Tolerance and the job description

A common theme I’ve noticed in schools (both primary and secondary) is the promotion of Tolerance as a concept to be taught to the pupils.

In general, this is admirable, in practice this impossible. Not so much in the ideals of the concept, but more so in its delivery.

This is because tolerance is neither permitted nor promoted amongst the staff. Schools are run as a very tight ship and people can be made to feel very uncomfortable if they disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy.

I have to state at this point that I am not talking about racism or any other illegal or dangerous ideology. Rather, I mean the simple concept of a difference of opinion and the ability to express this. Or, to put in another way, freedom of speech.

Teachers are often told that they must “uphold the ethos of the school”,  frequently this is included in their contracts. This is, in itself, a reasonable request of allegiance. After all, a Catholic school can expect that a member of staff would, if not to actively promote Catholocism, at least not take every opportunity to actively undermine it. However, the term ‘ethos of the school’ seems to be becoming ever more fluid, and this is where the problems arise.

Teachers who signed on the dotted line many years ago now find that the schools they work in are rapidly becoming unfamiliar to them. They no longer have the same working conditions, nor are the same expectations made of them. In other words, the ‘ethos of the school’ that they originally signed up to has changed dramatically. Some choose to quietly go along with the new systems, others choose instead to leave. The final category of these teachers are the ones who chose to stay, but refuse to remain silent.

It is here, at this point, that the lack of tolerance becomes clear.

I have worked in many schools where members of staff have been off on long term sick leave, often caused by work related stress. Going into the same staff rooms (where schools are still lucky enough to have one) over a long period of time, shows some depressing trends. Despondent, demoralised, demotivated staff who are too scared to question some of the things they have been told to do, for fear of being put on Capability. Those that do go down the capability route are generally the ones who are signed off with stress.

Management imposing new targets, demands for ever increasing amounts of paperwork, and the constant need to supply extensive evidence of all of this, means that many teachers are finding that work intruding into every aspect of their lives. When this is raised, they are often told that they need to find ways to cope, or are they admitting that they’re not really up to the job? Older teachers are generally the ones that find this the hardest, but I’ve noticed that teachers with young families are increasingly choosing to go part-time.

At first I thought this would be so they can spend one or two days a week at home with their own children, and whilst this is certainly true, I’ve discovered that many of the ‘days off’ are actually spent in doing paperwork such as planning or marking whilst their children are napping. Those that have pointed out such a system is unsustainable are often also to be found ‘on capability’ a few months later.

I’m not going to discuss the excessive workloads teachers are expected to cope with, nor am I making a point about the changing age demographic of the workforce. I’m simply struck by the correlation between the teachers who express a differing viewpoint about new initiatives, and those that end up leaving their jobs because they find them untenable.

Essentially, any new idea or suggestion made by the management teams, is suddenly considered to be part of the ‘ethos of the school’. I’ll accept that when it relates to a religious belief or an expectation of hard work and links to wider society within the school body, but I’m not so convinced when told that it includes marking in a particular colour.

If expressions of disagreements with regard to working expectations or implementation of new policies, is regarded as a capability issue, where is the tolerance in that?

If teachers do not work in a tolerant environment, how are they meant to teach such a concept to their pupils?

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