An Open Letter – The State of Education

Dear Mr Swinney and the Scottish Government,

I am Carol.  I come from a family of teachers, my dad was a teacher and both my brothers are.  I qualified as a primary teacher back in 2010.  I have faced some real highs and lows before leaving the profession in 2018.  Five months ago, I wrote a blog about making the change from being a part time teacher to a supply teacher.  (you can read it here – )  At the time it was the best thing for me and I was truly happy.  However, I have now left teaching to allow me to focus on my studies and the two sides of the business which I run.  I tutor children and provide outdoor learning opportunities.  It does not mean I no longer care about teaching, I am still a teacher, just in a non-formal setting.

It recently came to light that teachers are being “encouraged” not to speak out about the difficult situations they are facing.  This “encouragement” can be to the extent that they can face disciplinary procedures if they do speak out.  This has led to a teacher writing anonymously to the Scottish Government to discuss their concerns.  Why were they anonymous?  Some say they were a plant from the Ruth Davidson, others say it was altogether a fake, teacher’s up and down the country however believe that it was real, it resonated with them and it resonated with me. Therefore, I am writing this today.

Since writing my initial blog about supply teaching and making the switch I have had numerous teachers contact me privately.  Many I have met and enjoyed a coffee with, some I am now lucky enough to now count as friends. These are women and men who made the choice to be teachers, who made the commitment.  These are also people who cannot do the 60+ hours every week anymore.  Who miss their own children and seeing them excel because the job has eaten away so much of their lives.  Who are on long term sick leave.  Who are just wanting the very best for the children in their care but cannot see a way of giving them that anymore as they are spread too thin.

I look critically at what a teacher needs to do, daily, weekly, termly and yearly plans, new schemes to imbed before the last lot are fully imbedded, new policies to read and understand, new curriculum developments, meetings for meetings sake, management giving them pedagogical books to read over the summer on their “holidays”, and more besides.  I look at this and realise it is unsustainable.  However, teachers in the system often feel it is their failure as a person and a teacher which stops them managing to stay abreast of everything.  They simply do not see that the system is sick from the top down and the inside out.

Teachers are working ever increasing hours.  It is suggested that many teachers here in Scotland work an extra 11 hours a week on top of their contracted 35 per week, with 20% working 60 hours or more!   Given that a teacher should have 22.5 hours of class contact a week, these figures alone highlight the unprecedented levels of admin expected of teachers now.  At what point do those up the ladder realise that 20 to 40 hours a week of admin does not make better teachers?

But let us just look at the figures for working just an extra 11 hours.   There are 39 weeks in an academic year.  This means the average teacher is working 1794 hours within those 39 weeks.  Compare this to your average worker, who works 37 hours with 25 days holiday a year and 10 days public holiday will work roughly 1665 hours a year.  A teacher is working, on average, just 129 hours extra a year, not a lot.  But when you consider this is squeezed into just 39 weeks you quickly see how teachers can become exhausted! And this is just for 11 hours extra a week.

In addition to this, teachers in Scotland are some of the worst paid in Europe.  This is compounded by the guilt teachers are placed under to buy resources for their classroom.  This can be anything from pencils and glue to books and board games.  Whilst teaching I would buy all this but also cushions, tables, cooking ingredients, schemes of work and more.  This was to help create a stimulating environment with exciting lessons for the children.   Indeed, now I have a tutor company I have teachers and principle teachers coming to work for me whilst working full time.  The reason is often simple, they simply cannot make ends meet on a teaching salary alone.  This is not ok.

The Scottish Government do pay lip service to reducing workload and looking after teachers.  Whilst I am now out the classroom I have many friends still working as teachers and they assure me that the situation continues to worsen.  Your policies are not helping teachers on the ground in the slightest.  As the teacher who wrote the anonymous letter said, you are sticking a plaster over a gaping wound.

We are living in a country where teachers are just expensive babysitters.  Society no longer values the role they play in educating children and shaping them for the future.  Pay and government policies in addition to the media has created a blame culture and teachers are the villains in this story.  This, in part, has led to an increase of verbal and physical assaults directed towards teachers and other school staff.

