What does it mean to be 21st Century teacher and school leader?

As part of a series of blogs on the role of trade unions in 21st Century Public Service, to coincide with the TUC conference, Patrick Roach, Deputy General Secretary of the NASUWT  told Catherine Needham how he views the workforce challenges of the future:

Patrick Roach

“One of the themes of the 21st Century Public Servant research is about the nature of leadership in our public services. Whilst across many parts of the public sector, and indeed, in the commercial sector, the importance of collaborative forms of leadership is recognised and encouraged, ‘heroic’ leadership approaches are writ large across the schools system. Not only is more and more expected of head teachers, but it is the nature of school leadership practice that is also being changed as a result of coalition government reforms. In recent years, headteachers have been told that they are “captains of their ship”, that they should “man up”, be “robust” and “authorative” in their management of staff and to adopt the Sinatran “my way” mantra.

“The hit and run nature of school accountability, coupled with increasing freedom and autonomy given to schools, means that the span of control of headteachers has increased substantially, and this has changed the role and work of headteachers markedly. Increasingly, as headteachers assume the role of Executive Headteachers – leading a group of schools – they are increasingly distant from the actual day to day practice of teaching and learning. Many parents today would be surprised that few headteachers today engage directly in classroom teaching. But, we should also be concerned that the professional nature of headship is also being undermined – as headteachers become de facto Chief Executive Officers rather than leaders of teaching and learning. Some headteachers will admit that this is not why they became headteachers in the first place. The fact that there are no national professional standards for headteachers and no requirement for headteachers to hold any professional qualifications (including qualified teacher status) exacerbates our concerns about the purpose of current education reforms and the consequences of these reforms on children and young people.

“The impact on teachers is increasingly clear as teachers’ workloads and working hours have spiralled out of control. Teacher burnout is a major issue and the coercive ‘managerialist’ climate in our school system, underpinned by a high-stakes inspection and accountability regime, is proving to be off-putting to many teachers who might otherwise have considered moving into school leadership roles.

“The NASUWT annual ‘Big Question’ survey of teachers has tracked the experiences of teachers since 2010. It shows year on year increases in teacher stress and teachers feeling less and less valued and respected as professionals. 56 per cent of teachers in the 2014 survey said they are seriously considering quitting teaching for good. It is only the state of the wider economy and the post-graduate labour market that has prevented a recruitment and retention crisis. But, we should be clear – without a change of policy direction, our schools are on the brink of a crisis in the supply of teachers.

“The generic and relational skills of 21st Century public service are what teaching has always been about. Good teachers have always known the importance of collaboration and collegiate working and the moral purpose of education. But, much of this is being undone as a result of recent government reforms, including the imposition of divisive new arrangements for discretionary ‘performance pay’ for teachers. Teachers want to make a difference by improving the lives of children and young people. That motivation was nurtured and developed through initial teacher education programmes in universities. Universities enabled teachers to explore and learn from theoretical and empirical models that underpin effective pedagogy, including understanding child psychology, behavioural theories and the importance of reflexive practices. But, as part of an ideological attack on public education, since 2010 the coalition government has mounted an assault on teacher quality which has included the removal of the requirement for schools to employ qualified teachers and dumbing down quality by undermining university-led initial teacher education through its School Direct programme.

“The NASUWT, as the largest teachers’ union in the UK, is resisting these attacks. Of course, the assault on public education is manifesting itself differently across each of the four UK nations. Organising teachers in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England enables the NASUWT to resist these attacks more effectively.

“The creative and intelligent use of industrial action short of strike action plays a critical part of our strategy to defend the teaching profession. And, as our industrial strategies have proven to be highly effective, government has sought to attack the existence of unions also, including through provocative guidance issued to schools and local authorities to seek to reduce the provision of trade union facilities time. This is not merely an attack on unions, but an attack on local democracy, an attempt to silence the voices of teachers, and must be seen as part of an overall strategy to reduce rights at work and to deny access to justice to working people if they are discriminated against, abused or injured at work.

“These attacks are also antithetical to securing high education standards. As other leading nations attending the OECD/Education International Summit on the Teaching Profession confirm, collegiality and cooperation, social dialogue and respect for workers’ rights and trade union rights are critical to having the best education systems on the planet.”


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