It has been reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce this week that both primary and secondary schools in England will reopen on March 8. A significant number of Conservative MPs have been pressuring the Prime Minister to prioritise getting children back into schools, and Keir Starmer has called for teachers to be vaccinated during half term to allow for a safer return to the classroom. Educational disruption has become a pressing concern, but, in the midst of a national lockdown, many teaching unions are concerned that it is not safe to reopen schools.
In the discussion surrounding reopening schools and the impact school closures have had on education, ‘teachers’ are often described as a monolithic group, failing to recognise the different experiences and difficulties that teachers in different settings have faced in the pandemic. This article––which is one of a series looking at the impact of the pandemic on education––will explore the often stark differences between teachers who have middle or senior management roles within their schools and those that do not.
In a poll of 500 teachers conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, 55% said that they hold a middle or senior management role at their school in addition to their role as a teacher. Middle or senior management roles include heads of subject departments, heads of year groups, assistant headteachers or deputy headteachers, to name a few. Teachers with middle or senior management roles oversee other teachers and larger groups within the school, report to governors, and ensure the school’s targets are being met.
Teachers with senior or middle management roles are more confident that schools in England will begin reopening on March 8 than those without management roles. 56% of teachers with management roles are confident schools will reopen while 64% of other teachers are not confident. Nevertheless, a significant minority of teaching staff are not confident that the proposed reopening date will happen.
Teachers without management positions are divided on whether or not they support or oppose the suggested reopening date, with 38% supporting and 38% opposing the proposal. On the other hand, the majority (57%) of teachers with management positions support the suggested 8 March reopening date, with only a quarter (23%) opposing.
Teachers with management positions are also far more confident that schools will remain open for the rest of the school year without further national closures, suggesting that these teachers either do not believe there will be another national lockdown in future or believe that schools will remain open in future lockdowns, as was the case in the second national lockdown. The majority (57%) of teachers with management positions are confident that schools will not face national closures for the rest of the year while the majority of other teachers (61%) are not confident.
Middle and senior managers in schools are also significantly more optimistic than other teachers in thinking that the school they teach in will remain fully open for the rest of the year without disruption. While schools were open between September and December, many schools had to send whole year groups of students home due to positive cases. Therefore, it is particularly striking that 63% of teachers with management positions are confident that they will be able to remain open without disruption and demonstrates a confidence that senior school staff have that in person instruction can return.
Even if schools do remain open for the rest of the school year, children have already missed a substantial amount of in person instruction. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has appointed a new taskforce to look into ways to bring children up to the standards they should be at. However, 61% of teachers without managements positions think it would be best if there was no attempt to make up for lost time this year compared to just 31% of teachers with management positions. A likely reason for this variance is the greater degree of accountability on teachers with management positions to ensure students achieve certain quantifiable targets in their assessments.
Teachers with middle or senior management positions are divided on how best to make up for lost time: a quarter (24%) support school on Saturdays, 27% say shortening summer holidays would be best, a fifth (18%) think we should lengthen the school day. Overall, teachers with management positions are significantly more keen to make up for the time lost during the pandemic than other teachers. As managers, they have to ensure that the school meets its targets and can look at how students and teachers have been performing in the school overall. Therefore, they may be more conscious of current students are performing with relation to previous years.
Indeed, 58% of teachers with management positions think students would generally be better off if they repeated the year, a drastic measure to make up for lost time. A smaller but significant 44% of other teachers think students would be better off repeating the year.
In particular, 62% of teachers with management positions and half (50%) of other teachers think students ordinarily taking GCSE or A-Level exams this year would be better served if they repeated this school year, amid overall support for the cancellation of this summer’s exams.
Thinking about the future of education post-pandemic, two-thirds (66%) of teachers with management positions think some of their students would be better off in a remote learning environment than attending in person classes, compared to 46% of other teachers.
The higher degree of confidence about the reopening of schools among teachers with management positions is reflective of the greater likelihood of them thinking that the Government is currently taking the right measures to address the pandemic. Overall, 60% of teachers with management positions think the Government is currently taking the right measures to address the pandemic, compared to only 39% of teachers without a management position.
Ultimately, our research finds that the Government is more likely to find support for the measures it’s taking among the leadership of schools, even if more junior teachers appear to be less supportive of measures being taken. Although the above findings capture just one of the many fault lines that exist within the teaching position, it highlights why we should be wary of discussing teachers as a monolithic group.