Reform of the education system is the key to keeping our teachers

Teachers are quitting the classroom at an alarming rate – the highest since records began. Recent polls found that four in ten teachers plan on resigning within their first two years, rising to over a quarter within the next five. Teachers blame an excessive workload and intense pressure, leading to a heavy strain on their mental and physical wellbeing. A separate study claimed that teachers endure a greater level of job-related stress than any other profession. If Britain is facing a mass exodus of teachers, potentially spiralling into a nationwide crisis, what is the key to keeping our teachers in the classroom? Changing the system itself might be a good place to start.

A performance-based education system results in schools and staff being held excessively accountable for a specific set of test outcomes, results that are required to secure continued funding for schools. If these results are not achieved, teachers face the prospect of unemployment to facilitate the school’s ability to work within budget. A large proportion of schools are already faced with a lack of quality teaching materials, and with a decreasing number of qualified teaching professionals, succeeding in this performance-based system is no easy feat. This is not to say that teachers shouldn’t be held responsible. Naturally, as in any other profession, success should be measured through quality of work, which, in the case of educational professionals, can be somewhat qualified by results. However, there is a fine line between responsibility and accountability; holding teachers entirely accountable is simply an unsustainable way of running an education system.

As a result of the performance-based system, educational institutions find themselves under pressure to comply with an almost impossible minimum standard, forcing teachers to ignore depth and creativity in the classroom, placing a greater importance on covering a vast curriculum – albeit somewhat superficially – within a limited time frame. When asked their reasoning for becoming a teacher, educational professionals often speak of the opportunity to help less confident students realise their potential. Conversely, our current education system seems only to discourage risk-taking and originality. Not only does an endless exam culture year after year put unfair pressure on students from a young age, it overwhelms teachers with paperwork, taking up time that could be spent planning lessons, helping brighter students to go further or spending valuable time with less able learners. A teacher’s desire to maximise a student’s potential is diminished to collections of data.

But it’s not too late. The restructuring of our education system will not be easy, yet it is paramount if we are to avoid classrooms of students with no teachers. Rather than pandering to the current obsession of focussing on exams and results, schools should give autonomy to the teachers concerning lesson instruction, allowing lessons to become more meaningful and sustainable. Scandinavian countries have begun to trial this type of model, where schools don’t perform over-prescriptive regulation, preferring to explore ways to expand and diversify the curriculum, whilst continuing to maintain the standards necessary for the progression from school into higher education and university. A less pressured and test-centric environment is one of the building blocks to the happiness and success of our students, as well as the retention of our teachers. If not, we face the prospect of empty staffrooms in the not-so-distant future.