Our "Big Brother" education culture must end

25 Apr 2014

In educational institutions, there is a vital need to ensure the safety of students, however, where do we draw the line? It’s all very well wanting to keep students safe, but in recent months, teachers have raised concerns about the misuse of security cameras to measure how staff handle situations in the classroom. I am all for making sure that we improve standards of teaching, but this “big brother” attitude towards teacher performance is absolutely the wrong way to go about it.

 

Indeed, this culture of constantly observing teachers undermines health, standards of education and, ultimately, degrades our education system. It’s a vicious circle that I wouldn’t wish any teacher to be stuck in. In an article in the Huffington Post from November 2011, it was recorded that two of the five biggest reasons why teachers leave the profession is because of stress or poor working conditions. This is not a surprise, especially if their performance is routinely spied on and scrutinised. Good teachers should be trusted to teach well, no matter the circumstances, not put under pressure by monitoring. A big brother culture will only cause standards to fall, not increase. 

Moreover, not only is this observation obsession causing educators to abandon the teaching profession, but it is also limiting the quality and quantity of teachers entering the system. If we cannot provide an attractive working environment for individuals to thrive and enjoy then how can we expect them to voluntarily choose the profession? We need a radical culture change, one which prioritises teachers and installs them as crucial components of a flourishing society. By stifling teachers and placing them in an environment of stress, unrealistic expectations and constant monitoring, we cannot hope to get the most out of the children they are educating.

Additionally, there are other ways of measuring performance. In my old school, observations by the head or deputy head were used in order to keep track of teacher performance. Despite having a person watching the teacher, this was as infrequent as once every term or half-term. Is this not a more sustainable way of assessing teacher performance?

On the whole, the persistence of this “big brother” attitude to teaching performance exemplifies a real problem regarding trust and expectations. Heads of schools should have faith that they have employed the right people to teach kids the knowledge and skills they need for the future. It shouldn’t be down to camera footage. It’s a hard balance to strike, but if you think creatively about the issue, there must be another way than this. 

Backbench Minister for Education

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