An Open Letter to Nicky Morgan From One of The 55,000

03/05/2016 16:30

Dear Nicky

I can remember the exact moment I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I was 14, sat in a German lesson, learning about the case system. As my teacher explained the intricacies of dual case prepositions, there was something in her method of explaining an incredibly difficult topic that made the penny drop in my mind. I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to help young people to understand, and indeed enjoy, the challenges of grammar.

When I qualified (yes, that's right, I qualified. Parents seem to appreciate educators with suitable qualifications, the awkward fusspots that they are) and started in my first teaching post, I was described as being like Tigger - full of energy and enthusiasm and bursting with ideas. During the first six years of my career, I often remarked that getting up in the morning and going to work was something I looked forward to. It didn't feel like a chore.

The mood began to change in 2010. Suddenly, the profession I loved was under sustained attack from an Education Secretary who portrayed teachers as the problem, rather than part of the solution. Since then, we've seen our pay, pensions and conditions of service subjected to a relentless onslaught. We've been described as 'enemies of promise'. I was at the NASUWT conference where you, Nicky, had the audacity to tell us to 'step up' and 'do our bit'. The problem is, to you, 'stepping up' means selling one's soul to a vision of education completely at odds with the factors that drive teachers in their work.

You see, I believe passionately in the uniqueness of each and every young person I come into contact with. Whereas you view 'success' as shoe-horning future units of economic activity through a straightjacket curriculum that places no value on creativity, my educational outlook is the polar opposite. I would love to think that all young people are capable of achieving an A* in French. Unfortunately (for you), the basic human reality is that, just like us grown-ups, students come to school with individual talents and preferences. I've witnessed first-hand the sheer pressure of meeting wholly artificial targets in an arbitrary set of 'academic' subjects drive young people to depression, self-harm and disillusionment.

This is what drove me out of the profession I love. I am one of around 55,000 teachers fleeing from mainstream education this year. I feel angry and powerless. The thing is, Nicky, I'm not afraid to say that I was an excellent teacher. I had extremely positive relationships with young people, was able to engage students of all abilities in language learning and yes, ensured that they reached their full potential at examination level. My love for being in the classroom and spending each working day in the company of truly inspirational young people had never diminished. Indeed, it is that aspect of the job that I miss the most, but I could no longer bear being an agent of the archaic, inadequate educational delusion pimped out by you and your associates.

I know you think you have the best interests of our nation's young people at heart, Nicky. Having never worked in the system you seek to revolutionise, however, I question your ability to know what is best for it. When teachers go to work in the morning, their whole purpose is the nurturing of young minds. You, however, are guided by a wholly different set of principles. From the wholesale gifting of schools to unscrupulous academy chains and the creation of divisive, extortionately expensive 'free' schools, to the workhorse conveyor-belt culture you have helped to instil in our schools, your policies are mired in conservative ideology.

Our young people deserve better. They deserve qualified, highly-skilled, motivated vocational teachers. They deserve a broad curriculum that prepares them for the future - their individual future - and that places equal value on the areas in which they excel. They deserve and need the time to learn through play and socialisation and not to have the yoke of exam stress placed around their necks from the moment their parents first wave goodbye to them at the school gates. They deserve a basic educational entitlement that rejects selection, privatisation and segregation by stealth.

Crucially, our young people deserve an Education Secretary that listens to, and takes seriously, the concerns of the experts: teachers. They deserve someone at the helm that recognises the crisis at the heart of the system they steer and acts to resolve it. Only this will stem the haemorrhage of principled educators from the profession. Be in no doubt, Nicky, this is happening on your watch. Act now.

Lee Williscroft-Ferris
Always a teacher