Teacher wellbeing, workload and mental health. The distorted picture.


In 1997 G.Brown handed over fiscal control of interests rates to the Bank of England. This move came to increase stability, prospects and growth of jobs to provide for the people. Before this, we saw a turbulent period where interests waved around as a gesture of political power. Education is currently experiencing the same political gesturing, this is generating a turbulent work place. One which is great impacting the wellbeing of our teachers.

Policy makers have no idea, school leaders are focusing to much on teachers and teachers are desperately trying to meet the needs of everyone. Nicky Morgan’s decision to introduce the “work load challenge” implied a complete lack of government understanding of the new pressures that reforms are having on teachers. From these reforms schools leaders told to increase the resolution on what is happening in the school. Finally teachers are adding these pressures on to their packed schedules.

On the ground interviews

Three perspectives: Teacher, Policy, Leaders

Leaders: When discussing the issue with Leaders of schools it became clear that the type of work which people are expected to complete hasn’t changed, but it the accountability which is causing the difficulties. For example, come to work on time, plan lessons, teach lesson and mark books, then get paid. Heightening accountability has resulted in the “same” work load, but significant increases in scrutiny. So, what’s happening is workload is increasing because practitioners are now fine coaming their practice to meet the new established accountability measures.  What are senior leaders doing to support staff?

Policy: Policy reforms need justification and these justifications comes from the impact which is associated to changes in quantitative data. For example, the transition to the Ebacc is a simple policy that will provide students with an enriched education. However, teachers are bending over backgrounds to make these changes real and bridge the gap between reality and government. The relative enriched of Ebacc reforms has been shown to be limited, so what is actually being implemented is an ideology that doesn’t take into account what is happening in the classroom. This begs the question, why are teachers no guiding reforms?

Teacher: Simply, workload is increasing this distorts where progress is being made. All teaching staff are experiencing a workload increase, in the majority of cases all staff attribute this increase to senior leadership heightening accountabilities on teacher performance. For example, performance related pay, learning walks, work scrutinises, seating plans, lessons plans, data tables, qualitative person reviews, class analysis regular progress reviews. All these new management strategies to monitor performance force staff to fine comb there work, this drastically increases work load. Unfortunately, this results in staff spending more time on making the learning relevant for the leaders as opposed for the students. Therefore, reforms are putting more emphasis on the teachers which detracts emphasis from the children.


It is clear that changing accountability measures across the industry has resulted in significant increases in work load. Not because the job has change but the scrutiny to which professionals are now expected to work under have. This accountability forces teachers to focus more on their own work and how it looks to SLT/ofsted in comparison to focusing on the best outcomes for the students. By using accountability measures the government is demanding increased control within every classroom, should we be concerned by this? What is clear is that educational leaders are detached from the actual pressures of the classroom.






Bringing meaning to the purpose of academies


The logic behind Academies

Free Will is what most believe to be the ability to actively engage and change the world around you and for most we believe that we have a conscious ability to be so. True conscious ability, as I have written about before, is not as conscious and we have first thought. History, society and education all influence how our conscious develops and the perceptions of which we take from the world. The idea that our perceptions of the world might not be are’s, but could possibly be the influenced by the interests of someone else feels very dehumanising. Yet, how society allows others to be educated is exactly this. Forced curriculum, denial of ‘truly free’ choice and the expectations that all individuals will ultimately finish education looking identical.

The true humanist education is one where an individual is provided with the opportunity of choice, reflection and action. To exist in a society where we are free to make our own decision is one where we believe that we to play a part in influencing the community and world at large. Yet, this freedom is only given to most during their adult years. So, if you live a quarter of your life without choice, reflection and action will you ever consciously engage with these? Or will your perspective and the decisions you make reflect those that you have been given?

Progressive education, originating in the late 19th century, was developed to educate students to be prepared for the world of the future. In doing so there was a focus on developing a critically engaged individuals who was educated with the skills to, communicate, evaluate, understand, reflect and take action in response to the world around them. This supported a person to have the ability to make a free, conscious, choice.

