The holidays don’t make up for this

I am part of the Teaching Crisis. In that sentence I wrote “the Teaching Crisis” with capital letters and a definite article as though it were a well-known, named thing like the Banking Crisis in 2008 or the Abdication Crisis in 1936. It isn’t but it should be.

Since September 2013, I’ve been the deputy head of a large primary school in inner London. The head teacher I work with is fantastic. We have a committed, talented team of staff and governors and the young people I teach are always entertaining. The pay is pretty good. I’m currently undertaking my NPQH (National Professional Qualification in Headship) so I’ll soon be ready to apply for the top job at a school of my own. But I’m not going to. In July I’m walking away from the profession that has been my life for more than twelve years and I genuinely don’t know if I’m ever coming back. I’m not alone.

This is the story of the Teaching Crisis.

I’m wandering off into the sunset after twelve years.

 

In 2003, during my third year at university in Sheffield, I started volunteering in a local primary school. After three years studying philosophy, as theoretical and abstract a discipline as you can imagine, there was a real thrill to feeling like I was doing something “real”- helping little people to read, write and do maths. Realising that I could inspire and motivate the pupils I was working with was really exciting and I decided that I wanted to be a teacher.

Even then, the primary education system imagined by Blair’s government was full of frustrations- primary schools were just stumbling out of the tyranny of the “literacy hour” in which all English lessons were taught (and inspected) according to a centrally-dictated timescale presented as a patronising diagram of a clock. The effectiveness of schools was judged largely on the contents of huge ring-binders full of arbitrary targets and tokenistic policy statements referred to, somewhat dubiously, as “evidence.” Worst of all, for me, lesson plans were tortuously shoe-horned into detailed, prescriptive Microsoft Word tables which required almost every box to be filled with some sort of jargon, just so it looked impressive in one of the aforementioned ring-binders.

Ring Binder, Loose-Leaf, Binder, Fold, Office

Within this bureaucratic landscape, however, there was still (just about) time for the part of the job that mattered: getting to know the young people in your care, understanding what made them tick, and finding ways to reach them on an individual level. You could placate the various rampaging paperwork trolls with a couple of hours a week of judicious “copy & paste”-by producing just enough A4 sheets of edu-waffle to make them go away and let you carry on with your actual job.  The KS2 assessments (what we have been incorrectly referring to as “SATs tests” since the 1990s) were constructed according to a rigorous and clearly-prescribed set of criteria and schools were held accountable for their performance in them- but this was only one part of what made a school “effective.”  Back then, very few head teachers would have had to choose between their conscience and their job. For all their faults, it’s worth remembering that the cornerstone of the Blair government’s education policy was a document called “Every Child Matters.”

Sun, Children Drawing, Image, Drawing, Paint

During the last three years of the Labour government, there was a real sense of light at the end of the tunnel. It felt as though, after more than a decade in control of primary education, they had finally come to understand it. Under the (actually quite impressive) leadership of Ed Balls, the rebranded Department for Children, School and Families started issuing edicts that actually kind of made sense. They ditched what remained of the primary national strategies which dictated how maths and English should be taught and they commissioned Sir Jim Rose to produce a comprehensive review of the primary curriculum, which suggested that traditional subject divides be replaced with broader areas of learning and stressed the importance of play, particularly for younger pupils. It promoted the development of good speaking and listening skills and the value of nurturing beneficial character traits in young people such as resilience and independence, as well as the clear focus on maths and English that already existed. The Rose Review was far from perfect but, having been authored by a former HMI director of inspections on the basis of broad consultations it set out a direction of travel which almost everyone that knew about education agreed with. Everyone, that is, apart from the new shadow secretary of state for Children, Schools and Families. And there was an election coming up. Balls out- balls up. Enter stage hard right, Mr. Michael Gove.

Darth Vader, Star Wars, Alliance, Body, Criminal, Dark

What’s strange is that the first two years of the Dark Lord’s attack on primary education were happy ones for me. Yes the government websites had been rebranded (the “Department for Education” now replacing the all-too cuddly-sounding DCSF) but the school I was working at during that era was led by a brave, inspiring head teacher with his own sense of what he wanted to do, regardless of the noises coming out of Whitehall. We rode out what one colleague of mine from the time once referred to as the “phoney war” in relative peace and quiet. We scaled back the bureaucratic burden (goodbye to detailed lesson plans and officious-sounding acronyms like IEPs and APP grids) and replaced it with a few simple, manageable systems for ensuring children enjoyed learning and developed confident, resilient personalities. Like anything else in education, what we were doing wasn’t perfect but I was a Year 6 teacher at the time and I have no doubt that most of the children I taught then had been much better prepared real life than those leaving primary school now.

2012 was the turning point. Ofsted’s obsessive focus on results and the threat of no-notice inspections for schools whose test scores dipped started to engender a culture of fear at every level of management. Terrified by the threat of losing their jobs in an academy takeover, head teachers began to make more and more absurd demands of their teachers’ spare time, particularly through unrealistic and unmanageable marking policies. The government stepped up their anti-teacher rhetoric in the media as they fought a series of battles with our unions over cuts to our pensions and the introduction, against all the evidence, of performance-related pay for teachers. The failure of the free school and academies agenda to provide sufficient school places for four-year-olds was causing rows between communities and local authorities over school expansions and “bulge classes” (one-off additional classes in particular year groups at particular schools.) Perhaps most seriously, the constant changes to primary assessment started to squeeze out everything from the curriculum that wasn’t directly concerned with producing short-term, measurable units of an increasingly abstract notion called “progress” in reading, writing and maths.

