Plans to tackle Wigan teaching crisis

Max Atkins
Max Atkins

Plans to help reverse the teaching crisis, which has left Wigan struggling to recruit and retain education staff, have been warmly welcomed by borough union representatives.

At the end of last year Max Atkins, secretary of the Wigan branch of the National Education Union, warned that the borough would run out of teachers if drastic action was not taken to improve working conditions.

Mr Atkins revealed that Wigan teachers were leaving at “alarming rates” due to increasing workloads and “continuous cuts”.

But now the government has revealed a new “teacher recruitment and retention strategy” in an attempt to undo some of the damage, which has become evident across the country.

The Department for Education strategy outlines four plans of action to help reduce teacher workload, support early career teachers, create more flexible “shared” working patterns, and make it easier for people to gain a career in education.

Education bosses are promising to “work with Ofsted” to combat the “audit culture” which they say puts unnecessary pressures on headteachers and their staff.

As part of this the government is proposing that a new inspection framework will look “unfavourably” on any schools which ask teachers for “burdensome” levels of data collection.

The report states: “Ofsted has been a force for good over the past 30 years, playing a vital role in raising school standards and in providing important information to parents.

“But as with other forms of accountability, perceptions of what Ofsted wants have unintentionally contributed to behaviours that can distract headteachers and teachers from their core purpose.

“Ofsted has worked to combat the myths about ‘what Ofsted wants’, but a more direct approach is needed.

“The new inspection framework will rightly rebalance inspection towards the wider substance of what happens in a school – supporting higher standards for pupils and complementing performance tables.”

Max Atkins, Wigan’s NEU secretary said that any reduction in workload would be “extremely helpful” for overworked teaching staff.

“There is still an expectation of tons and tons of data from schools,” said Mr Atkins.

“The focus is still on scores and upper league tables so any plan to help that would be extremely helpful.”

The secretary has also praised plans to offer “job- sharing” opportunities to teachers, which he says will improve conditions for educators coming back to work after maternity leave.

He added: “Quite often women who are coming back from maternity leave will want to go part-time and quite often they are turned down for various reasons.

“I’m really glad that this proposal has come forward not only because of the advantages for the individuals but for the schools and pupils.

“Pupils going to secondary will often have a teacher for each subject.

“So this is a good way to get them ready for having more than one teacher.

”It also means that if one of the teachers is off sick - the other may be more likely to step in and cover – which will reduce the money spent on supply staff.”

Mr Atkins said that although staff pay is important, the increasing workload is the main reason for a growing exodus from the profession.

“Better pay is obviously welcomed but it’s not going to solve the crisis,” he added. “I think the part-time opportunities for staff is definitely a good idea. The problem is always cost across the board, the budget for schools is often being frozen.

“I was in a school this week which is losing six teaching assistants because of the budget crisis. That is half of their TAs who will now lose their jobs.

“There is then a knock on effect too for the teaching and support staff. There is just no money in the system.”

Plans are expected to be implemented over the course of the next two years.