The purpose of Academies

If we want a humanist education then we must provide opportunities for a person to develop a critical consciousness and develop their own perspective on the world. However, this can only occur if we provide a person with the opportunity to make critically informed choices. Steve Hilton argues for this type of education in his new book. To paraphrase, if we know, and want, every individual to be their own person then shouldn’t we be pushing for schools that provide a spectrum of opportunities (schools ranging from traditional forms of education to forms of highly progressive education, to everything in-between, subjects specialists etc) for students to chose from?

Primary Focus

The primary focus of academies is to remove power from central government and deliver this to the local communities. Stakeholders of the community are able to influence the people they develop in their small section of society as well as offering a greater diversity of schooling experiences, this drive genuinely empowers a community to become involved. To increase community engagement and support local industry, charities and other organisation are encouraged to invest into these schools to support their development. Yet, investments come with the reflections of interests. For example, a type of education that would support individuals working at their company. However, is it in a companies interest to provide a spectrum of opportunities? Would a management consultants really need their staff to have an understanding of art history?

The picture of private investment into academies does not reflect the ideal from which they were established on. How money moves in society is largely dependent on the interest of those who control most of it. An example of pre-academy influence is the investment into the Arts, in particular music, where a local authority spent £1.15 per child in the community during 2012. As a society we rank subjects and value them based on their relative commercial use in the future, with the arts featuring near the bottom. When thinking about the number of arts based big businesses willing to invest into schools the number is ‘surprisingly’ low. This might mean that unregulated business investment could begin to warp the spectrum of schools we want to see.

Distorting academy success

Academies are proven to enhance the educational outcomes of their students (2), but abuse of this is causing a widening gap in inequality. Under the Labour government only schools that were disadvantaged became academies. However, under new reforms any school in any community can now convert into an academy, this was typically high performing schools (5) which were not disadvantaged. In doing so the positive returns, originally identified in academies, will deliver better results for the most advantaged, reinforcing the inequality gap (2).

It is always dangerous to assume that correlation implies causation, but recent party changes now means that all underperforming schools are to become academies, this goes against the founding principle. The autonomy which we want to see in our schools will be replaced by the pressures of adhering to forced engagement where the investors and the recipients of funding have conflicting visions on what they want to achieve for their community. Therefore, supporting a very general education. (Solution for profit academies (3)). Therefore, it could be dangerous to assume that forced academisation will result in success. Previous success has only arisen after careful and thoughtful negotiations.

Academy applications

The current changes in the present economic situation in the country is financially squeezing schools to become academies, as opposed to schools selecting increased autonomy. An in-house review of the academy application process identified,

“There was no dominant main reason for conversion but the most frequently cited were: to raise educational standards; to obtain more funding for front-line education; and to gain greater freedom to use funding as you see fit.” (DoE, 2012)

This notion simply reinforces schools are experiencing funding constraints, rather than innovating, the academy system offers an opportunity to alleviate these restrictions or innovation by efficiency. This contradicts the fundamental changes we hope for. So are academies really improving by authentically innovating or are we just seeing an improvement in the efficiency of teaching methods as a result of enhanced funding? (For example, larger SEN departments, more resources, easter revision etc.)

Conclusion, but by no means the end of discussion

It is clear that the original autonomy that was envisaged for our academies, which did originally work, have been stripped away and streamlined to a one size fits all. Financial constraints and the reflection of business interests is twisting our schools to make cuts and innovations through efficiency as opposed to actually genuinely creating a 21st century education.  This started as a great vision, but we have ended up sacrificing the power of choice and free will of the next generation as a result of politics and funding restraints. Is it worth it?

References – (1) Paraphrased from Radio 4 Archive Opinions on Philosophy

(2) http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/cp325.pdf

(3) http://schoolsweek.co.uk/there-arent-enough-academy-sponsors-for-coasting-schools-so-why-not-let-for-profit-providers-try/

(4) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/187560/DFE-32058-2012.pdf

(5) http://www.newschoolsnetwork.org/what-are-free-schools/free-school-news/education-select-committee-optimistic-about-impact-of Further reading https://www.croydon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/articles/downloads/academies.pdf

Cultural Capital in Education – What can be done in the classroom

Theory is splendid but until put into practice, it is valueless.” (James Cash Penney). An educational example, “Yes, I understand what to do sir.”