People, Child, School, Genius, Blackboard, Student

It was in January of that year that Sir Michael Willshaw, the chief inspector of Ofsted, had made his now infamous comment that “if anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’ then you know you’re doing something right.” Four years on, as he prepares to stand down as chief inspector, I suppose we can only congratulate Sir Michael on having met his own success criteria during his tenure so completely.

Baby, Face, Head, People, Person, Young, Suckling, Sad

And now, at the tender mercy of Nicky Morgan, this tragic tale reaches its conclusion. The primary assessment system has been overhauled completely and, unless you want Ofsted to sack your head teacher and give your school (and the land it’s built on) to one of Michael Gove’s friends (or if your school is already controlled by one of Michael Gove’s friends) you have no choice but to teach to a dull, uninspiring series of tests that have precious little relevance to the twenty-first century lives our pupils are going to have to navigate.

Me dressed as a SATs paper when we still had a sense of humour about it all.

 

We used to be inspiring young people, opening their minds to new possibilities and giving them a lifelong love of learning. Heaven knows what this strange game we’re playing now is supposed to accomplish. Teaching was once a creative, optimistic, energising job. Not in the Gove-Morgan world of coordinating conjunctions and “formal written methods.” Got a passion for music? Primary teaching is not for you. Want to inspire children with drama? Go hug a tree, you Corbyn-loving hippie. Think children should learn about their local area? Officially that’s fine (it’s on the meaningless, untested part of the curriculum) but just make sure you link it to your grammar objectives because any child that doesn’t understand the precise grammatical role of the subjunctive mood at the age of 11 will henceforth be branded a failure. I mean, do most Tory MPs even understand the precise grammatical role of the subjunctive mood?

Trying to inspire children with drama like a tree-hugging, Corbyn-loving hippie.

 

At my own school, we’re still (just about) able to strike a balance between what we believe and what is imposed from above but doing this is getting harder every year. Meanwhile, it seems teachers in most other schools are monitored, examined, scrutinised and graded as though working a 55-hour-week for 32 hours’ pay is a special privilege of which they should be continually proving themselves worthy. Being a teacher should be a privilege and it was a privilege not so very long ago. But it isn’t at the moment. Not like this. Teachers want trust, respect and the right to exercise their own professional judgement.  They want the system they work in to be designed by people who understand education. They want a school system run for the benefit of pupils, not politicians. Most of all they want to be listened to. Without these simple courtesies (for that is all they are- all we’re asking for) it’s just not worth it.

And no, before you ask, the holidays don’t make up for it.

 

238 comments

  1. A really good read, thought provoking and I fully agree with the sentiments expressed within this article. I followed a similar path to this and have a very similar story to tell. If anyone has the time to listen…

    Thankfully, after spending too much of my life, working too hard and for very little reward. I gave up all that I’d worked for, quit the UK and moved abroad.

    Now I teach again. I’m fully enjoying what I was trained to do and I have actually discovered that a healthy work life balance does exist.

    I do sympathise with the points raised in this article, but sadly for the most part “negativity” in the English system is just so prevalant and the higher up you go, the more frustrating the job seem to become.

    Throughout my career I was always motivated, inspiring (all the commonly used buzz words), but simply became bewildered by the moronic behaviour of the “so called” experts.

    I still think teachers are wonderful professionals, but until they are properly listen to, things will ‘sadly’ only get worse.

    I’m personally so glad I moved away.

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    1. Where did you move? I’d be interested in knowing where education is still an enjoyable profession without all the political goop. I teach in the U.S. and face the same struggles.

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      1. My question also Gareth. Where did you move to? I live and teach in Australia and things are pretty sad here too!

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  2. When reading this tears well in my eyes. I qualified in 1971. I was one of the first to go suffering from stress which was Ofstead initiated, it took me two years to recover. Two of my grandchildren have just begun home schooling in the UK , their parents are followers of Forrest Schools.
    I was one of the old school who relied on picking up my guitar in the classroom. We sang a lot! I believed in the trend of Education Through Art. My kids lined up for lunch everyday chanting or whispering in twos and threes. It was so much fun the children would run to me in the playground after dinner saying can I do my threes Miss!! Creative writing would go on all morning and those children who wanted to finish their stories could carry on into the afternoon if they wished. Related artwork was quietly done during the same period.
    I could go on , teaching was my passion and I know I was successful.
    I hope TES has been able to publish your article and a copy to 10 Downing Street too.
    So sad. 💚💛❤️💜💙

