Exhausted Teachers and Underused Tutors – How Can We Move Forward?

If you look at the numbers joining Sharon Cawley and Sarah Dunwood’s Facebook group, ‘Life after Teaching – Exit the Classroom and Thrive’, a staggering 37,000 people have signed up since its inception a year ago.

Let that figure sink in – 37,000!

If you begin to read the posts, there are worrying threads intertwined through many:

  1. Exhaustion and overwhelm
  2. A culture of bullying 
  3. Stress and depression
  4. Unrealistic and unfair expectations

Julia Silver asked the question on LinkedIn a few days’ ago:

Would more and better use of tutoring in schools make teachers’ and school leaders’ jobs more sustainable?

 

Interesting answers flowed and again, common threads could be unpicked:

  1. Not until tuition is valued as another form of educating. (Victoria Burns)
  2. Not until tuition is recognised as wanting the same thing as teachers. (Shola Alabi)
  3. Not until it is not just seen as a ‘tick box’ task or ‘bolt on’. (Andrea Gadsbey and Helen Kenworthy).

I spent 21 years in schools and around 15 of those in senior management. Initiatives appeared and vanished. There were many attempts to introduce ancillary roles into schools that were intended to support teachers to manage the learning and behaviour/emotional needs of children.

We had the introduction of Higher-Level Teaching Assistants who attained qualifications to be able to teach sessions to bridge gaps in children’s learning. We have had booster programmes to help uplift SATs scores for struggling children in Year 6. Learning Mentors were a huge focus in Education Action Zones to support children who had challenging emotional needs and also additional needs connected to diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

So, where are we after all that money and time has been spent? Has any of this made a difference?

In short, I’m sure for some individuals, the answer is a resounding, ‘Yes’. When a student is working with a determined, caring professional who will go far beyond what is required to help them achieve, of course it will make a difference. So many of us are that individual.

We don’t want to see any student fail so we work doggedly to make that difference. Yet we are not robots. This dogged determination has left many professionals exhausted, jaded and disillusioned as they realise how much they have been taken for granted – how many of these initiatives rely on their good nature and sense of vocation to achieve their results?

Until you treat the wound, the plaster does nothing. And, as we know, most plasters run out of ‘stick’ before the wound has healed.”

 

But on a systemic level, these initiatives clearly aren’t sustainable. The 37,000 competent, caring professionals who were willing to do whatever it took to make a difference have had enough. The initiatives that have been introduced over the last 20+ years are not working on a systemic level because too much is being asked of everyone without the time or sufficient financial support. Teachers and related professionals are being asked to take on initiative after initiative in the hope it will be the one that works.

They are being asked to juggle extra classes and support groups alongside their increasing and overwhelming workload, and are expected to run them thoroughly and meaningfully. But, as has already been said, when the initiatives are added as a ‘bolt on’ to be ‘ticked off’, they won’t work properly and effectively. They are nothing more than a sticking plaster, masking the underlying wound.

Until you treat the wound, the plaster does nothing. And, as we know, most plasters run out of ‘stick’ before the wound has healed. So, what do we do? Get another plaster? And another, and another… ?

No.

Until we invest enough time and money to properly delve into the deep-rooted causes of what is not working in our education system, no number of new initiatives such as the NTP will work successfully.

As far as identifying how tutors could be used more effectively, we could start with how tutors are viewed and managed in schools. If tutors are to work effectively to meaningfully make a difference in schools and to help keep the teaching profession alive, the way we view them, their work must change.

Tutor support must be at the heart of the planning process in schools to identify when and how they could be most effectively utilised. Understanding how tutor support can work alongside the pupils’ regular teaching sessions needs to be identified and planned for. Viewing tutors as professionals who are not just ‘helpers’ needs to take place. Inviting tutors to be part of the planning process is vital. Listening and acting upon their feedback is vital. Encouraging students to value the input a tutor can provide is vital. Allowing and trusting tutors to lift some of the teaching burden from the shoulders of teachers is vital.

Above all, tutors need to be viewed through the lens of equity – as an equal to teachers in terms of the provision they can offer and the effectiveness they can achieve with the money and time to do so. Until then, they will always be viewed from the side-lines and in the shadows.

Bring them into the spotlight, and they will flourish. And so will teachers.

This doesn’t attempt to address the deeper wounds within our education system, but it’s a start.

And hopefully, it’s not a sticking plaster.

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Qualified Tutor is a grassroots movement led by tutors and school-leaders to raise standards in the tutoring profession with the QT, a flexible yet comprehensive qualification and quality mark designed to enable and empower motivated tutors.

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