Recently, in an episode of Waterloo Road, Grantly Budgen feigned depression in order to avoid escorting a group of sixth formers on a trip to London.

The cheerful Grantly

It is a wonder that Kim, Waterloo Road’s Head of Pastoral Care hadn’t previously suspected that Grantly may be depressed.  After all, as she read out a list of  symptoms of depression, Grantly responded: “they’re symptoms of being a teacher“.  Grantly is hardly renowned for his cheerfulness, but suddenly Kim decided that he was, in fact, depressed.  So convinced was she of this, that she shared this with Jo Lipsett, despite earlier assurances of confidentiality.  Does not the LEA have a counselling service for its staff?

Grantlty may have found a friend in the Daily Mail,  if their recent coverage of the trial of Peter Harvey, the science teacher recently acquitted of attempted murder is anything to go by.  Usually, in the Daily Mail you can find evidence of a ‘discourse of derision’ of teachers[1].  However, recently they have become the teacher’s friend.  Take for example this article, it describes “lawless classrooms”  and the chaos and the insubordination, which, apparently are the characteristics of an “average classroom of an average comprehensive” .  The article then features a photograph of the author of the article, Frances Childs, who, it adds, is considering sending her children to a private school.  The popular construction of the comprehensive school as a dangerous place (as well as working class) is found right here in the Daily Mail,  even though reality is somewhat different. 

Amanda Platell, also in the Daily Mail, implicitly holds the Labour Government responsible,  blaming the parents of disruptive pupils,  in particular, single mothers, for driving stressed out teachers to commit acts of violence.  These parents, were, presumably raised and educated under a Conservative Government, though Platell, naturally, misses out this connection when she claims that only the Conservatives can remedy this “wretched state of affairs”.

The behaviour of pupils is a concern for  teachers.  Robert Klasen and Colin Anderson in their 2007 research on teachers’ job satisfaction found that teachers were much more concerned about pupil behaviour and attitude than in the 1960’s[2].  Patrick Barmby also found that pupil behaviour was cited by some teachers as contributing to their decision to leave teaching[3].  Other factors contribute to teacher dissatisfaction and stress, for example the changing nature of teacher’s work. 

The Teacher Support Network reports that stress is a major cause of concern for teachers.  Its figures reveal that 9% of calls to its Support Line were in regard to health and well-being issues.  This does not however mean that the 9% of calls came from teachers who were stressed.  The network also carried out a wellbeing survey in which 87% of teachers reported experiencing stress over the last two years.  However, very few of these teachers will become stressed to the point of attacking a pupil, in the way that Peter Harvey did.  The Daily Mail likes to over dramatise.

To lay the blame with the recently departed Labour Government, is also, to oversimplify the issue.  As Troman, in his article on teacher stress states:  “stress is a pervasive feature of contemporary life” (1990: 331)[4] associated with social changes in later modernity.  Surveillance and a low trust of teachers contributes to low motivation.  The surveillance of teachers and holding them accountable is hardly going to go away with a change in government.  Bad behaviour among pupils isn’t actually the typical behaviour found in the average classroom in the average comprehensive school as the Daily  Mail would have us believe.  The Steer Report[5] concluded that  behaviour amongst the majority of pupils was good, and had actually  improved in recent years.   We will see how the Conservatives remedy this not so wretched state of affairs.

[1] Ball, Stephen (1990)  Politics and Policy Making in Education, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

[2] Klassen, Robert M. And Anderson, Colin J. K.(2009) ‘How times change: secondary teachers’ job satisfaction and dissatisfaction in 1962 and 2007′, British Educational Research Journal, 35: 5, 745 — 759

[3] Barmby, Patrick(2006) ‘Improving teacher recruitment and retention: the importance of workload and pupil behaviour’, Educational Research, 48: 3, 247 — 265

[4] Troman, Geoff(2000) ‘Teacher Stress in the Low-Trust Society’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 21: 3, 331 — 353

[5] Learning Behaviour: Lessons Learned, a review of behaviour practices and standards in our schools by Sir Alan Steer can be downloaded here.


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