Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Saturday 17 June 2023

No Country For Old Men (or Women)

The Guardian reported this week on the record number of teachers baling out.

The latest workforce survey by the Department for Education (DfE) found that 40,000 teachers resigned from state schools last year – almost 9% of the teaching workforce, and the highest number since it began publishing the data in 2011 – while a further 4,000 retired. 
From observation, I’d guess that the 40,000 includes many who have opted for early retirement but are still technically of working age; this represents something of a looming crisis because, while the government points out that nearly 48,000 joined the profession in the same year, this is not like-for-like replacement. The current orthodoxy - that teacher training is all - means that experienced specialists in Physics or Chemistry could well be replaced in the A level classroom by NQTs with, say, a Sports Science degree from a former polytechnic (assuming the school finds a new physics teacher at all).

From friends and family to chance meetings on walking holidays or elsewhere, we are encountering newly-retired teachers in their fifties all over the place, many of them in the shortage subjects like Physics, Chemistry or Modern Languages. Being in the business ourselves we know that, unless they have other sources of income, these teachers will have taken a substantial financial hit to get out before the age of 60.

The Guardian doesn’t have to look far for an explanation:
Teaching unions blamed poor working conditions and the long-term erosion in pay for the exodus, while Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said: “This is yet more evidence that this incompetent Conservative government has created the perfect storm in recruitment and retention of teachers. 
With rather more of a worm’s-eye view of the situation, I’d beg to differ, at least over the direct culpability of the government. True, older teachers have long been accustomed to seeing their incomes outstripped by friends who went into other jobs or professions, but those who objected would have left years ago, while younger staff went into the profession knowing the pay structures. Government initiatives do make extra work and complicate the job, certainly, but they have far less impact than the day-to-day frustrations generated by the antics of senior management - at least the sort of heads and deputies who manage to impress interview panels and climb the greasy pole In today’s climate. 

And then there’s the fear factor. Barely a week seems to go by at present without news that yet another unfortunate teacher has fallen foul of the management over issues of gender or allegations from pupils and, in cases like the subject of the previous post, it’s increasingly hard to escape a sense of ‘there but for the grace of God’, especially given the way some younger colleagues seem ready - or even compelled - to harangue their elders about gender identity and white privilege at every opportunity. With pupil behaviour plumbing new depths and orthodoxy saying ‘believe the victim’, teachers are more vulnerable than ever before to accusations from all sides.

One school I know publishes a staff list in order of arrival at the school (the list was recently reinstated after a brief hiatus when one of the high-ups apparently decided it was too divisive or hierarchical or something) and it highlights what may be a national trend; twenty years ago, the majority of those named were long-serving teachers who had been at the school for ten years or more, last year, three-fifths - sixty percent of the teaching staff - had been in place for less than five years.

This influx of mainly younger staff, together with the resulting lack of continuity and stability for staff and pupils alike, is changing the nature of the working environment, creating an embattled older minority of teachers wearied by virtue-signalling brash young colleagues, endless awareness courses and pointless schemes and initiatives, all the while living in constant fear of denunciation for saying or doing something which would have been perfectly acceptable a decade ago but which, today, could end a career or worse. Small wonder, then, that many are choosing to retire early, despite the financial penalties.

It’s nothing new for older staff to feel under-valued in a progressive climate and children will survive this as they have survived previous upheavals in education, but it’s hard not to feel frustrated at the wasted opportunities and the vast amount of wisdom and experience being lost from the system. 


  1. I'm sure you are right about the day-to-day frustrations generated by the antics of senior management. We have teachers in the family and it does come across that way.

    It's the drip, drip, drip of it every day. I experienced it in my field, took the financial hit and retired early. Not so much to get away from it, but because it had become less rewarding than daily life outside work. It was insidiously unrewarding and life does have to be rewarding to some degree.

    1. Drip, drip, drip sums it up completely.

      Another consequence of the high turnover of staff is the loss of long-term colleagues whose support, friendship and humour helped in dealing with the petty annoyances. Your recent post reminded me that, before the unofficial thought police arrived in our midst, some of us used to play a breaktime game of thinking up suitable acronyms for the endless management initiatives; a requirement for pupils to read for 15 minutes a day at a time of their choice, for example, became Free Allocated Reading Time (puerile, certainly, but an excellent morale-booster in stressful times).

