This can be a golden era for the best teachers

Fergal Roche

So, with the funding belt having to tighten up by a good couple of notches, school leaders are going to have to consider the value return on every penny they spend. And bearing in mind that at least 70% of those pennies go on teachers, it inevitably means that leaders will be considering the value that each of their teachers provides.

Let me confess that when I started teaching, I deeply resented the fact that I worked so much harder and, from the results, effectively than the teacher who taught in the next door classroom. Let’s call him Mr Jones. He pretty much always turned up late to lessons. Rarely set challenging work. Always said that his subject was much too hard for most children. Only volunteered for the easiest, least demanding after school activities. Being the naïve keeno that I was, I piled on the work with my kids, made them learn really long poems, insisted every piece of work was fully repaired and learned from (this was at least 20 BB – 20 years before Birbalsingh), ran the school library, directed the school play, sang in the school choir, helped coach sports. And I was paid about £12,000 less than my colleague next door. Owww – it still really gets to me. Not so much the money, just the injustice of it.

When I was a head, I remember being challenged – I think by a couple of peripatetic music teachers , who wrote to the chair of governors – that I was ruining the happy atmosphere of the school. Eek, I remember thinking, as the chair invited me for a chat with the two people in question. Their main challenge was that I had replaced one (very ineffective) teacher with a dynamic individual who expected huge things from the kids, but who was greatly respected by them. I had also replaced the very old-school deputy with two assistant heads who I needed to help me turn the school around. In short, I had to make tough decisions as to which staff I valued most, and which, however painful, I valued least.

Headship is a tough gig – and no one expects or, to be honest, wants it to be lacking challenge. Selecting, nurturing and rewarding the most effective members of staff is the most impactful thing that a head can do. I know it can all get a bit Darwinian as the strongest win out and the weakest fall by the wayside, with the best being best looked after, but that is what happens in the most effective schools. Fact.

Needless to say, the apparent brutalism of this modus operandi should be tempered by the climate  set by the head and senior staff.  Great teachers should have great working environments in which to work. They should be loved greatly by the bosses. They should be paid well. Should only have to fill their days with what effective teachers do. NOT use multiple data forms to prove they are working hard to the head. NOT write meaningless drivel about pupils (you know the thing: Jasmin can use a pair of compasses effectively – aagh). Heads have to create environments which declare to all within and around it that:

1) Teachers are life changers

2) We treat them as very special people

3) We love them and protect them from dross

4) We only employ them if they are effective or going to be effective very shortly and

5) We realise that great teachers are a scarce commodity: they can get a much better paid role in Abu Dhabi, with an apartment attached to it if we don’t keep them loved-up

Do you know what? I predict this will be a golden era for the best teachers in the land. Heads will be desperate to hold on to them. They are by far the most valuable asset in the school.

Warning: treat them with care.

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