Secret Teacher: I was forced to claim benefits over the summer holidays | Teacher Network

I recently found myself out of a job. On the whole, I’d enjoyed working at my school – the dreaded Ofsted inspection went well and exam results were predicted to be positive. But on the final day of term, I walked out of the school gates with a bitter taste in my mouth.

I’d first interviewed for a maternity cover contract, with the promise that there would be an opportunity for a permanent position at a later date. But on my first day I was handed two separate contracts – one for the summer term of that academic year, and one for the next academic year. Over the summer holidays, the school effectively considered me unemployed and I wouldn’t be paid.

With no mention of this in the interview and no other work lined up, I had to agree to the terms and was forced to claim benefits to make sure I could pay my bills.

I’d been looking forward to a new role, but this wasn’t the start I’d imagined. Nevertheless, the summer holidays came and went and I resolved to show the school my worth as a teacher, with the hope of getting a permanent position down the line.

When September arrived, I found that the reality was somewhat different to what I’d been led to expect. Not only were there others who had been given two separate contracts, the practice had been going on for a few years. We’d all been told the same thing – that there would be a permanent position for us in due course.

I watched as colleagues without permanent contracts left at the end of the winter term, despite having hoped there might be something more for them. The promise of opportunities that never seemed to materialise fostered mistrust between teaching staff and management, who either didn’t seem sure what was happening or tried to placate anyone who asked if they would have a position for the following academic year.

I continued to do the best I could with my classes, getting excellent feedback on my observations and from students, but decided I needed clarification on my own position for the next academic year. It took more than a month to get a response, and even then it was non-committal: the school was impressed with my work but wasn’t sure of its staff needs for September. Getting this answer made me feel that my efforts with my students weren’t truly valued, and I still didn’t have any security. If I didn’t want to return to the difficulties of the previous summer, I had no choice but to move on.

I’ve been lucky enough to find another position – one with a permanent contract and holiday pay. But when I left my school, morale was low: it was clear to us that the leadership team were more concerned with reducing costs than retaining good staff.

Such a penny-pinching approach is likely to kill off the passion in staff for their work. I know from my own experience the stress of being put in a precarious situation can add to an already high-pressure role. And do we really want to put teachers in a position where they’re having to take weekend and evening jobs to make up for the shortfall in holiday pay?

I’m concerned, too, about the students – high turnover of staff makes it harder for them to form positive ongoing relationships with their teachers, and this type of disruption may have a negative effect on learning [pdf]. Aren’t these the things that schools should be putting first?

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