Let me open this piece by noting that I admire many thinks about Tom Rogers. Tom has done great work with Teach Meet Icons, he has talked bravely and openly about mental health issues, and he is doing valiant work at the moment running an online speed dating event. His positivity is made all the more commendable considering the fact he seems to receive abuse from strangers and former colleagues.
To be absolutely clear, this is not an ad hominem attack.
However, having read his recent blog post, and the original post that inspired it, I respectfully have to disagree with him on an important issue.
Before going into that let me first provide some context.
The original article that drew Tom’s ire can be read here (in a curiously antiquated online format). It was written by former headteacher Doug Marr and is titled, ‘NHS has shown the way but will teachers rise to the challenge?‘ If you haven’t yet had the chance, I would urge you to read it before reading on. I am deliberately avoiding summarising for obvious reasons.
Tom’s response is posted here. Again, for the below to make any sense I suggest you read this, too (I appreciate this is becoming long-winded, but historians tend to be best served by finding the original source).
Let me start with where I agree with Tom. He chastises Mr Marr for saying ‘we have thousands of teachers sitting at home’. He is right to do so. This is tone deaf to say the least. All of us in the profession know how hard the teaching community is working right now. It is nothing short of shocking, particularly for a former headteacher, that Mr Marr does not afford them the credit they deserve.
Yet, whilst Tom is right to call Mr Marr to account here, I disagree with Tom on a separate but related issue.
My disagreement is this: Mr Marr suggests that ‘there is a case for extending the school day, Saturday opening and reducing the summer holiday’.
To me, this idea seems eminently sensible.
Let me be clear: I have no particular desire to work over the summer or on my Saturdays; I enjoy the long summer break and treasure my weekends: it is a chance to recharge and relish in life.
But some things are more important than others. Mr Marr is right that this crisis has the potential to further entrench educational inequality. None of us want that. If we had a Hippocratic oath equivalent, I expect that would be it.
But I think it is reasonable to expect teachers to take extraordinary measures in extraordinary times.
Would it be hard? Yes, absolutely. Particularly if teachers had to work through most of July and August and then straight into September. It would be brutal; the worst term of our lives.
And there would need to be clear conditions. The two that spring to mind (although there are no doubt many others) are thus:
- Working would have to be safe. Medically, verifiably safe, not like the sort of nonsense trotted out in articles like this earlier in the week.
- Working overtime would also have to be an explicitly temporary measure. This cannot be used as an excuse down the line for government to trim teachers’ holidays.
A third point – and I have no idea how this might work in practice – might be that it would have to be voluntary. If there are those who cannot give their time, whether because of childcare or other responsibilities, then allowances should be made.
But in times of crisis, we all need to be prepared to sacrifice and if it seems like those in power are not doing so, then it needs to be the rest of us who are prepared to lead by the power of our example.
I have too many friends who are doctors who are right now running into the fire. If there are teachers willing, then I think we should be running into the fire with them.