Thursday. How on Earth is it not Saturday yet? Having been up marking some of my 250-plus books till the wee small hours, I wake up taking a few seconds to recall what day it is. I’m off on a course, which adds 90 minutes to my travelling time and I have to sort out cover lessons too.
This, for the uninitiated, is the Twilight Zone. That time of year when, somehow, teachers drag their bedraggled, wrecked bodies and minds into school with burning eyes and with one aim: to make it through another day. Some will have endured the State-sponsored shambles of SATs tests with the sense of dread about the new grade boundaries hanging over them like the sword of Damocles until results day. Some will have to organise leavers’ concerts, trips, yearbooks, discos, ‘proms’ (wish I was making that last one up) and various other American-inspired horrors. They will still have assessments to do, spending hours hunched over a laptop late into the night writing reports, and many will still have the spectre of an Ofsted visit looming over them as they enter the closing weeks of term.
Time and energy are low, as is morale. On a recent course, it turns out that people from schools across the county suffer from crushed morale and a sense of chaos regarding assessment since the government’s gloriously well-thought out declaration a couple of years back: “As part of our reforms to the national curriculum, the current system of ‘levels’ used to report children’s attainment and progress will be removed. It will not be replaced.”
In the old days, you see, schools were part of education authorities that could act together as a cohesive group, share ideas and resources and tackle big changes together. Now, however, so many schools are academies acting as islands and most old council services were removed…they are still done by the same people to schools, but charged at a higher rate as freelancers than when they worked for the County.
In over a decade of teaching, I have never known such staggeringly low morale amongst the rank and file. Management either know but aren’t bothered or have no idea how to improve it, or they simply don’t notice. I’m genuinely not sure which is worse.
Financial cuts in education are massive. Make no mistake, things will get worse. Support assistants – a great one is worth my weight in gold – and other support staff will often be laid off to save money: restructuring, they call it. Amidst this upheaval, up and down the land, teachers will try and plaster on a smile and arrange all the end-of-term activities, keeping learning going in between them. Most importantly, kids face changes: moving up to new year groups, new schools, new teachers. Teachers need to keep the kids calm, happy and reassured throughout these uncertain times of apprehension for them. All on no sleep at the end of one of the worst years the education sector has seen in a good while. So the next time someone bangs on about us “getting all those holidays”, feel free to mention that some of us haven’t been able to afford one for years, and won’t be able to again this summer. Many of us won’t be back in September. Those that remain are there for the kids (certainly isn’t the money, as my current cereal and beans diet will testify), and we’ll keep plodding away at the expense of our friends, families and our own mental health.
However, as I think of the number of times the great kids – who are still the majority – make me smile, I still know I can’t imagine doing anything else.