Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Julia Blois (EB07)



  1.  Birmingham LEA is an exciting and challenging authority in which to work. Pupil results continue to improve year on year and the LEA is often at the centre of national educational developments. Over the years it has also pioneered educational change, particularly on behalf of the present Government and this has had a positive impact on the image of teachers in Birmingham.

  2.  As a teacher of 28 years experience I have witnessed and been part of many changes in the education system. Although on the whole many of the principles and aims of recent Government initiatives are ones I would support, the pace of change is all too often too rapid and not supported either by appropriate resources or quality training. This has a negative and demoralising effect on classroom teachers who are at the forefront of initiative implementation.

  3.  Working in the Birmingham Authority exacerbates the pressure of national change. All too frequently, the LEA appears to feel the need to bid for involvement in every new initiative and pilot project. There appears to be little evaluation or prioritisation of what is on offer. This results in added pressure on Birmingham teachers. It also can undermine the potential job satisfaction of being involved in new developments. Many of the pilots are short-lived and it appears to classroom teachers, that even though they seem to be successful the pilots are often discontinued or funding is withdrawn.

  4.  Teaching is an extremely worthwhile job but at present there are severe pressures which are making it increasingly more difficult. When teachers are asked why they leave, or consider leaving, the job they usually cite three main factors, excessive workload, pupil indiscipline and pay. Graduates often give the same three reasons for looking to other professions rather than entering Initial Teacher Training. As a practising classroom teacher I would concur with the views expressed in these national surveys and would wish to draw to the Select Committee's attention my own experiences and concerns.


  5.  There has been, over a number of years, frequent change to the content of the curriculum. Curriculum changes are of course often necessary to keep pace with the demands of Further and Higher Education, Employers and indeed educational development in general. However, any change to the curriculum demands revision of material, planning and developing new schemes of work and designing assessment policies to match. If the change is significant training is also needed to ensure that teachers are familiar with the new material and can research it appropriately. In my experience of curriculum change, teachers' time and other resources needed to implement it successfully have never been provided. There appears to be an expectation by both national and local government that teachers should use evenings, weekends and holidays to undertake the necessary additional work.

  6.  My perception is that in my subject area I never seem to have the same syllabus for more than one year. Major national curriculum changes made by Government are exacerbated by exam boards making frequent "minor" changes to the syllabus which results in constant alteration of teaching plans for exam classes.

  7.  Too often I am distracted from the all important job of teaching by being required by management to make changes to school handbooks, information for parents, planning documents and Ofsted materials as a result of curriculum change.


  8.  I work in a technology college but despite this only last year were computerised reports to parents introduced. Few members of staff have access to computers at home and so they are required to remain on school premises longer than should have been necessary after the end of the pupil sessions to complete them.

  9.  The school in which I work has excellent administrative staff who will willingly undertake the more routine tasks which in so many other schools teachers appear to do eg compiling class lists, issuing standard letters, printing off information. However, there is often a tension between their work priorities set by management and teachers' needs. This can lead to delay and frustration for all staff. Rigorous deadlines for example can be set by which photocopying should be submitted. This is fine in general but the system does not often cater for an emergency leaving teachers to bulk photocopy in those circumstances.

  10.  School management needs more effectively to identify and prioritise tasks for teachers and administrative staff. There is a culture in all schools that everything needs to be done and that if there is no one else to do it teachers will plug the gap. This is a major contributory factor to excessive workload.

  11.  However, teachers themselves, particularly those with responsibilities which involve the co-operation of other colleagues need to take a more planned approach to their work. Often they will generate new ideas which involve other colleagues in extra work at short notice. In addition, the tasks some teachers pass to other colleagues in their faculty or department to do are often ones which should be undertaken by administrative staff. Conversely, on more than one occasion I have experienced decisions to pass appropriate work to administrative staff which they were more than capable of doing but teachers have then been required to check it. I would question whether this is either necessary or an appropriate use of teacher time.

  12.  School management often recognise that many administrative jobs should not be done by teachers but complain that to address the situation and employ more administrative staff is cost prohibitive. The question must be asked why the use of teachers, who are paid at a much higher rate, is not seen as an expensive solution to the problem.


  13.  Use of these valuable staff in secondary schools is often limited. They are an excellent resource which is often under-utilised through woolly job descriptions, inadequate explanation to teachers on how they can be used and lack of involvement of teachers who will be using them in formulating job descriptions. Sometimes teachers are faced with the opportunity for access to classroom support but the job description is such that the support staff refuse to undertake the tasks teachers would find most helpful. For example the technician to which I have access will not launder tea towels, do general cleaning of worktops and cookers or maintain equipment. These jobs must be done and I have to do them myself.

  14.  I, together with other teaching colleagues, spend an inordinate amount of time each year supervising tests and invigilating internal and external examinations. I believe this is an example of one of the many activities teachers have done by tradition and yet it is a task which does not require persons with QTS to undertake. It is time which teachers could use much more productively for planning, preparation and marking.


  15.  The school in which I work has a discipline policy which is good in principle and potentially good in practice but is undermined by the excessive bureaucracy required to implement it. Points are awarded for poor behaviour and different numbers of points trigger different responses e.g. referral to head of year or letter to parents. However, the recording of the points and incidents generates a great deal of work for teachers and having undertaken this work there is then a frustration that some of the worst and most persistent offenders are not dealt with effectively.