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  3. I retired early last July, from a job I had really loved for 37 years. I always thought I would carry on until I was 60 & maybe even beyond, such was my commitment to the children & the “Every Child Matters” agenda, which was my whole school responsibility as a senior leader. However, I started to become disillusioned when I carried out colleagues’ performance management & one actually cried before we even got started on her discussion. She is a human being with a family & has a ‘life’ outside school, in which several monumental things were happening & I’m afraid to say that I told her to forget PM for the time being. That was the beginning of my disillusionment.
    Then came the new curriculum with no time for PSHCE (the basis of my senior role), triple marking etc, etc & the stage was set for my exit. I could not continue in a job I no longer recognised.
    Gone are the days when one could take an area of science, for example, in which the pupils showed a particular interest, & follow it up in an exciting, interactive way. Those are the experiences children remember, not endless assessments & tests. The government have totally lost sight of what education for life actually is & I am seriously concerned for our future generations.
    It is nothing short of a tragedy, that so many amazing teachers, most of them much younger than me, are so disillusioned & downtrodden that they are prepared to give up completely, rather than carry on in such a stressful job.
    And finally, Michael Wilshaw & Michael Gove should rot in hell for what they have done to our education system & profession. Amen

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    1. This is all wrong. I’m a child minder and we’re always told that planning should be done weekly to allow you to follow children’s interests. Like you say, the stuff they can learn then, sticks if they’re interested in it. This really makes me worry for the future of my children. I’m not sure that most parents are even aware of this.

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    2. I retired 7 years ago aged 57. I didn’t want to leave the profession, just the bureaucracy. The nail in my coffin was when an Ofsted inspector asked me about the failure of a particular child to reach her target. I told her that the child’s mother had left home for good during the night before her SATs exam. I was told that the inspector was not there to hear about family history, it was my failure that the child had not reached her target. I didn’t go into teaching to reach artificial targets but to prepare children for adult life. I resigned there and then. I was obviously no longer suited to the new teaching profession in which children were no longer human beings with all their complicated lives, but were automatons.

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  4. What a clear and heartfelt summation – made me cry. I’m a parent and have watched developments with rising anxiety, anger and confusion. In my personal experience, I’ve rarely met a parent, teacher or head who is in favour of the way things are going. Please can you tell me why teachers are not striking about this? I’m convinced a huge proportion of parents would support you, although I do live in the North so maybe I’m in a bubble? Or is it because there’s not just one easy answer? Can the unions do nothing? I’m so sorry you’ve been forced to leave teaching, but I totally understand why and wish you loads of luck for the future.

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  5. Hi Lucy,

    Thanks for your supportive comment. What a lot of people don’t realise is that legislation introduced by Thatcher prevents unions from striking over “ideology”. In practice these means teachers are only allowed to strike over their own pay and conditions. They aren’t allowed to strike over educational policy.

    This is a clever way of making all strikes look selfish- because they always have to be over something like pay when often the real source of discontentment is much deeper.

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    1. Thanks for explaining – you’re right, I had no idea. And I thought I was reasonably well-versed in Thatcher’s legacy…

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    2. Yesterday I was talking with junior doctors on the picket line outside Trafford General Hospital. They said the same about low staff morale (because of their skills and judgment being denigrated and working conditions attacked) and about the strike being made to look selfish when it is about principles. Asked what support they particularly wanted they replied everyone talking to their MPs and writing to their local papers would be valuable. Let’s share how best to fight to stop the destruction of a public sector that serves the people.

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    3. Just because you are not “allowed” to strike over “ideology” what are they going to do about it? Fire all the teachers? You won’t be any worse off and it will certainly allow you draw broader attention to what is going on. If so many of you love teaching but are going to quit and do something else, what have you got to lose?

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  6. As someone else has already said, closer and closer scrutiny and micromanagement is becoming the norm in practically every area public service. Three years ago I spent a prolonged period in hospital, and was appalled by the amount of overt supervision that nurses had to endure, and they had to follow this up by writing reports on every patient. Subsequent investigation found that less than .5% is actually ever read again for any constructive purpose, but for some reason, or more than likely no reason, these reports have to be kept locked away somewhere in case someone might want to look at them at some unspecified time in the future. Meantime, the amount of time spent writing these reports can never be redeemed or used in a more constructive way, for example ensuring that the patient’s health is improving. And if you want to see what low morale is, you don’t have to look further than junior doctors. Like the teachers mentioned in this article, they are for the most part enthusiastic and committed to their profession, and really don’t need the additional stress imposed on them by the likes of Jeremy Hunt and his bullying cronies.

    So what is the solution? Perhaps a complete change of attitude is the answer, and this could be engendered by constantly reminding politicians that they are our servants, not our bosses. I am not really in favour of appointing a statutory body like “Ofpol”, which would be commissioned to scrutinise and micromanage politicians, especially ministers, in the workplace. It would seem a little too much like taking revenge, but perhaps it would be a big enough stick to begin with They are there to to do the will of the people who didn’t elect them as well as those who did. Yes we expect them to formulate policies and enact them, but the policies have to be workable and in some cases flexible.ABOVE ALL, THERE NEEDS TO BE AN ELEMENT OF TRUST. Most politicians know they are not trusted, and unfortunately far too many of them live up to the expectation.

