Monday, 29 February 2016

Coming home to roost

If, as a habit, you denigrate a particular caste, or class, or profession, especially if you are a government, you ought not to be surprised when that profession, or class, or caste deserts you.

So if you tell people who are unable to find paid employment, such as the disabled, that they are shirkers, not workers, don't be too surprised that they are less than impressed.

Last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of Ofsted, told us that in a year more teachers were going abroad than are being trained as graduates. There is such a "brain drain" in the profession that he was urging politicians to impose "golden handcuffs" on newly trained teachers to prevent them leaving for more lucrative positions in the burgeoning industry of private (public) school offshoots abroad. Of course the very concept of handcuffs at the bottom end of the employment ladder is indicative of the regard in which teachers are held. They would be less golden handcuffs than iron shackles - the gold lies abroad. I suspect most teachers would not mind their profession being regarded as serving their pupils, but handcuffs are more redolent of slavery or crime.
Photo: Association of Teachers & Lecturers

I doubt that it is so much a matter of pay levels that lures our highly trained, able young teachers overseas, but the constant low regard in which they are transparently held by our government. The curriculum is so closely prescribed that there is no room for creativity in the classroom. There is such a lack of trust that inspections focus in on the extensive record-keeping which consumes so much of teachers' time and energies. The low regard is of course reflected in pay. There are other countries such as Germany and Holland where pay reflects higher regard. An informative article in the Guardian shows how far down the comparative table the UK comes. The first and major step the government should take to stem the flow of teachers abroad would be to stop denigrating (or "dissing") the profession and to begin showing appreciation for it (or "bigging it up").

Incidentally, I see that Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State, is considering importing someone from America to replace Sir Michael when he retires. A fairly eloquent indication of her low regard for our home-grown educational talent.

Talking of importing from abroad, today's news announced that 69% of NHS trusts are actively trying to recruit staff from overseas. 23,443 nurses' and 6,207 doctors' posts are vacant (BBC News) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It's true, apparently, that the NHS is employing more staff than ever, but unfortunately the demand is bigger than ever. However if you treat highly trained and intelligent men and women as obdurate bolshies, and demand they do more and more with less and less resources, you have fundamentally undermined their respect and their working conditions. No wonder so many leave the service or find employment where they are more highly valued, better resourced and better remunerated. I know one senior doctor who has crossed the border for that very reason.
Photo: British Medical Association

There are two pernicious effects of this shortage. One is the inevitable resort to agency staffing to plug the gaps - which is of course more expensive than in-house staffing as well as less effective since it militates against creating teams who work together. The second, which is sometimes linked to the first, is the effect of denuding needy nations of medical expertise, of which, bluntly, their need is far greater than ours. Salaries here will always be attractive to those in developing countries. And so we have the grotesque spectacle of our government excluding asylum seekers while at the same time encouraging by their policies an exodus of essential skills from impoverished nations. In my view it fails the test of morality.

It was the good book, I seem to remember, that said, "You reap what you sow." Well, we've sown lack of respect for teachers and many seem to want to find more rewarding environments. We've sown antagonism and mistrust for the medical profession and many look for where their expertise is truly appreciated - and we are all the losers. Let's have less rubbishing, and more honouring, of the women and men on whom our essential services rely. Try it and you'll be surprised at how things change.

1 comment:

  1. These professions require so many skills and require a lot of time and dedication.You would hope they would be supported in keeping standards high!