Dan Greef is currently standing as the Labour candidate in South Cambridgeshire. He can be contacted via Twitter on @dangreef and his website is dangreef.org.uk. He (and probably some other teachers who are candidates too), will be letting us know how he is getting on throughout the campaign.
I’m Dan and I have the pleasure of being both a secondary school teacher and parliamentary candidate in the general election this May. I keep getting asked two questions, firstly why am I standing? Secondly, how do I find the time? Well I’ll address these both here and try to explain why I think more teachers should put themselves forward for positions in either local or national government.
When I qualified I remember someone complaining that teachers don’t get the same level of respect from students and parents as they used to. I am fortunate and have felt very supported in the schools in which I have worked but research from the ATL states that four in every ten newly qualified teachers are leaving the profession within the first year. Is this that the pressure is too high? Is it the respect too low? I’m sure you will have friends and family telling you that they wouldn’t be able to do the job you do, as the work load is both demanding and the pressures of gaining respect a challenge.
Over the course of this Parliament I have seen changes happen year on year. I don’t mean refreshing developments to improve the classroom experience, but huge changes, including the scrapping many of vocational courses, schools being handed over to trusts to become academies and pay and performance criteria being tied more and more to results. All this has resulted in more pressure and a less enjoyable experience in the profession. If I think I have it bad, then I feel for the head teachers even more so. The pressure to do well or lose one’s job has made the role of being a Head much harder and, I suspect, less enjoyable. TES in January 2013 reported how much harder schools are finding appointing a head teacher.
With this in mind I decided that I wanted to be part of the conversation about the future of education rather than waiting for Westminster to kick the education political football. Why is it that a journalist whose only educational experience was to go to school, is in the position to change the whole of education for a generation? Wouldn’t a university lecturer, a school teacher or a combined panel of both be better? As teachers we have the skills and the understanding of how our students learn and what we need to help them. We could re-address what education is for. Surely to give students knowledge, develop their skills and most importantly help develop them into being independent thinkers. If this government was serious about educating children then surely it would have not removed the AST role making the future career of a teacher one of management only.
So how do I find the time? Well I won’t pretend that I’m some super human or that it’s easy to do. Teaching during term time is certainly more than a standard 37.5 hour job. Mock exams, controlled assessments, planning and marking all take time from life outside of the classroom. Balancing work, family and leisure time is always a challenge, but I have realised that this should never be a reason not to stand. My Conservative opposite, however, is independently wealthy and so can give all her time to her campaign. She can attend all invitations and respond instantly to emails and local press questions. I have had to turn down hustings invitations as they clash with my teaching commitments and must use evenings and weekends to ensure I reply to questions, discussions and events. This government has changed the rules meaning academies decide whether you can have time off or not to campaign. However I’m not deterred. I will fly the flag for all my colleagues and keep the conversation alive about why teachers matter, because as we all know, our teachers made all the difference for us.
I believe in education, in making a difference to the children of my constituency and throughout Britain makes the sacrifice worthwhile. Knowing the fragile state of education will only weaken over the next five years with the Tories drives me to continue.
If you share these values then consider for yourself how you may be able to take this on in your own life. Professionals representing within the political field will only strengthen our position and enhance the chances for the children and young adults whom we educate.