The year in review

Julian Stanley reflects on the big education stories of 2014 and looks forward to the new year ahead

2014 was a dramatic year for education and the teaching profession from the brutal killing of Ann Maguire to the shock departure of Michael Gove and the spiralling chaos of the Trojan Horse investigation. As we begin the new year, it is prudent to think about what we have learnt from this eventful year and what we can look forward to in 2015.

When same-sex marriage was given royal assent in February, it marked a momentous step forward for equality. However, as our LGBT survey revealed there remains a worrying picture of entrenched homophobia in schools, among teachers and students. More than two-thirds of staff told us they had witnessed homophobic harassment, while a similar figure said were not adequately prepared to teach same-sex marriage or LGBT issues to their pupils. One of Nicky Morgan’s first actions as the new education secretary was a £2million pot to tackle homophobic bullying in schools. This is an important step in the right direction. The focus on LGBT policy in schools has tended to be on students, but we hope to work with gay rights charity Stonewall this year to support more teachers.

Ann Maguire’s death in April was a dark day for the profession. At the time, I was invited onto several radio and TV shows to discuss the threat of violence in schools and the risks faced by teachers. It goes without saying that this horrific incident was an extreme and tragic rarity, but what it did was highlight the issue of teachers battling poor behaviour from students on a daily basis. Reports have since shown that physical attacks against teachers are rising and Ofsted later reported that students lose up to one hour of teaching a day from low-level disruption in lessons. We parents, schools and politicians need to do more to tackle this.

Michael Gove’s hasty dismissal paved the way for a more conciliatory tone from his successor Nicky Morgan. In her first official speech at the Tory party conference in September she said: “I don’t want my child to be taught by someone too tired, too stressed and too anxious to do the job well. Teachers have been at breaking point for some time; our health survey in October painted a stark picture of a thoroughly unhealthy, uninspired and overloaded workforce. An overwhelming majority of teachers told us they have suffered common mental health problems in the last two years 88% said they were stressed, 72% suffered anxiety and 45% had depression. Morgan’s Workload Challenge which soon followed was a rare and timely opportunity for thousands of teachers to tell the Department for Education directly how to tackle the relentless burden of paperwork, red tape and increasing responsibilities which contributes to these issues.

As the general election approaches, it is vital that the next government continues to prioritise the health and wellbeing of staff. In the autumn, we launched a campaign ˜Healthy teachers, higher marks?’ which showed there could be a link between a teacher’s health and wellbeing and the outcomes of their students. In the coming year, we’ll seek to begin major research into this, which we hope will encourage policy makers to understand the urgent that teachers who are fit and supported mentally and practically in school will only then be able to continue to raise education standards.

Ofsted’s annual report ended the year with another indictment against headteachers who were charged with failing standards in secondary schools. What we need in 2015 is to curb this culture of blame; instead of criticising and overloading our teachers and school leaders, politicians need to value and support the brilliant work of our education workforce.

The political parties will begin to launch their manifestoes in the coming weeks. Labour’s Tristram Hunt has already called for a teachers’ oath while the Coalition has announced an independent College of Teaching. We support, in principle at least, anything which aims to raise the status of the profession by celebrating the head work of teachers. But politicians must be wary of introducing quick-win initiatives rather than addressing the real, hard issues: exams, inspections, workload, training, recruitment, retention, etc.

And to end or rather begin the year on a positive note. Malala Yousafzai, who was nearly killed by the Taliban for standing up for girls’ rights to education in Pakistan, became the youngest recipient of Nobel Peace Prize last year. Her key message was also added to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations: One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.