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Preparing for the New Term!!!

Two true stories have highlighted to me just what it means to be a teacher in modern Britain today; both are totally unrelated and somewhat coincidental as neither of those involved has any idea that I write for an education blog. Firstly, I bumped into a Head Teacher of an award-winning primary school located on the outskirts of Bath yesterday; it was an early Sunday morning and he was sat outside in the sun sipping a coffee at one of the city’s most popular independent cafes whilst reading the Observer. For my part, I had just finished a twenty-mile cycle ride along the Avon & Kennet canal and was looking forward to breakfast and a breather.

We had only met fleetingly at a media event late last year, but we recognised each other immediately and began chatting about cycling, Boris and the general state of the nation. After the quintessential Bathonian pleasantries, I asked him how he was enjoying his Summer holiday and was somewhat surprised to learn that he was still going into the school five days a week even though the pupils had broken up almost a month ago. He promptly rattled off a list of tasks that he was undertaking whilst the school was quiet and these included interviewing for two full-time teachers, overseeing a classroom refurbishment and managing a variety of tradespersons, updating the school’s website and restructuring the next academic year’s budget, quite apart from a myriad of other administrative tasks.

He was hoping to have a week off later in the month, but he was already fretting that the classroom work would not be finished, and he also had to deal with the new influx of pupils and the expectations of their parents. I suggested that the outside world assume that he had at least six weeks off every summer and would waltz back into the school in September suntanned and refreshed; he just laughed and returned to the Observer with a somewhat quizzical expression across his face. I pedalled off pondering how the populist perception of a Head Teachers workload could be so wrong.

Second true story. One of my graphic designers lives with a teacher who works at an infant’s school in Yorkshire; towards the end of the summer term, she was asked to attend a meeting with the Head and other senior managers where she and other teachers were told that they would have to redecorate their respective classrooms over the Summer. They were asked if they had any friends or family members who would be prepared to come into the school and help with painting and general maintenance at their own expense. Materials were provided, but all those that agreed to take part lost any income from their work such as my graphic designer or had to lose a day’s holiday if on salaried positions.

This extraordinary situation will be anathema to the vast majority of the working population in the UK and brings into sharp focus the reality of the nation’s education system. On top of this, my designers’ partner spends much of the summer getting the school ready for September and helping colleagues who might be moving classrooms. She estimates that she actually takes a maximum of two weeks genuine holiday each Summer, and even then, finds herself stressing about returning to work, due to the workload associated with the start of the academic year.

Anecdotal perhaps, but both these true stories really do banish any notions that being a teacher is a cushy number. Myths surrounding lengthy holidays and even short working days do need to be consigned to the realms of fantasy as it is apparent that being a teacher is as arduous and all-encompassing as any other profession. As per one of my previous posts, we can only hope that the new prime minister is as good as his word and does increase investment into the education system; only then, will these intolerable strains be removed from teachers and a semblance of work/life balance be achieved.

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