In Defence of Teachers and Summer Holidays

Mr Gove, please see me afterwards…

Ewing School
The late great Ewing School, where the creator of this blog was taught from 1987 to 1990.

Without the staff of my former school, there’s no way this blog would have amassed over 640 entries, nor be successful. I owe a great debt to two teachers from the above school: one enabled me to appreciate the countryside and urban landscapes of my locality; another one enabled me to appreciate humorous prose.

Thanks to Jeni, I became a fan of the surrealistic poetry and witticisms of Edward Lear, which no doubt had a profound influence on my own works several years later. Through my formative years in the First Group with Marjorie, I became more aware of my locality. Owing to the school’s weekly outings, I discovered the joys of Fletcher Moss Botanical Gardens, loved the sights of the Wilmslow Road Corridor and appreciated my favourite city (it doesn’t take a genius to work which one I’m referring to here).

Both teachers had middle to working class backgrounds, benefitting from Harold Wilson’s expansion of (free) further and higher education. They joined the Ewing School in the late 1970s to early 1980s. My sister followed Marjorie’s and Jeni’s path, with a B.A. Honours Degree from St. Martin’s College in Lancaster, and opted for primary school level education (albeit with tuition fees to pay back). Interests and sense of humour wise, I could see a bit of Marjorie in my sister: travel, walking and dogs.

How does our current education secretary wish to reward the Marjories, Jenis and Sarahs of the present and future? They’ve already increased the cost of their pensions and reduced the rate of their superannuation on retirement. The teachers went to strike over this. Unfortunately, they were fobbed off with Gove’s offer.

So, where does the former Times journalist and one-time trade union member go from there? He’s not finished yet. Not to be content with the extension of Academies and Free Schools (including one headed by a person with less teaching qualifications and life experience than my sister), he now wishes to attack teachers’ pay and conditions further.

Firstly, Performance Related Pay for teachers, dependent on the school’s OFSTED ratings, will make teachers feel as if they’re personally responsible for fluctuations in GCSE and Key Stage attainment levels. Examination results are also dependent on the student’s background. He or she may have no library to study at (due to closure or reduced hours); there may be no privacy at home (substandard housing, or shared bedrooms for example); his or her parents may not be too supportive about their education. Furthermore, the economic climate in their locality may be a disincentive for further study.

This week, Mr. Gove has turned his guns onto school holidays. He has suggested a cut in the typical Summer Holidays claiming they reduce attainment for children in poorer families.

Claptrap! This panders to the stereotype of teaching being seen as a cushy job owing to the number of holidays and short hours. There are no short hours in teaching. Outside the normal 0830 – 1530 Monday to Friday hours, they also do a lot of work out of hours, mostly unpaid. They are not paid any extra for marking coursework, classwork or homework in their humble abode. Parents’ Evenings, Speech Nights, Cross-Curricular Activities: some of us forget that. Not to mention fundraising events such as car boot sales (which may take place at weekends) and attendance at Parent Teacher Association meetings.

Who says they won’t miss the two weeks which Gove plans to cut? Probably a few Sun readers or anyone who hasn’t had a look at the amount of stick they get – from parents as well as pupils! They need the break. They are not just teachers: they are also mentors, mediators and role models as well as their core job. Like Marjorie and Jeni was when I attended the Ewing School.

Gove’s plan to reduce the school holidays is part of a larger plan to deskill and degrade the teaching profession. In the last fortnight, we have heard of a 27 year old woman who has had less teaching experience than my sister, running a Free School in Central London! We have heard of plans to raise the standards of private nurseries. At face value, it seems like a good idea, but the inner conspiracy theorist in me thinks it’s a plan to degrade teachers who have been to university for three to four years, and incurred debts thanks to tuition fees. I have a sneaking feeling that the ‘Super Nannies’ (not to be confused with Jo Frost’s programme) could become replacement teachers at lower rates.

I also have a feeling that there is a back story beside OFSTED’s plans to raise standards in private nurseries. That being the undermining and decimation of the teaching unions. They would replace qualified teachers with the ‘Super Nannies’ – on the National Minimum Wage (or what’s left of it) – create more Free Schools and encourage local councils to turn all schools into Academies. Result: no nationwide pay and conditions across the board; rates varying from school to school; and, a drop in teaching standards throughout England and Wales.

Does the ‘Super Nannies’ concept seem familiar? To me, it reminds me of John Patten’s ‘Mum’s Army’ in John Major’s Government: the idea that teaching assistants – often voluntary – could be ‘cheap teachers’.

If we cut school holidays, who else will we be narking off besides teachers?

One: commuters, who would see their journeys to work disrupted for another two weeks thanks to the school run’s extension.