    I know this doesn’t completely address the points raised in the article, but I sincerely hope the author of the article will take time to try and find a constructive way of re-structuring the teaching profession, or more precisely, how it can take control of the bureaucrats rather than letting the bureaucrats have control of them. Perhaps reminding the bureaucrats that they are civil servants, and as such have to be civil and serve. That might seem a trifle pedantic, but perhaps it’s a good starting point.

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    1. “As someone else has already said, closer and closer scrutiny and micromanagement is becoming the norm in practically every area public service.” Apart from MP’s that is!

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    2. The main reason patients’ notes are kept is so that if a complaint is made the notes are there for reference. We live in an increasingly litigatous society. What the staff are doing is to protect themselves. Legally they have to keep patients’ notes for a period of years. Sorry I can’t remember how many.

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  7. I agree completely with all that has been said in this well written article. I taught from 1970 until 2009 and when I retired I was an Assistant Headteacher in a Middle School. When I started my teaching career the aim was to educate children by inspiring in them a love of learning in a well managed classroom. We were not there to force feed facts but instead were there to teach children strategies to help them manage much of their own learning. In other words our role was to inspire and enthuse.
    Although we were scrutinised in the early days of my career, it was unobtrusive and focused on subject knowledge and understanding and classroom control and management. It was not a negative experience, quite the reverse in fact. My subject advisor was a realist with a passion for the subject and for education. It was a marvellous, liberating time to start my career as teachers were considered to be professionals and were treated with respect. There were no restrictive lesson plans, no three part lessons, no constant undermining scrutiny so that teachers could use their professional judgement to modify their lessons according to the needs of their pupils at that time. This freedom allowed teachers flexibility and drove a culture where learning was about enjoyment and not about meeting targets. Learning was fun and the vast majority of children enjoyed their classroom experiences.
    Fast forward thirty or so years and teaching had become prescriptive, mechanical, uninspiring and, frankly, boring and repetitive. The volume of paperwork required by Ofsted meant that teachers spent far too much time filling in forms, planning and assessing to strictly prescribed criteria etc so that little time was left to inspire and enthuse the pupils they taught. It was not a good time to be a teacher. Teaching had become a stressful, thankless profession where teachers were overworked and over scrutinised.
    I well remember the countless new initiatives which appeared year in and year out. It seemed as if we had just come to terms with one when yet another was forced upon us from above. There was constant change and little of it was for the good of the pupils and was certainly not for the good of schools or teachers. I despaired at times and I was a good, conscientious and well regarded professional with a strong constitution. I worried for those members of my team who were excellent practitioners but who were more susceptible to the pressures of stress than I was. I was right to be concerned as almost all of the 30+ teachers I worked with in my final school have now left the profession as have youngsters I taught and inspired to be teachers themselves. It is so very sad but it is not a surprise.
    In conclusion, the teaching profession is now over scrutinised, fun has been taking away from learning, the curriculum is too prescriptive and teaching itself is too stressful. There is little support from above and the whole concept of ‘professional judgement’ seems to have been relegated to history. Teachers are undermined daily and their professional status is being eroded with each new government driven initiative. Add to that the lack of support from parents and society at large and the greater surprise is that anyone stays in the profession at all.

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    1. Agree. Hope this comment gets wider coverage. This govt. and, indeed, others in the past have no respect for the “profession”. Basically they want to get rid of teachers altogether and replace them with robots or robotic assistants who can just “deliver” this garbage! Meanwhile we have generations who are being failed, as they are not getting an education, or, if they are, it is despite schools and down to parents who recognise what is needed and, more importantly, can afford to provide it. So vast numbers of children from increasingly more poorer families go without an education. After all, would you like to learn to read and write using phonics and grammar exclusively! Sad, sad, sad but even more depressing noone appears to be fighting for children’s education any more!

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  8. So sad to read this and so true. Sorry you are thinking of giving it up. I have enjoyed teaching primary children for forty years but in the later years the system had become as you describe and many were leaving under the pressure of these issues. I tried to find a way of putting my life into “slots” of my home and family life and my school life, whilst trying to succeed with both. Unfortunately it proved very difficult with very little “me” time. However on retiring I have very pleasant memories of the children, the parents and my lovely colleagues, who all pulled together and helped each other. It seems the situation just gets worse. Good luck for the future whatever you decide!!

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  9. I totally agree with you. I left the UK, after 15 years of primary teaching, to live in France due to my husband’s work. Our 3 children go to the local primary school.
    I cant believe how wonderful it is. There are very few resources, no ipads or laptops in class, real books still on the shelves, and the children generally spend the day learning whilst sitting at desks… (only sometimes do I wish it was more creative, but not often, as my children are so happy).
    Most importantly the teachers have time to talk to the children, sharing their lives and experiences, getting to know them. The children learn poetry, paint pictures, still have hand writing lessons and learn a lot about France. They know the names of French rivers, main towns and cities and can locate them on a map and understand what each area produces. They are proud of their country. My children even know where many famous French dishes come from and how they are made. Time is given to individuals and nothing is rushed. Assessments are undertaken and feedback given, but in a very simple format so progress is monitored, but with no levels or averages, just reports with what the individual has achieved. Homework is limited to reading and finishing work not completed in class. It’s a bit like the UK in 1976.
    There are many differences… but mainly time given to children, respect given to teachers by all (and I really mean all) and the understanding that education is something of value, learning being something which unfolds if nurtured, seem to be the main ones. Oh, and the children eat off plates at a table of mixed aged children who help each other.
    I’m finding it difficult thinking about coming back to the UK next year.

