A catastrophe at a primary school sums up the mess our education system is in

depressed boy May children
Steve Topple

A primary school in Bristol stands as a damning testament to the mess England’s education system is in. Because, in a staggering move, every single teacher has quit. And one of the main reasons? Stress.

Mass resignations

Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary School in Bristol has lost all its teachers. As of Friday 21 July, 16 teachers, including the  heads, had left in the 2016/17 academic year. As The Bristol Post reported, many had previously been signed off sick with stress.

Historically, the school had been performing well by government standards, being rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted in November 2013. But by the end of 2016, SATS results were below the minimum standard required by the Department for Education (DfE). Only 24% of pupils achieved the expected level in reading, writing and maths.

It was then that things reportedly started going down hill at the school.

“Stress”

The then-head Clare Murray left in Easter 2016. So, the current Executive Head Louisa Wilson took over in October 2016, with the Deputy Head Teresa Harvey stepping up to the head’s role. But teachers reportedly ‘could not work’ with Wilson and in November many began going off sick with stress. And just before Christmas last year, Chair of Governors Lisa Paniccia-Brown wrote to parents saying staff sickness was “out of our control”.

It was then that the resignations began. An anonymous teacher told The Bristol Post:

All of the teachers are leaving. We’ve had enough. Many of them were signed off with stress, and the pressure was unreasonable. We were told if we did not follow the head’s methods, we would not be welcome at the school. There have been a number of teachers here who have spent their entire teaching career at Our Lady, it’s become home to them. Leaving will cause them great emotional stress, because they share such a tight bond with the school, the children, the parents and the community.

But with the school’s falling SATS levels, was Executive Head Wilson merely trying to adhere to government standards? And even if teachers did have issues with Wilson, it appears the problems began long before she arrived. So, does the chaos at Our Lady of Lourdes point to deeper issues in education in England? Against a backdrop of cuts to funding, teacher shortages and criticism of the SATS system, it may well do.

A backdrop of chaos

Since 2010, successive Tory-led governments have introduced testing for 7-year-olds that led to protests across the country. And tougher testing for 11-year-olds means teachers are worried that children are branded as failures before they leave primary school. Also, nearly a third of teachers who qualified in 2010 have already quit their jobs. With the number of secondary school teachers dropping by 10,000 between 2010-2015.

And, most recently, the government has been criticised over its National Funding Formula. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned that per pupil spending is going to be cut by 4.6% by 2020. The IFS also said that the government’s cuts had not been this severe since the 1980s.

Education in freefall

While the situation at Our Lady of Lourdes is extreme, it is also obviously complex. To say that it is either entirely down to the Executive Head, or completely the fault of the Tory government, would be obtuse. But, amid a climate of cuts, increased bureaucracy and plummeting staff numbers, our children’s education is teetering on a knife edge. And, if something doesn’t change, then we well see more cases like the shocking one of this primary school in Bristol.

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