This is guest post from Claudia McIntosh
‘These standards will apply until further notice’ reads page 3 of England’s National teachers’ standards document. This 15 page long piece of literature was revised in 2012 and was subsequently introduced to replace the core standards. 2012 was also the year that I began teaching. For me, that was the year that marked the beginning of a career, one that could help to shape the young minds of so many positively. I was motivated, confident and enthusiastic that with the knowledge of these 8 standards by my side and the lengthy training sessions focusing on them, us teachers could achieve anything.
Sadly, I was wrong. As my professional skills developed, I began to question the vocation that I had trained so hard to be a part of. The 8 standards were failing all of us – students and teachers alike. There were gaps in attainment that grew larger as the years passed, issues between myself and colleagues that I didn’t have the words or confidence to address. I was ill equipped in so many ways and so were the majority of my colleagues.
I began working with some likeminded teacher friends and eventually we launched equality sessions for staff members. We created spaces for safe conversation and self-reflection. We did this independently and our resources were entirely based on our experiences as either being part of a marginalised group or being an ally.
Was it a step forward? Yes, for the organistation almost certainly, but the responsibility to maintain the dialogue of educational equity and fairness while battling attitudes of indifference and a ‘tolerance’ of difference rather than an embracing acceptance, often left me feeling emotionally bruised. Each staff session was becoming noticeably traumatic. My thoughts travelled to the other schools in the country who are yet to embed staff equality sessions. Teachers from schools who are yet to sit down with each other and safely participate in any form of equality based CPD.
Over the past few weeks, during conversations with fellow teacher friends and parents, it has become clear to me that teachers need more support. I’ve been asked the question ‘what can I do to help?’ on countless occasions. It’s hard to know exactly how to respond when I am continually searching for answers myself.
‘How can I embed anti- racist narratives within my subject?’ ‘How can I start equality sessions with my work colleagues?’ ‘How do I have difficult but very necessary conversations with staff in a way that helps us become more unified?’ have been just a few of the questions that have found their way to me, and I’ve decided that these questions should no longer go unanswered.
Standard 5 of the 8 teachers’ standards ask teachers to address ‘the needs and strengths of all students. It asks us to consider Special Educational needs and disabilities but fails to refer to the other 8 protected characteristics.
The absence of all 9 protected characteristics in this particular standard, leaves a wide gaping space for teachers to fall into the abyss. With no support in how to address these areas in our training years, with no guidance in how to facilitate meaningful conversations with our working teams, with no continued leadership in how to develop our curricula to meet the needs of our students and explicitly show awareness of anti- racist/homophobic/religious/ageist/genderist narratives, we as a nation will never achieve consistency or equitable learning within our current education system.
I call for an amendment to standard 5 to include all of the protected characteristics. This change will support continued learning opportunities for teachers, and ensure that training organisations and education leaders are held accountable for ensuring that school curricula is reflective of those who it aims to serve and therefore, capable of taking all students needs into consideration.
So to answer the question, yes, teachers should be held accountable for dismantling the oppression that still exists in our societies but in order to do this with seriousness, and to achieve consistency across all education providers, we need the teachers’ standards to be updated so that we have confident teachers who are ready and well equipped to provide the kind of learning experience that all students deserve.
If you are reading this as a fellow teacher, as a parent or just as someone who believes that this is urgent and imperative, please show your support by clicking on the link below and signing this petition.
Claudia McIntosh is the Well-being and Equality lead in a secondary school in East London. Providing staff with on-going training opportunities to raise awareness of educational equity, and ensuring safe spaces for self reflection and teaching development.
Step mother to two curious, Lego obsessed human beings aged 7 and 9, and textiles craft enthusiast, Claudia is currently working towards a diploma in Hypnotherapy, with the vision to channel this back into her profession by supporting emotional well-being health in BAME professionals. Exuberant teacher by day, introverted over thinker by night, Claudia was motivated to pursue a life long career in education and helping others to reach their full potential.