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    1. Wow, Ros, that sounds heavenly! You have painted a wonderful image of how learning can be. I wish we could embrace that kind of style rather than UK bashing that seems so prevalent.

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    2. I remember having a child come into my school after moving to the UK from France. When I stopped her in the corridor and addressed her by name to enquire how she was setting in she burst into tears. ‘None of my teachers in France ever knew my name’ she said ‘and I was in the school for 5 years.’

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    3. I must say that the system here is and always has been based on administration and France’s system culture, yet the citizen element of the curriculum best exemplified by Deptford Green addressed perhaps the need for a cultural understanding of National responsibility. However, the emphasis on resilience and independence is contrary to the argument that teachers lack the opportunity to get to know the children and things like regional differences can surely be taught at home. My son went to a primary school that embraced the Labour principles of education and in the name of resilience, independence and play he went by ambulance to the local hospital after being pummelled by stones by other children gave him a head injury and a particularly persistent bully purposefully dropped my son, who was trying to help, back onto the tar mac of the play ground and broke his leg. My son insisted on “old fashioned” solid shoes I found out for protection from the same boy for years. I called this school the “Lord of the flies school”. My son was as my family tend to be interested in arts and crafts and academic. My son, who excelled in both and was a happy and confident in the knowledge and self awareness of this was told he was “over confident” . The Woodcraft Folk group that my son went to for 6 years was also based at this school and my younger son loved the group too. However, they were both aggressively and suddenly excluded for ever from this organisation because for many valid reasons I was slightly late one day picking my older son up from a weekend away. I moved my second son during year 2 to an independent C of E school and have not once regretted it. The reception staff are friendly and supportive and teachers take any concerns I may have seriously and with some thought and my son is getting the input and education he needs in a class with teachers who are able to get to know the pupils, not just in his class but throughout the school.

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  10. Unfortunately, “every child matters” doesn’t exist any longer. As long as you can get 85% of your children through the list of things they should be able to do, each year, you’re ok! What is to become of the other up to 15%. In a one class intake school ( so the smallest schools), that would be 4 children. I for one don’t think that acceptable. I’m not a teacher, so please excuse my grammar/ spelling. I am in my 50’s and have seen many changes in education over the past 25 years, not many have made the system of children actually learning any easier for the people who matter most, the children. I do feel though, if the education system looses people who are passionate enough to actually teach we will be worse off. I really hope you stay and try to make them change. I don’t even think it’s a political thing, as during my working life I’ve seen many different governments do things in different areas (not necessarily education) that are absolutely rubbish. It usually starts by someone having a thought (who has never worked in that area). Oh we should do ………….. ! and it becomes the latest buzz word. It happens everywhere, unfortunately no politician I have ever come into contact with has been supportive of anything other than their own interests, regarding any profession.

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  11. I agree with everything I have read. I was a teacher who retired earlier than I had planned to do when I felt I could no longer carry on in a system in which I had little faith and was sick of people of little teaching experience forever treating older experienced teachers as if we had no idea of what we were doing. The children we teach are our most precious little people who are being let down by this appalling system. Teaching and learning should be and will be effective when it is done with a sense of fun. Retirement is great still involved with education as a school governor but so glad I’m not doing the job anymore.

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  12. I agree with everything you say. Every child no longer matters, unless as a statistic. In the five years I’ve taught Year 1 I’ve seen an increase in ‘interventions’ biting into the lunchtimes of the children who need to be outside running off energy not watching their friends be allowed to go out without them because they are ‘failing’. I am finding I am increasingly angrier with the burdens we are laying on our children.

    I write as well as teach and currently have three published books to my name and a fourth with my editor and not once since starting on my second (and please for the love of anything out there let it soon be my only) career can I remember sitting down and pondering whether I should start with a fronted adverbial or if a conjunction is coordinating or subordinating. I go on whether it reads well and creates the effect I want.
    Yesterday I had to tell a child that although she had written a wonderfully descriptive and entertaining piece of work, she hadn’t met the target of using -ed words (despite the fact that she wrote in past tense using loads of fantastic vocabulary). Thanks to our marking scheme I pick over the work of my five year olds in more detail than my editor does mine!
    We are teaching mechanics and losing the joy in the process. At one point I was ready to go down the NPQH path but no more. Now I’m pinning my hopes on one of my books hitting the bestseller lists and being able to get out while I have what remains of my sanity.

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    1. Very eloquently put. I am in secondary education and really not looking forward to trying to teach those children who are currently having the joy of learning sucked out of them in primary school.

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  13. This is so sad to read, but is needed to be heard. Ths reinforces my choice to home school, though I would prefer it if schools were allowed to go back to being more creative and enjoyable for children. Childhood is so precious, particularly so I believe because of the beautiful creativity and play and exploration inherent in children, for F**k’s Sake WE should be learning from children. What an overly controlled and MIND based (rather than HEART based) culture is being created. This is so NOT progress!!.

