Since the 1970s it seems Britain’s schools have been through an endless number of reforms. Between raising the age of school leavers to 16, the growth of testing culture, and labour disputes between teachers and government agencies, it’s clear there are quite a few embattled yet passionate, and invested interests working to shape the education of UK’s students.


However, despite all of the changes — and calls for more — what hasn’t changed is the basic structure of the school system. The biggest innovation in the modern school system took place more than 100 years ago. And while it was well suited for the industrial era of assembly lines and repetitive tasks, our 20th century approach to education isn’t preparing students for a 21st century knowledge economy.


Even the most recent updates to the national curriculum focus on benchmarking student achievement, and preparing primary students for secondary school and beyond. According to Ofsted, the goal of curriculum updates isn’t to tell teachers how to teach, but focuses instead on the “the essential knowledge and skills every child should have” while allowing teachers  “the freedom to shape the curriculum to their pupils’ needs.”


This all sounds good, but teachers have a different perspective. They’ve seen slashed budgets, bigger classes, overwhelming workloads, and the growing pressure of their own accountability punitively linked with student achievement. And all of these challenges feeds negatively into others.


For instance, the shortage of teachers and funding means bigger classes. Bigger classes means teachers spend more time on controlling student behaviour and less time teaching. Less time teaching results in slower student progress, which doesn’t just impact the student, it can have dire consequences for teachers as well.


And what it comes down to is that teachers don’t feel like they have the resources — of time and money — to do their jobs successfully. According to Julian Stanley, chief executive of Education Support Partnership (ESP), a charity that offers mental health support to anyone working in education in England and Wales, teachers don’t feel like they have more freedom.


“What we’re hearing is that people have lost a sense of agency,” Stanley told the Guardian. “There is constant change – new initiatives, new curriculum changes. A number of pressures tell us that it’s not a whinge; it’s a fact. Teachers feel they need to be trusted, and need support.”


If the ultimate goal is to provide a high quality education for UK students, teachers don’t just need support. They also need resources and autonomy. They need to feel empowered to be creative in their approach to educating their students. They need leaders who will help them manage their growing workloads and provide development opportunities. And they need leaders who will advocate for reasonable expectations, a curriculum that works, and ways to assess their effectiveness beyond high-stakes testing.



Hi, I’m Dr Ioan Rees; thank you for reading this article.

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