‘The reason for teacher burnout? The Big Brother culture’

If we want to stop teachers from leaving teaching for good, we need to scrap Ofsted, and accountability measures that promote ‘outcomes’ as the be all and end all, writes Tom Rogers in Tes

This week, I’ll be participating in the live debate hosted by Tes: “Burn-out: How can we keep the best teachers teaching?

The key question for me is: what’s actually driving the epidemic that we call ‘teacher burnout’? What’s the driving force behind the things that happen in schools that force good teachers out of them? My answer is a simple one: the accountability measure and those that enforce it.

In my view, workload is one thing, intense pressure is another. Of course, they link together – but not always. This is an important distinction. Teachers expect to work hard, I certainly do. It’s when you work hard but aren’t trusted, are viewed with suspicion and constantly questioned that wears plenty of teachers down to breaking point. So many ‘tasks’ stem from the real threat of an unfair accountability system based on student performance and the willingness of some individuals within school communities to buy into it all.

The pressure on teachers to ensure their students make ‘rapid’ and ‘sustained’ progress is stark, often invisible to the naked eye, but incredibly powerful and taxing. A constant stream of questions ranging from “what are you doing to ensure X hits his target grade?” to “what interventions have you applied to ensure X makes sufficient progress?” creates stress and self-doubt in the minds of so many excellent teachers.

This culture of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ when it comes to ‘underachieving’ students is so damaging – it’s become a virulent disease that’s infected many schools. It’s this disease that drives the vast majority of the ‘tasks’ that add extra workload for teachers, and hence causes eventual burnout – the observations, learning walks, work scrutinies, pupil progress interviews, marking for the sake of evidence, excess meetings and so on.

Above all, it’s the ‘Big Brother is always watching’ feeling that sends many over the edge. It’s easy to level this stuff at poor senior leadership teams: a strategy peddled by Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman and Sean Harford on social media and beyond. Last year, Spielman blamed ‘bloggers’ for whipping up the anxiety in the profession: “There are quite a few heads in the system who write blogs that spin up levels of anxiety. It’s not just the various parts of government… there’s also a responsibility in the whole education system not to manufacture tension which shouldn’t be there.” The spin continues to be spun.

However, apart from offering schools and teacher’s clear guidance on evidence-based practice to reduce workload (there’s still so much to do here), surely we have to tackle the root cause of it all – the accountability measures and how they are enforced. So, scrap Ofsted gradings, (perhaps scrap the organisation itself), scrap the accountability measures used that hold up ‘outcomes’ as the be all and end all.

Read the full article ‘The reason for teacher burnout? The Big Brother culture’

Do you agree with Tom Rogers? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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  1. Anonymous

    Spielman knows that Ofsted is the main cause of stress in schools. Her assertion that the organisation is constantly striving to reduce stress is so much pointless noise.

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