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  14. The only positive of education in England is that I pass on the news of its disasters to people who make a difference here in Victoria, so we do not go down that depressing and stupid path.

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  15. A sad but true reflection on how things have changed. Unfortunately the teaching profession are not alone in feeling demoralised by being unable to carry out their work effectively. I work in the public service and we are also micromanaged on a daily basis. We have to complete ‘time sheets’ to record every minute of our working day (even how long we spend on a phone call!) with spreadsheets for everything we do! By the time this paperwork is completed there’s no time to do the job and services are suffering. We don’t feel trusted to get on and do the roles we are committed to and good at and are being monitored and watched every minute of the day. Unfortunately it’s the new management style and most of the very experienced employees are leaving in droves to join the private sector, only to be replaced by younger staff (and apprentices) who are just doing the job for the salary at the end of the month. Four of my team have been signed off with stress and five have left due to this new regime and there are daily complaints from the public about services but the people at the top just don’t care. As long as they meet budget targets and get their bonuses they’re happy!

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  16. A wonderfully written and important piece Tim, which I know many people are sharing and reading. Are you on Twitter, as I think there are a number of teachers who would like to follow and engage with you.
    Many thanks

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  17. Like a comment above, tears well up in my eyes as I read the article. I completed a degree in Education nearly 9 years ago now and have not done anything with it since, apart from Teaching Assistant work. Mainly because I was never sure if I wanted to complete my PGCE. I was very passionate about my degree and the issues raised. Alternatives in Education, the inclusion debate, the appropriateness of the curriculum and the notion of care in schools. Are we are including this enough therefore preparing our children with life skills and values? This was the topic for my dissertation. Since then I have enjoyed My TA job to a certain extent, despite the fact that the pay and sometimes treatment from above was diabolical. I will always treasure my students in my heart and be grateful for my varied experiences with them.
    However I have, by nature, always been dissatisfied with the education system as a whole and there are times that I face such issues with my 8 year old girl that I consider throwing in the towel and taking her out to home school. Currently my youngest is easing into pre school. We are very lucky to have a local Montessori pre school. I am considering my future, that PGCE and the increasing amount of sad news I hear, that I will work myself into the ground thus having no time for my family and that I will find it hard to be creative within policy constraints. Really not knowing where to turn right now.

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  18. My mum was a state school teacher. My husband still is. But after a terrible year in state school we have moved our son to a private school (yep, us Corbyn voting lefties went private!). I cannot describe the difference. My son went from anxious angry little boy who was chewing his clothes and crying at the very mention of school to a happy, funny cheerful boy with one term. His reading and writing have come leaps and bounds too but in all honesty that is just a side benefit as far as I am concerned. My son was treated little robot at school or a dog – put in the program, jump through that hoop, hit that target. Taught by seriously stressed out people. At his new school they spend one day a week playing in woods, they have class of half the size, they go on trips every week, go swimming, they have plays twice a term, they cook over open fires, they play, they are free to choose activities, they grow plants THEY ARE NOT TESTED. It’s interesting that so many Tories send their kids private where teachers have no hoops to jump through, but impose these rules on everyone else. I had no idea how different private schools were, it’s like a different world and it makes me so angry that to save my son I’m having to pay for something which should come out of my taxes and sad that I KNOW every child would benefit from this type of school but their parents can’t afford it. I think if more people realised how much their children were missing out on they might fight harder for a better education system. I have been shocked at the state of education in this Country and the way our children are being failed.

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  19. So sorry to hear that you will be leaving the teaching profession Tim, but I can understand why. I think if teacher training is rigorous and teachers are regularly appraised, then they should be trusted to do the job without the excessive administration and rigid Key Stage prescriptions and testing. The ideas in the Montessori Method and Philosophy for Children seem to me to be more valuable in children becoming well-rounded, confident, thinking adults than the rigid frameworks from Whitehall. I hope that you can still be involved in teaching in some way, but where you are valued and not undermined.

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  20. I love teaching but I could not manage all the paperwork and hated living under the threat of “learning walks”, lesson observations and work scrutiny. With 200 books to mark, I could not meet the requirements of the marking policy (write a paragraph about the students performance for that piece of work, explain how they can move on to the next level, allow them time to respond to your feedback and check that they have done so.) My inability to achieve that which was required of me, left me feeling like a failure at the age of 55. I felt weak and ashamed. I left last year. Thankfully, I can still teach as I work in a private school. I now have far fewer box ticking tasks to do, fewer books to mark (due to smaller classes) and much more autonomy. It is the latter “perk” that motivates me. Being trusted, makes me feel driven and energised and I am beginning to rediscover my creativity.