The introduction of new theories, skills and attributes is difficult because students struggle to get to grips with practicing new theories. As an educator this is where the true value is added. So, how do we move from the theory of non-cognitive development to implementing it into practice?

From Policy to Practice

The continual debating by political panels, educational theorists or interjections from third parties leaves untested theories. The classroom teacher, unknown to them, has been involved in developing new policy. They are now expected to put this policy into practice. Like the students they will struggle, but in this case there is no one on hand to support them. The theory is forgotten as true mastery has not been attained. A reactive response develops to throw together evidence of practice. (For example, marking books in my PGCE and NQT year). So how do we support the implementation of non-cognitive development into the classroom?

Simple answer, bring teachers into policy development. Over the past month I have been involved in 4 different policy networking events, where the general theme has been on non-cognitive development in students. Buzz words were flying out left, right and center. Yet, every time I found myself able to relate to strategies used in the classroom, that exemplified the non-cognitive traits. Offering a critique to proposals based on evidence shifted the direction of conversation from the “policy buzzworder’s” to myself. This demonstrates the value of those in the classroom.

Implementing non-cognitive skills?

A Head teacher from a local school told me, “the schemes of work in their school center around the kind of people that would be successful in University or vocational qualifications” and backwards plans from this vision. When I am developing a scheme of work, I think about the non-cognitive skills and learning objectives I want the students to develop. For example, I have recently planned and finished a unit of work on Metals and their Reactivity. The non-cognitive focus is to develop independence, self-reflection and choice (I’ll be blogging about this next week). This was alongside the academic learning goals. By orientating yourself to focus on the kind of students you want, the activities begin to tailor themselves.But, failures, critiques, alterations and improvements have been important to support the reflective development of this teaching strategy.

This is where the problems lies, there is no accountability for non-cognitive development in the classroom. Therefore, the risk:benefit ratio is useless, because it not worth risking progress to develop new systems of non-cognitive learning. Consequently, teachers can not relate to the policy that is trying to be implemented and their opinions become less valued. It’s easy to see the paradox we are caught in. So where does this leave us?

College of teachers…

Cultural Captial in Education – Incorporation into policy

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I want my horse to drink to survive, but I can not force the horse to drink water. This is true in education, a teacher can establish a learning environment for a pupil to be successful, but can not force success into a pupil. There must be a want or desire to do so. So how do we develop desire?

The Problem

Policy makers only focus on observing feedback which shows the strongest or clearest correlation which implies causation. (“Rule 1 of stats club never talk about stats club. Rule 1 of stats club, correlation doesn’t imply causation”). For example, greater attendance results in better attainment. True, but as the Young Foundation (2012) identifies this does not identify the true value added. True values are the personal attributes a student develops to increase their attainment, perseverance, confidence or a want for success. Rarely have I heard of someone not wanting success and being successful, we all have a degree of consciousness. If high academic attainment links to high performance, and this to personal attributes, where in policy are we planning to develop this?

Simple answer, not at all.

Developing soft skills (Non-cognitive skills)

It is these skills that define who we are and how we behave and the futures we make for ourselves. The Young Foundation (2012), EPI (2014) and FEA (2015) all support the idea that the developing non-cognitive skills is crucial to underpin academic and life success.

Outcome Model example:

  • The outcome model links the benefits of developing an individual’s non-cognitive skills (intrinsic and extrinsic) with benefits for both them and society. (This seems like a win-win situations, there are limitations).
    • Individual achievements of behaviours – Want to develop key skills to build their own success.
    • Social and emotional capabilities – Core skills that allows the person to develop their own desires.
    • Inter-personal relationships – Good parents and community contributes.
    • Benefits to society – Strong independent individuals who are not reliant on the state to support their success.

So, if there is clear evidence what is being done to introduce these concepts into educational policy?

The difficulty is identifying a clear correlation between good non-cognitive skills and academic and life success. West (2014) published a conflicted study that shows no linked between the non-cognitive skills and academic performance. Yet, the Young Foundation (2012) has clear evidence to identify a positive relationship between student’s emotional well being and socio-economic background. Policy decisions based on qualitative information is not reassuring. But, after reading reams of threads and literature there is a body evidence all pointing in the same direction that can not be ignored.