We also face difficulties with lack of resources and inclusion.  In theory, inclusion should have been a huge step forward.  However, it needed resourcing and proper funding in terms of staff and training.  Children are being left to struggle now as teachers have no choice but to focus on the higher tariff pupils whilst the others are left to float along.  It means very few children’s needs are being fully met. As a teacher I was experienced and worked hard.  However, I was still punched in the face, had my fingers broken, was hit, spat on, kicked and abused.  At times, this was a daily occurrence.  I still believe it was never the child’s fault.  There were simply not the resources required to support them in the environment they were in.  Incidents such as these are hugely under reported, there simply is not time to complete the required paperwork.

However, I still see the impact of inclusion daily when working with tutor families.  90% of the children I work with are well behaved and within the middle of the class in terms of ability.  It quickly becomes apparent that often these children are working below their ability levels due to undiagnosed learning needs, whether it be dyslexia, dyscalculia or something else.  I am lucky that I can support the families through pushing the school for diagnosis, receiving the diagnosis and adjusting to life with it.  The reason they have not been picked up sooner is often because teachers are now pulled in too many directions to properly get to know and support every child in their class. If a child is well behaved and generally achieving, there simply is not time to look at why they may not be achieving even more.  There are high tariff pupils within the class that require that time and attention and there is often only one adult there to give them it, the teacher.

Then we have management.  They are trained educators but often not trained to work with people.  They are put under enormous strain which can often lead to them forgetting that without healthy staff, their school cannot fully function.  I have been unlucky in my career with some of the management teams I worked under.  From one school where a pupil broke my finger, I was taken to hospital at lunch, patched up and placed back within the classroom, in a high degree of pain, that same day, with the same pupil that broke my finger.  But there is a positive here, they at least took me to hospital.  There was the time I broke two toes in class and management would not allow me hospital treatment until after school as they had a meeting with the council, so no one could cover.  But maybe the least supportive management team I had was the one I was working under when my father died.  He passed away the Tuesday before the summer holidays.  I luckily had phoned in sick that morning as my gut told me to go to my father’s bedside, he was dying of cancer, but I had taken no time off.   When I phoned in that morning I was asked to update at lunch whether I would be in the following day. I phoned in to inform them that dad had passed away.  Instead of condolences, I was asked if I would make it back into school that week.  Looking back, it is crazy that I allowed these things to happen, that I did not challenge them.  But they are the norm within education and why would you fight against the norm?

Some of the factors I have discussed lead to teaching jobs going unfilled and teachers leaving the profession in droves.  Statistics suggest that 40% of teachers consider leaving the profession in the next 18 months.  Scottish education is now at crisis point, it may even have got past that point.  It is time for teachers to be allowed to speak out and the Government to listen.  After all, it is not only the teachers and their families that are suffering.  The children in the system whose needs are simply no longer being fully met are also suffering.

Please, make a public statement which allows all teachers to speak out and guarantee that they will not face any form of disciplinary for doing so.  Please listen, really listen to what is said, I know some of it will be hard to hear.  Please work with us to try and fix this broken system before it is simply too late.

Yours Sincerely,

Carol Murdoch

6 thoughts on “An Open Letter – The State of Education

  1. You are spot on Carol. I retired early because I have MS and the workload, indiscipline and stress made my symptoms much worse. I tried so hard to manage everything and coped for seven years ( first diagnosis). But I am so disillusioned with the way education is going, so after 30 years of teaching, I got out! We had endless meetings and I felt like instead of “GIRFEC” we had to make sure boxes were ticked! I care about children, not boxes!!

  2. A well written letter, which addresses many of the issues facing teachers all over Scotland. Thank You for bravely putting yourself forward and saying what must be said if we are to save our education system, children and teachers within it. I love my job so much, it was my life until I had my son. My job is still a huge part of my life but my son has to be my priority if I want to succeed in the most important job of all…. being a parent. However, I had to go back to work full time when he was three months old because I could not afford to live off of £558 a month maternity cover. Since being back my work always seems to take over family life. My son has to cry before I will put my laptop or books down and read him a story at 8pm. I do not want to fail as a teacher but more importantly, I cannot fail as a parent. Something must change! Is it that I change my job or will the Scottish Governnent make the changes required to value and support their hardworking, fully committed and passionate teachers?
    Thank You Carol for offering me a platform to speak out publicly.

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