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  21. I qualified in 1983….. yeup a teaching dinosaur. Since 2000, I have worked as a main stream primary teacher, a supply teacher and been self employed. I have recently at 55, gone back into full time teaching after a nine year gap. Why?
    Answer – simple, I missed teaching children and if I am totally honest, I needed the income. Several years following my dream and being a working glass artist although very rewarding in many ways, was not a financially secure move.
    I have obviously seen many changes – and to be quite frank with each change we lost more
    spontaneity, more freedom to teach constructively and creatively, our ability to respond to the needs of the children within their environment, in essence the very soul of teaching became shackled. Yes there were probably bad teachers around, but so many, many more excellent ones, who were trained to use their considerable talents and teach the children in their care. As a staff, we had fun and shared more than a few giggles on the way.
    For me, the rot set in in 1988/89 with the introduction of The National Curriculum. Not only was it’s prescriptive nature utterly ludicrous, some of the modules were so badly written, the standard of teaching had they been adhered to, would have dropped through the floor. I remember looking at a primary Geography unit and falling over laughing (before the reality of OMG they do actually mean this, hit home). We speculated as to who could actually have written such rubbish. The best we came up with was a bunch of ex teachers holed up in a hotel in the back of beyond, which had a free bar.
    Since 2000, I have moved in and out of the teaching profession. Each time I come back in, my learning curve has been vertical and my interaction with the children, more prescribed. Currently a full time teacher in year 4, I am thoroughly enjoying it and love being back in the classroom.
    There are things I miss; I would love a 55 hour week, mine seems to be more like 70 on some weeks. I would love to have time to do my displays, I would love to be able to timetable art into my curriculum, rather than shoe horn it in on the back of a topic project. I would love to be able to go off piste on something the children were really interested in and spend a week investigating it. These things all belong in the ‘bad old days’ when children left school being able to read, write, cope with mental arithmetic (yes in their heads), have a good understanding of the world around them as well being happy to say please and thank you, without it having to be taught in PHSE. Before anyone suggests my early teaching was based in a leafy suburb, no, it was all inner city Bradford.
    There are things I now dislike; Pupil Tracker in it’s current form. To my mind, it needs a lot more refinement and development before it becomes a valuable and meaningful resource. The continual justification for every second of teaching within the classroom. The ceaseless pursuit of ‘progress’ and the evidence required to show it. But the thing I really feel most strongly about is within the English framework and calls itself ‘writing’. My class of 9 year olds now have to know what a fronted adverbial is, an expanded noun phrase, a determiner, a main clause, a subordinate clause, comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs and so on. I can think of no quicker way to suppress creativity than through the teaching of endless grammar terminology. Yes the children need to expand their range of writing strategies, but why in heaven’s name do they need to get to grips with things I did in A’Level English many years ago?
    Yet……… I still love teaching and overall, I do find its current reincarnation more acceptable than some of the earlier ‘prototypes’. Trust me, we have had it worse.
    To Tim, I would say good move, do leave teaching for a while and go and work outside education. I think it makes you better equipped to come back into it at a later date and carry on doing something you loved. The experiences you gain outside your current role, can only help develop other qualities you may have and these can be bought back to the field of education at a later date. I don’t think a true teacher ever loses their love of educating, it’s a part of you.
    Thank you for writing your article, good luck with whatever you decide to do and remember never say never.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. As a secondary school teacher we have them for 5 years. It used to be 3 years of learning about the world (I’m a Geography teacher) and then 2 years solid work towards GCSE, now however it’s 5 years of exam preparation. Key Stage 3 has become nothing but building skills rather than learning content and it’s bloody boring. If I’m ever lucky enough to have children this is not a system I’d want them to go through, yes they’d know how to answer exam questions but know little else and the pressure on them would be immense.

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  23. I left the profession after 37 years almost half of the time as a headteacher. I was totally disillusioned and burnt out!

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  24. What seems extraordinary, amongst all the rest of the already extraordinary things, is the powerlessness we all feel about what is being done to our profession and our professionalism. And currently, after many many years of teaching, I feel I know less and less, like I have landed in a strange new world where reality is turned on its head and words all have different meanings. Good luck, Tim, I am about to do as you are doing, just trying to maintain my self-image that I am not a bad teacher, that I have done a good job by many children over the years, and that my sanity is worth more than their system.

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  25. How can we make sure this article and the responses to it are read by those in government. I am not linked to teaching, my children have both finished university so why am I interested? Because I see this country’s future being wrecked as those who know how to teach are leaving in droves due to the policies followed by those in power. Our local village primary school was put into special measures by Ofstead and therefore threatened with the Academy take over. Due to that they lost teachers and pupils and are now in a sorry state that is not able to give the best to the current children.

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  26. It’s sad to say that things in Secondary and F.E are very much the same. I qualified to teach 14-19 year old kids back in 2014 and after 6 months in the job I quit. I went onto to teach in outdoor education, which isn’t even considered important by those in charge of Education but is greatly valued by all the teachers who access it. You’re right when you say that children in primary education lack resilience, unfortunately this is something I see every day with the residential groups I work with. Luckily for them I get two days to undo some of that. Unluckily for me two days isn’t long enough in some cases. As for the holidays, I have to work in holiday clubs just to make up my salary, which at present is less that I got as a T.A. Education has become seriously devalued and I for one will be discouraging anyone I know from entering this particular profession.

