

More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of school staff think their workload is unmanageable. The Tes Schools Wellbeing Report, which surveyed more than 5,800 members of school staff, also found that 43 per cent of respondents said that they lacked the resources necessary to do their job. And 61 per cent said that their schools were not well funded.

What do we want? No more Ofsted grades. Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has said that a Labour government would look into abolishing the inspectorate’s current grading system, and replacing it with a new report card for schools.

Speaking at the ASCL annual conference, Phillipson said that this report card would offer parents information about a school’s performance. (Whether or not schools will be praised for effort or told that they must try harder remains to be seen.)

The introduction of this new system would be subject to consultation with teachers and parents. This has not, however, stopped schools minister Nick Gibb from claiming that the plan “betrays our children”.

Speaking both of betrayal and Ofsted…what do we want? A fairer system for schools.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector, admitted this week that the inspectorate’s complaints process is “not a satisfying process” (disappointingly, she used neither the word “unsatisfactory” nor the word “inadequate”).

Also speaking at the ASCL conference, she said that Ofsted was working on finding a different way of approaching complaints, “to address what’s nearly always the root of the problem, which is: the grade isn’t accepted”.

Finally, what do we want? Someone to tackle the last two issues. Ofsted is looking for a leader with “a high degree of personal integrity” to become its new chief inspector.

Spielman is to leave the £165,000-a-year role at the end of the year, after seven years in the post. The job advert to recruit her successor is now live. It calls for candidates who show “excellent judgement under pressure”, and who have “experience of taking difficult independent calls in a senior position with high profile”. (Presumably, they mean making difficult calls. “Taking difficult calls” suggest that the new HMCI must be prepared to interrupt meetings in order to answer a call from their partner, asking whether they care more about work than they do about making their family happy.)

So there we have it. It’s probably just as well that the NEU are yet to announce when their next strike dates will be: it may take some time to fit all of that on a placard.


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