Ex-teachers – your liberal democracy needs YOU!


A few years ago I left teaching to work “in and around” education.  This year I returned.  Friends told me I was crazy to switch back – I was leaving a well-paid leadership role – but I believe in citizenship and social justice and I want to unleash the power of young citizens to be a force for positive change, regardless of where they grow up.  To achieve this they need access to knowledge.  If I can teach, I thought to myself, I had better get back to the classroom.

Unsurprisingly, there was a gap between my rhetoric and the reality I faced on my return.  I work in a very good school but this year has been a baptism of fire punctuated by insecurities and doubts about the wisdom of my return to school.

Over the last few months I have reflected on some of the issues that may put off ex-teachers returning to the classroom.  So here are ten dos and don’ts for policymakers and senior leaders in schools.

  1. DO back staff Some management practices are unforgivable. Number one on my list is undermining teachers in front of classes and pupils. This could include SMT returning a student to a classroom after being removed by a teacher, or saying to a pupil “But you were good for me last year”. As a returning teacher, just like an NQT, it helps to know that people have your back.
  2. DON’T tolerate inconsistent behaviour policies – I am amazed that schools are happy to allow every teacher to manage behaviour in a different way
  3. DO centralise detentions for poor classroom behaviour – When deciding whether to give a detention I have a very simple trade off – do I want a 20-min break to eat my sandwich in peace? Do I want to go to the loo? If so, I can’t give a detention.
  4. DO give dedicated time and support to returning teachers – It has been informal networks that saved me. I regularly pour my soul out to a nearly retired teacher who helps me think through different situations. This has been indispensable. Every returning teacher should have a mentor – NQTs do – why not returners?
  5. DO explain the mission – Having worked for charities I have seen the power of mission-driven organisations. I worry that teachers have got caught up in catchphrases – engagement, progress, value-added. Why don’t we talk about our actual mission more? We are the guardians of the next generation; so often this is lost in management speak.
  6. DON’T use generic skills and GCSE grades 1-9 at KS3 – In some schools the removal of KS3 levels has resulted in the immediate return of levels where generic skills are being used to create a hierarchy of skills for the new GCSE 1-9. It is utterly meaningless and at odds with genuine progress.
  7. DON’T track what is meaningless  – As if to add insult to injury, the above skills frameworks are used to create dazzling dashboards of red, yellow and amber traffic lights to identity pupils whose progress is on or off track. While this may look like a nifty system, it is completely meaningless given the random skills identified in the skills criteria above. All parents really want to know is how their child is doing in relation to others – too many of our current systems leave parents baffled
  8. DON’T use new Grades 1-9 to track progress – At the end of the day a cohort will sit the exam and then a proportion of top papers will get the top grade. To try to pretend otherwise is just guess work. I can’t think of anything worse than having your predicted GCSE grades hanging over you like the sword of Damocles when you have only just started secondary school.
  9. DO unite against workload – A united front on workload by government and unions would go a long way to unleashing the focused and dedicated profession that I know we can be.
  10. DON’T create a them and us profession – There are now many routes into teaching but we should unite as a profession behind the ultimate goal of unleashing the next generation as our future citizens. It should not matter what route we took into teaching.

We can be a mission-driven profession ready to unleash the next generation. Ex-teachers we need YOU! Your future citizens need YOU and our liberal democracy needs YOU! …..Please come back for good! I did, YOU could too!

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