Two: local authorities. The longer school term will mean already stretched councils and Integrated Transport Authorities having to find more money to subsidise school buses for the extra fortnight. Not to mention how fragmentation of school holidays would mean chaos among bus operators, which brings us on to my third point.

Three: bus drivers. I doubt as if they would like to have another two weeks or so of school runs. They are probably happy with the status quo whereby the summer timetables allow for faster running and more attractive journey times for commuters.

Four: the leisure and tourism industry. The first two weeks of the summer holidays is often a lucrative one for tour operators, hoteliers, seaside resorts, airports and rail franchisees. Reducing the summer holidays will have a negative affect on the UK’s seaside resorts. Imagine if Mr Gove salami sliced the summer holidays from six weeks to one week: how will that expand our service industries in seaside resorts and theme parks?

Five: schoolchildren. I used to like the Summer Holidays, though there were some times where I did get bored. They need a break from studies, given how intense the syllabuses seem to be compared with my schooling. They are tested more often than I was (my sister also sat the National Curriculum’s 7, 11 and 14 year old tests as well as her GCSEs and ‘A’ Levels).

Six: parents. Though some parents may be glad to see their children away from home for seven hours a day, there are many who would appreciate wanting to spend more time with their children, doing things as a family. Like going on holiday, enjoying a traffic free peak hour journey, or visiting Alton Towers for the day.

If we cut the summer holidays, this would not only have an affect on families’ wellbeing, but also Britain’s wellbeing too. It would shrink the service industries in our seaside resorts even further – at a time when holidaying in Britain is seen as a cheaper and more environmentally friendly option. Teachers and pupils alike need a break from the classroom.

Teachers never seem to get the respect they deserve, and I’m not referring to the disrespect via lazy Sun reader stereotypes about trendy teaching.

S.V., 19 April 2013.

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5 thoughts on “In Defence of Teachers and Summer Holidays

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  1. GREAT article Stuart – from a parent who can see both sides of the debate and who often hears the ‘lazy, thicko teachers’ stuff. I know that you (like my own family) have had experience of ‘teaching’ (ie a school…institution) where the teachers are totally up against The Odds and who simply cannot do the job that they wanted to do/ were employed to do. And then you get the Ewing schools…and so many others that (thank God!) I know of – where each child truly DOES matter (ignore the crap that the school prospectus tells you folks…ignore the stupid OFSTED scoring of a school.. and be DEEPLY SUSPICIOUS of all those parents who are impressed by OFSTED scores and who are bonkers enough to move to a so-called GOOD SCHOOL AREA.) and simply do this…get to know your own kid – convey their needs to the school…and if the school and the teachers cannot ‘GET HOW THIS CHILD WORKS’…move on…

    I have NEVER encountered a crap teacher – who doesnt give a toss about the kids. Every single teacher I have encountered, I have come away from thinking ‘Oh…I am not worthy- these people are AMAZING’…But i HAVE come away (many times) very upset and frustrated that these rather incredible individuals have been stuck into a school, or a system that does NOT have the same ambition/end-result- that the teacher has. And the teacher – at the end of the day – has to pay a mortgage, bring up their own family, have good references on their CV.

    So yeah – I am in awe of teachers. Am with you on this!!
    FUNNYL

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    1. Hi Tina,

      I have seen teaching from both sides, firstly as a pupil and, more recently, through my sister being one herself. Besides the stick from parents and the media, they are also browbeaten into reforms befitting the government of the day. Over the last three decades, I have known nothing other than permanent revolution. In the last three decade, we have moved towards greater marketisation of education (City Technology Colleges, League Tables, Academies, Free Schools); achievement has been commodified; good schools are a barometer of local property markets.

      To the untrained eye, a school’s exam results is seen as a measure of its success. There are more ways to define a successful school, and inspirational teachers form a great part of their success. The learning environment, I would say, also has an affect on the pupil’s achievement. Some may be better in smaller schools of Victorian design, or there may be some pupils with a penchant for modernist architecture who wish to be taught in a typical CLASP Building System classroom (like I was).

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  2. Regarding School Holidays don’t teachers need a break aswell, One thing I have found out recently is the teachers and some of the other School Staff don’t get the full 6 weeks off as there’s the syllabus preparation, lesson plans to do and also the sorting out of the registers for the new school term believe, I only know this because I’ve got family myself that work in education and its not all case of oh look at how many holidays teachers and school staff get as it’s just isn’t so

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    1. Hi Andrew,

      Well pointed out, and another field which ‘How Many Holidays Teachers Have’ Sun Readers’ rhetoric fail to appreciate. Obviously, there’s no way that lesson plans ever come out of thin air, nor that the Department For Education sets the timetables or pupil numbers. And of course, how else do they sort out the school buses?

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

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