  2. A few years in secondary and tertiary education (not as a teacher), convinced me of the above points, particularly that the heads and upper management were useless basket cases.

    1. Indeed! Much of the rot set in when computers arrived in school; elderly governors, panicking at the thought of being left behind in the technological arms race, rushed to appoint relatively young and inexperienced heads who, unlike older and wiser teachers, were deemed to be better able to cope with IT.

      The interviewers’ ignorance of the subject and their desire for reassurance rendered them highly impressionable and favoured the most egregious, arrogant and unrealistic self-publicists, the sort of heads and deputies who have been making teachers’ lives a misery ever since.

  3. Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. Those who can't teach, teach PE. Those who can't teach PE become management.
    The first three were quoted to me by a very good PE teacher. I added the last through bitter experience . . .

    1. Its as true now as it’s even been - although these days few aspiring heads hang around in the classroom for long enough to find out.

      I once had the misfortune to work under a head in his early thirties who referred to the school as a ‘brand’ and himself as ‘the CEO’. One of his innovations was a report-writing workshop ‘because we all find grammar and punctuation difficult’; he followed this up with an email reminding us to write reports in ‘full sentances’ [sic].
      His classroom subject? English.

    2. That should of course read ‘ever’ - I hate iPads and the feeling seems to be mutual.

      We are all prone to the occasional typo; I’d be more willing to allow him the benefit of that doubt on ‘sentances’ were it not for a subsequent email inviting staff to ‘wonder over to the art department’ to at lunchtime to view a display (prompting a cynic in the department to circulate an anonymous email:
      “I wondered lonely as a cloud:
      “What the f*** are all those yellow things?”)

  4. "Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said: “This is yet more evidence that this incompetent Conservative government has created the perfect storm in recruitment and retention of teachers."

    The government is certainly incompetent but it isn't conservative by any stretch of the imagination.

    1. On recent showing, I’m not really sure one can call it a government either...

  5. I am old, Father William, so I have been the subject and witness of many educational changes of fashion.
    Some of the best teachers that I have had came into teaching after having had another life. Later I realised that their experience trumped the paper qualifications of others.
    Now it seems that one can study at school, go on to Uni, get a good degree in any easy subject, go to teacher training college and then be launched into a career before one ever encounters puer horribilis. And one can't stand them, does not know how to deal with them and your colleagues in the staff room just laugh.
    So one's options are to get promoted away from the frightful oiks or buckle down and dream of the long holidays and early release. After having invested so much time and having no other valued talent it would take a good bold teacher to chuck it so early. Sad.

    1. Certainly ‘puer horribilis’ must come as a shock to many and it’s chilling to imagine how the school-age miscreants one reads of in the papers must behave in the classroom.

      Worryingly, some younger teachers approach the problem by attempting to ingratiate themselves with their pupils - something which may well be fuelling the current problems over gender identity.

  6. Why the surprise? Our so-called "education" and "skoollzz" are little more than Marxist infested, knowledge-lite, discipline-free, evreeee-chuyyyullld-is-preshuuuuss, I-know-my-rights, daytime grooming units, turning out compliant drones. No knowledge needed, go onto Google. Spelling, maths, pah... ChatGPT used instead. A generation just capable of doing as they're told, no real drive except to be "influencers" all sporting the identical coloured hair, tattoos, piercings and of course the now de-riguer " pronouns" and fake "gender" for their identical individuality.
    Obsessed with the lates phones and soon to be unproductive digital slaves in their new 15minute prisons, every movement, transaction, word, deed and thought tracked and sanctioned or cancelled for "wrong think". The ultimate cage, invisible, but oh so "convenient".
    A nightmarish hybrid of 1984, Brave new world, Minority report, 1990 (Wilfred Greatorex ) and The Machine Stops.

  7. The Greatorex TV series passed me by but I agree with you about the others; EM Forster in particular should be recognised for the amazing long-sighted prescience of ‘The Machine Stops’.

    As for influencers, I read a very funny piece today about ‘flying dress’ pictures - $1,000 for a photographer and props to get an exotic location photo for your Instagram page and never mind that it looks exactly like all the other pictures taken in the same hired dress at the same spot.


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