As we move into a new year, it is commonplace to find ourselves in a time of reflection. Frequently this is focussed on ourselves, on what we are proud of, but more often than not on how we have improve, how we can better ourselves and setting goals (however unachievable they maybe, sometimes!). But this new year, I’ve been spending a great deal of time focussing on education and how that sits in the grand scheme of things right now.
So where do we begin? Let’s start with its strongest part.
The people that are involved in education are some of the most committed you will find and I mean this if staff at every level. Every person that works in a school is vital and every person makes a massive difference. While the people that serve in education remain within it, children will prosper as well as the system allows them to. In fact, they will often do better than the system allows them to – because of those people who give more of themselves than many non educationalist people realise. Magic happens every single day, and even though the system is stretched, all the way from EYFS to Further Education and at every point in between, because of the commitment and dedication of you and everyone else who works in education outcomes remain excellent. Children are being taught key skills, not just with knowledge and skills but with how to be the adults we aspire for them to become, how to be ready for the next stage of their lives. A lot of responsibility is placed on schools and the people that work in them, and often this is under appreciated in many places.
What schools do and the young adults they help to produce at the end of their time within this system sets the tone for the future of this country. The people that work towards that end should be massively appreciated and massively valued (which they are within people that know). Looking into 2023 we shouldn’t lose sight of this responsibility and everything that we do to work towards the outcomes that schools produce. Every person has a part to play in this and these people are the most important strand in achieving a successful education system. These are the people that need looking after and these are the people that need protecting.
The Need to do More
These people, however strong they may be, and however hard they may be working generally have a wish they could do more. This is possibly innate within education and the reason for this is that we are working with other humans that we build connections with, that we care about on educational and personal levels. As we go into 2023, this feeling of wishing more could be done is, for me at least, overwhelming. I want to provide more for the children and our school and I want to provide more for the staff that work with me. This comes in many guises.
I want to give people more time to do their job.
I want to give people better tools to their job.
I want to give people more time to spend with their families.
I want to give children who need it better access to services like CAMHs and paediatrics.
I want to have a social care system that isn’t so stretched that early intervention becomes impossible.
All of these are things that I shouldn’t have to worry about. These are things and services that should work. These should be funded to the hilt to allow them to work as we all want them to. The world is different know. It is not 2019 any more. Problems are different, people are different, issues are more intense and many of the issues are still to come to the service. How can we continue to be expected to work in the same way we did three years ago when the world is a different place?
We all want to do more, all of the time and that is not a bad wish. Being realistic, I know we can’t do everything and please people all of the time. What I do want though is the ability to provide what all schools, and all children and families should be able to access to get the support they need. That fact that I can’t says a lot about the state of education in 2023.
Despite everything that the people in education manage to do, enough is enough for many people. Years of under inflation pay rises, years of workload being oppressive, years of feeling under appreciated outside of education.m has led us to where we are now. We are at a stage where almost every union in balloting for action, and more and more teachers are willing to take action. We’ve already seen it in Scotland. These are the same people I spoke about the start. This is not a decision people are taking lightly. This is a decision people have been pushed to as they feel there is no other option, no other way to try and affect positive change for the profession.
In my career, teachers have been on strike once. This is a rarity, not commonplace action. Strikes are not self serving, and contrary to belief are not about letting children down and affecting their already disrupted education. They are about the exact opposite – affecting change in pay, funding and all that will mean for schools will provide certain improvements in what schools can offer. For all the talk in the last few days about minimum service levels, schools need more money to meet this. That is what strikes are about – looking after the people that keep the system going and allowing more money to be freed up to help children more.
A Sense of Direction
My greatest fear about education is that I don’t see where it is going. I don’t have a sense of purpose from the people that set the way forward for us. I’m explicitly talking about the Department for Education. This is a department that still has significant work to do to regain the trust of the profession following Covid and more recently the farce of a merry go round of Secretaries of State. We can only hope for a period of stability where we start to see what the new view for education is. At the moment though, the profession is leaking people at every level for a whole host of different reason. What steps are being taken to prevent this? What is the vision for moving forward and ensuring retention is better at every level.
I seem to be met with a wall of silence in this regard. Accountability remains the same, judgement remains the same, lack of direction remains the same, lack of ideas remain the same.
Something needs to be done, some action needs taking, a path needs furrowing for the system that is creaking at every single point.
Education, on the surface seems to be working. Children take exams. They get results, they get jobs, schools function, parents and children are generally happy.
But, the kicker is that people who work in the system can see everything that the profession and the system could be, how much better it could work, how much more we could offer. Schools, systems and people are hamstrung by cost of living increases, by everything that entrails. We need help, we need purpose and we need direction.
So what can we do? All we have been doing – keep following our own purpose and direction as much as we possibly can. We know we work towards the best for our children, we know we work as hard as we can. If we stick true to our purpose that is all we can do. Unfortunately, many things are out of our control, and in some ways we can’t worry about those as an individual. What we can do is act if a collective when the time comes to make our point and make our stand.
Until then, we’ll do what we’ve always done, make the state of education in 2023 a good deal better than in would be without us.