In Teachers We (Don’t) Trust

It probably would not surprise you that the three least trusted professions by the public are politicians, lawyers, and government ministers. What may get you thinking is the three most trusted professions: Doctors, lecturers and teachers. Two of which work in education, in which we entrust the minds of the younger members of our society. So it’s quite settling to know our faith is well placed.

However, when I say faith, I mean the most minimal amount. Strict teaching laws means that teachers are given very little freedom, and are forced to teach the centralised National Curriculum. This curriculum that they have to teach is drafted, ironically, by people who work in the least trusted professions. If they dare stray from the strict rules imposed set by central government, they will be reprimanded by the Office for Standards in Education, or Ofsted. The same Ofsted whose current chief inspector has warned schools over the issues of children wearing high-visibility jackets on school trips, claiming they looked like “tiny construction workers”. Style before safety, it seems.

At Panjango, we believe in contextualised learning, that is to say putting learning into context, giving it meaning and purpose. It is very hard to do this when teachers are given little wiggle room to place it into a real life setting. But what is the issue? This is the same all over the globe right? Ei. That’s Finnish for no. In Finland, teachers are given such a high degree of freedom to truly follow their own pedagogy, allowing for the potential for fully contextualised learning. What’s more, Finnish teachers are not subject to constant monitoring by an evaluation team, like Ofsted. They are trusted.

It does not matter what I think about this though. What do teachers themselves think about this? Thanks to a research by a group compiled of both Finnish and English lecturers who specialise in education, led by Rosemary Webb of the University of York, we can find out.

On the topic of a standardised national curriculum, teachers felt that “lost flexibility wasted opportunities to capitalize on children’s questions and enthusiasm” and they “mourned” (their word) the loss of potential interest over a spontaneous local or national event. Other teachers likened having a national curriculum to being “spoon-fed” and that this conveyed the message that teachers did not have the mental capability to construct their own lesson plan. The teachers also admitted that they found the curriculum focused lessons boring and were constantly clock watching! If teachers find lessons boring, what are children going to think?

Not only are teachers bored, but they are stressed too. They do not see Ofsted as an institution that ensures quality in teaching. For them, Ofsted is a literal bogeyman that they feel “powerless” against. For example, one teacher, who shall remain nameless, left her post because the inspection process was too intrusive and critical. Sadly, this teacher is not an exception. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) found that 1 in 5 teachers thought of Ofsted as an unnecessary contributor to workplace stress. Startling statistics when you think that there only purpose is to ensure children are getting a good education, and not to pester or criticise teachers. In relation to the consequences of this, in a survey carried out by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASWUT) that interviewed 3,500 teachers, found that over two thirds considered quitting in 2015, due to stress.

This article has presented an interesting paradox: Teaching is one of the most trusted professions in the UK. However, teachers are not being trusted to be left to do their job. Their creative potential is being sidelined by exams and inspections and, in too many cases, they are being literally driven from work.

Panjango was founded on the belief that learning should be connecting to life. If we learn to trust teachers, this can easily become a reality. What do you think? We trust our children’s future to teachers, can we not let them do it their way?