Recommendations for policy

The future directions of policy need to make an active effort to collect data through longitudinal studies and develop tests to identify the non-cognitive development of an individual over time. Hold Ofsted (hopefully in the future a college of teachers) accountable for ensuring that schools have effective systems of developing non-cognitive skills within their pupils. By not doing anything, the power of a student to make their own decisions academically and later on in life will continually shift reliance and dependence on others for support. Establishing a link between non-cognitive skills and academic performance has never been more important in a developed society.

In the future all the horses will have the appropriate non-cognitive skills to see the importance of drinking. The same will be true for our education system, students who have a desire for success.


West (2014) – http://cepr.harvard.edu/cepr-resources/files/news-events/cepr-promise-paradox.pdf

Fair Education Alliance (2015) – http://www.faireducation.org.uk/report-card/

Economic Policy Institute (2014) – http://www.epi.org/publication/the-need-to-address-noncognitive-skills-in-the-education-policy-agenda/

The Young Foundation (2012) – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/175476/Framework_of_Outcomes_for_Young_People.pdf

Cultural Capital in Education

Schools should be seen as centres for improving the academic and cultural capital of it students. To my knowledge there is no policy that currently exists to develop or support the cultural richness of our students. For example, a student who attends private school has a variety of cultural and academic experiences to engage in. Parents hold the school accountable because they want their child to have these experiences. My school is sponsored by a top University, this establishment also holds the school accountable because they too want students who have had a variety of experiences. Why are state schools not held accountable for cultural capital? It’s clear that top institutions want well rounded culturally rich students. But, those from low socio-economic backgrounds struggle to gain similar experiences due to financial or guidance limitations. What is the Government going to do to address this?

The definition of cultural capital is, “Cultural capital is the ideas and knowledge that people draw upon as they participate in social life. Everything from rules of etiquette to being able to speak and write effectively can be considered cultural capital.” (Crossman, 2010). This phrase considers the development of social and practical skills that allow a person to take part and function in society. In modern democracy an individual would need strong social capabilities to be successful. This means that part of one’s success in society is dependent on their social/cultural capital.

Cultural Capital categories:

  • Embodied – concious or passive inheritance of certain behaviours or skills. Skills influenced by the environment and life that an individual leads. For example, colloquial dialect. A modern society also expects basic life skills to be develop in these avenues as well, focusing for example.
  • Objectified – physical objects of science or art owned or appreciated by an individual. Only by those who have developed strong embodied understanding of history and art.
  • Institutionalised – recognition of culture. For example, institutions provide qualifications for individuals.

Societies responsibility for develop cultural capital in all individuals is important. Embodied education is the responsibility of parents and carers. Objectified and institutionalised education is the responsibility governments and community leaders. In middle class households parents and carers continually support the embodied development of their offspring. Parents from low socio-economic community struggle to find the time to support their child in a similar way. What is been done to support the development of embodied education in these individuals? What is being done to support the embodied development of parents who were also deprived?

Society has a responsibility to support all individuals enhance their cultural captial. Government policy linked to cultural capital in education is difficult to find. I found myself constantly being referred to cultural education (DfE, 2013). The report identified that cultural education was important. To support cultural education more funding to objectified, arts based charities has been increased. The kind of students who will take advantage of these opportunities are the mobilsed middle class. There is little evidence of supporting increased mobiltiy in all individuals. For example, how a pupil thinks, talks, problem solves, socialises, concentrates, believes, aspires, plans, prepares, organises, repairs a bike, plays chests or develops other non-profitable skills that, as we all know, are important but not supported.

For those indivdiuals from low-socio economic backgrounds more must be done to support their embodied cultural development. Liberate their ability to fairly operate in a social society. What are we doing to support these individual’s? To my knowledge, nothing! That is an injustice.

Crossman, 2010. http://sociology.about.com/od/C_Index/g/Cultural-Capital.htm

DfE, 2013. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226569/Cultural-Education.pdf