Dr Clare Woolhouse
I feel compelled to write this blog as the news dissects the WhatsApp messages shared during the covid pandemic between the Government ministers Gavin Williamson and Matt Hancock. These messages apparently criticised teachers and their unions for not wanting to work (The Guardian 1.3.23). Alongside these revelations, many teachers are continuing to strike, which although primarily framed as about the stagnation in teacher’s pay that has not matched inflation for over ten years (NEU, 2023), is also about broader pressures around workload, the redistribution of school budgets and teachers’ views about needing to ‘fight for education’.
Why should these two aspects be so important to everyone, not just to education professionals or those with children of school age? There have been ongoing difficulties with the recruitment and retention of teachers (Foster, 2018), that has been exacerbated post covid (Fullard, 2021). The figures for 2019 showed 34,543 new entrants to Initial Teacher Training (ITT) courses (DfE, 2020a, p.1) which only represented 85% of those needed to meet the Teacher Supply Model (DfE, 2020a, p.1). In 2022 these figures declined; postgraduate teacher recruitment was 29% below target (UK Government Research Briefing, 2022). To exacerbate the problems with newly qualified teacher supply in England, there is an ongoing concern around the increased number of experienced teachers leaving the profession. Taken together this leads to an increased pupil per teacher ratio (DfE, 2020b) with the potential to subsequently impact on children and young people’s experience of learning.
While it may not be possible for those working in education or academics working in the field of Education Studies to influence the pay of teachers, we do have a social responsibility to undertake research that can offer insight into why teachers may not enter the profession, or choose to leave after a few years. We need to explore how these professionals think and feel about themselves as teachers, the demands placed on them and their opportunities for career progression. We also need a clear understanding of teachers views and concerns about recent changes in their various roles and particularly the expanded pastoral responsibilities they have adopted post covid (Fullard, 2021).
In recently published research I share the narratives told by serving teachers about their roles in Early Years, Primary, Secondary and Further Education settings. In the article, I include verbatim accounts to consider how individuals construct their sense of themselves as ethical and committed teachers by calling on the idea that education is a vocation that someone is ‘destined’ for. As one teacher describes teaching; “its not just a career …. Its about who you are and your attitude”. The teachers also describe the passion they have for teaching, the level of care they wish to show to those they are teaching and the importance of placing ‘their children’ at the centre of education because seeing children develop ‘is what it is all about’ according to one Early Years Practitioner. Alongside very positive comments about the experiences of working with children and young people, facilitating learning and seeing individuals benefit, the teachers also raised concerns about increases in workload and specifically in the levels of monitoring and time consuming paperwork now required.
In sharing this research I seek to offer a window on how teachers feel about teaching, the challenges they currently face beyond the issues of pay, and provide context for those involved in initial teacher education to suitably prepare the next cohort of teachers. The aspects I have outlined may also be instrumental in helping government ministers, and indeed all of us, to really understand the passion and commitment today’s education professionals are required to demonstrate every day of their working lives, often in extremely challenging circumstances in order to prepare the next generation of doctors and nurses, engineers, scientists, teachers, and of course politicians and journalists.
To read more about this research please see:
Woolhouse, C. 2023. Technologies of the self and narrating an ethical teacher identity, or how to tell stories of a life well lived. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. Published online 24.2.23: https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2023.2181453
50 access free copies available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/IZR282BR3HDRUGZSNQFG/full?target=10.1080/09518398.2023.2181453
Dr Clare Woolhouse is a Reader in Education within the Secondary and Further Education Department at Edge Hill University.
Department for Education (DfE) (2020a). Statistics on provisional recruitment to initial teacher training programmes in England in 2019 to 2020 academic year. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/initial-teacher-training-trainee-number-census-2019-to-2020
Department for Education (DfE) (2020b). Statistics on school pupils and their characteristics programmes in England in 2019 to 2020 academic year. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/schools-pupils-and-their-characteristics-january-2020
Foster, D. (2018). Teacher recruitment and retention in England, (briefing paper 7222) House of Commons.
Fullard, J., 2021. The pandemic and teacher attrition: An exodus waiting to happen. University of Essex research repository. http://repository.essex.ac.uk/30976/.
National Education Union (NEU) (2023) blog on strike action, accessed 4.3.23 at: https://neu.org.uk/pay/pay-campaign
The Guardian (1.3.23), Gavin Williamson said teaching unions ‘just hate work’ during Covid pandemic, accessed 4.3.23 at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/01/leaked-messages-boris-johnson-bemoaning-face-masks-u-turn
UK Government (8.12.22) Teacher recruitment and retention in England Research Briefing, accessed 4.3.23 at: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7222/