  16.  Classroom discipline is a demanding but extremely important aspect of a teacher's role. It is my perception that today's pupils are now much more difficult to deal with. Many teachers may not experience excessive violence but the low level disruption and constant challenge to authority that is a feature of many schools is as soul destroying for a teacher over a long period of time as a violent attack. It drains energy and enthusiasm. To be dealt with effectively requires teachers to have the time and manageable class sizes to ensure that they can deal with the demands such attitudes place on them.

  17.  Pupils are more often than not very aware of their rights but not of their personal responsibility to exercise some self-discipline. They often know the limitations of a school's discipline policy and exploit this. Where a policy states a commitment to never permanently excluding usually because of the figures the Government publishes to parents the pressure on teachers is immense.


  18.  Birmingham is often in the forefront of new initiatives. I believe that the literacy and numeracy strategies in primary schools have been a success and therefore I can support the rationale for extending these to secondary schools. Excellence in Cities and in particular the gifted and talented programme was a good initiative. However, all of these initiatives generated additional paperwork, revisions to schemes of work and additional meetings. Training for the introduction was inadequate.

  19.  Whilst welcoming some of the recent developments, I am sceptical about the value of others. Summer schools have been encouraged but they eat into time teachers could spend with their own family and the time they need to re-charge batteries. Quality time with my own family is difficult to achieve. The financial reward for teachers who participate is limited. The overall resources used to finance them would, in my view, be better spent during term time providing additional support for those pupils who need it.

  20.  Teachers, particularly those who have responsibility for special educational needs, often feel under pressure to run homework clubs and other similar activities. Again it is a massive drain on teachers' time.

  21.  As a classroom teacher who has to respond to new initiatives and deliver them I am often unaware of where the initiative comes from, what resources are to be provided, and whether the school is required to do it or has the option to choose if it doesn't quite match school priorities. There is rarely sufficient detail given or discussion about its introduction. Space is not created for it and the attitude appears to be simply for teachers to "fit it in".

  22.  Often the people who attend the training/briefing sessions are senior management who return from them with a desire to implement the project as quickly as possible, regardless of the capacity to do so.


  23.  I am committed to high quality continuing professional development opportunities. However, the time allocated for INSET is now normally twilight sessions. Quality INSET which is beneficial and of importance should not be undertaken either at the end of a tiring day when an evening of marking and preparation often stretches ahead of most teachers or at weekends at the end of a stressful week.

  24.  All teachers should have equal access to high quality training but the timing of provision often excludes some colleagues who have family commitments or carer responsibilities and may have already spent several evening engaged in other school related activities.

  25.  To avoid releasing teachers during the working day, senior staff are often sent on courses and return the information. Cascade training is very limited and teachers need an entitlement to direct access quality CPD during working hours supported by supply teachers who are well trained and valued.


  26.  There never seems to be sufficient funding to introduce any changes which would reduce teachers' workload and help them to concentrate on the job of classroom teaching. Governors and senior managers often seem to have significant amounts of money but their priorities never appear to focus on staff support. There appears to be a huge reliance on staff goodwill. Many teachers have given this willingly over the years but it is now increasingly taken for granted and exploited.

  27.  I have regularly subsidised from my own salary materials for lessons. This is not unusual among teachers. Some have undertaken considerable personal expense such as purchasing curtains when the school would not buy the blinds necessary to enable her to use her classroom effectively.


  28.  Like so many of my colleagues I am a dedicated, committed and conscientious teacher who loves to teach and gets tremendous satisfaction from helping pupils to achieve their full potential. However, despite my experience and dedication I feel that I am not trusted as a professional. I am constantly required to prove what I have done, said or achieved and regularly subjected to moral blackmail and my concern for pupils exploited to encourage me to undertake more and more tasks without time, recognition or remuneration.

  29.  I have witnessed colleagues resigning to take on lower paid roles to alleviate the stress. I have watched young teachers leave because after a short time they feel they have no work/life balance.

  30.  I support fully the Government's ambition for a world class education system but I do not feel that it will be achieved unless:

    —  teachers' freedom and confidence to exercise professional judgement is restored;

    —  all teachers can access the services of administrative and classroom support staff to remove some of the routine, time consuming tasks which do not require someone with QTS to undertake;

    —  all teachers have an entitlement to access CPD within working hours;

    —  a national framework for introducing new initiatives, either at local or national level, is introduced which states clearly whether they are a statutory requirement or optional, identifies clearly the funding which will be provided to support the introduction, makes provision for quality training of staff and requires the impact on teacher workload to be evaluated from the outset;

    —  curriculum change is only made when absolutely necessary. When it is required, sufficient time to plan and implement change should be given;

    —  strategies are introduced, such as changes to the teachers' contract, which will act as levers for change to ensure that school managers are clear on what teachers can be required to do, prioritise work, value teachers' time and recognise that the priority is for teachers to teach;

    —  there is recognition that teachers are entitled to a work/life balance and measures are introduced to achieve this.


  I have taught for over 28 years, having qualified in 1975 as a secondary school teacher of home economics, including food and food science, child development, health education and textiles.

  My entire career has been spent teaching pupils in the 11-16-age range.

  My current full time teaching post is at Wheelers Lane Boys' School, in Kings Heath in Birmingham, where I have been in post since 1992.

  Prior to my appointment with the Birmingham LEA I spent the first four years of my teaching career working in a church school in Bury and from 1978 to 1992 I taught in Queen Elizabeth High School in Hereford and Worcester LEA.

Julia Blois

September 2002


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