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    1. I’m not a teacher but my wife was, until the ‘New Curriculum’ came to pass. I watched my wife becoming more and more frustrated, her usual complaint was, “I’m no longer teaching the children, I’m just filling in boxes”. By all the accounts that I’ve seen of her teaching, she did a fine job and loved what she did. Eventually she gave up her teaching career so that she could get back to spending more time teaching the children she so loved, how did she do that? She became a classroom assistant, not ideal but at least she felt she was of more help to them. So it’s definitely not about the money.
      M Powell asks “How can we make sure this article and the responses to it are read by those in government” I’m sure they know M. Perhaps the plan is to get all children into the ‘Academies’ then give all these fine new buildings to their private friends, but perhaps I’m just being cynical, after all who am I. Just another voter.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. I could have written this article myself. I’ve made the very difficult and scary decision that after 16 years in the profession I am leaving in July. When I was an NQT I thought that teaching was a job I would do for life, maybe part time when I had a family. Well I’m there now, I “work” 3 days a week but find that I actually work every day when my daughter is asleep, more work, much less pay! Its not about the money though, I no longer enjoy the job I do, because I’m not allowed to do the job I went into teaching to do. I love teaching, but loathe all the other aspects and it is for this reason that it is not my job for life anymore 😦

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  28. I am a teaching assistant in a high school and I totally agree with everything you have said. I love to engage with the children and expand on the points of learning for them and when people ask me why I am not a teacher I tell them,
    “Because I have a life and I am determined to keep it!”
    As you can imagine many of my friends are teachers and I am constantly trying to encourage and energise them as I see them near to tears with stress every day. Twice last month I was woken up by emails from teachers coming through to my phone after midnight! The thought that my colleagues who are so passionate about learning and want to give of their best to their students, are still up and working at home at that time of night, and then getting up at 6am to start again is ludicrous! They are too tired to get through the day let alone be inspirational!

    You would need 20 weeks holiday to begin to make up for this level of stress and I am not surprised that our staff turnover is growing every year as so many experienced and passionate teachers are burning out and leaving the profession.

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  29. Teaching is something I had aspired to for a quite a while. However in recent years my friends and family have asked me why I haven’t followed this up and taken one of many chances to become a teacher. This post by Tim Paramour explains it perfectly. After volunteering and working in education for the last 5+ years I have seen the changes to teaching, to education and this is not something I want to be a part of.

    I want to instil a love and passion for learning in children, to help them grow in confidence and curiosity. Teaching now would not allow me to do that.

    So instead I work in pastoral support and keep my fingers hopefully crossed that one day teaching will be about education and not exams and meaningless test scores. Then, maybe, you will find me rushing to the local teaching college…

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  30. My wife teaches art at a secondary school in Lincolnshire, which was bullied into accepting academy status some 4 years ago, so I can as fully understand any teacher leaving the profession as it is possible for an outsider. I watched my wife’s school decline from one of the most successful small schools in the East Midlands to an underperforming hell hole, and it quite frankly breaks my heart. My appeal to you is this: do not abandon the kids. The responsibility for the looming destruction of the English education system lies clearly with the current government and our current government is weak. It will fall before the year is out, if I have anything to do with it. Wait for the inevitable change. If we all do our bit, you won’t have to wait long.

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  31. Sorry if I make this simplistic, but I used to work in a bar for less than 6£ an hour when I arrived in the UK.
    You’re working a 50k(ish) job with around 15 weeks holiday and you complain?

    Mate get a reality check.
    This post is the nth middle-class insult over the working class.

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    1. Alex, I am a teacher with over 30 years experience on the top of the main professional grade. I earn £33K. For this I usually complete a 70 hour week, I think your bar work was well paid in comparison. I mean, you just rock up, pour a few drinks and then go home. I know this, I’ve been in a bar before.
      And……. do me a favour, 15 weeks holiday, you’re having a laugh. Like all teachers, I work at least half of the holidays, if not 2/3.
      You went to school – once (even if it wasn’t in the UK) and now you know all about teaching. Yeah right. It’s a shame you’re not really au fait with who the working classes really are.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Alex,

      If you’re worried about class barriers, you should definitely be worried about what’s happening to education.

      I can’t comment about your bar work, I’m afraid. It doesn’t really seem to have a lot to do with this issue.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Before teaching I used to work 12 or 14 hour shifts in a fast-food burger joint for £6 an hour. No political interference, no paperwork and on a hot day I could have a crafty break in the walk-in freezer. At the end I could walk away and not need to worry until the next shift. And when the burger place got turned into a Halifax no-one really cared. So yes, just like education really in your eyes.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. How many hours did you stay working in the bar once it had shut and you stopped being paid? Did you take the glasses home to wash for another couple of hours? Did you go into the bar during your holidays to get it ready for when you returned after your week off? Did you spend your days off preparing resources for the bar (cutting out beermats, laminating the menus etc)? Did you take things from home to supplement what should have been in the bar but wasn’t owing to budgetary restraints or did the bar provide all the lemons to go in the G&T? Was your performance management based on how many customers you managed to get drunk to a pre-predicted but non-negotiable level, even though they really didn’t want to and you knew they probably wouldn’t manage unless you forced them to stay there longer (and there was always that one ba$tard non-drinker who flatly refused to neck the vodka even though you knew you’d fail your PM unless they drank it?
      Otherwise, yes, I agree teaching is entirely like bar work in that you’re often clearing up piss and vomit, getting shouted at by wobbly people and have to dodge the occasional punch or thrown chair.

      Liked by 1 person

  32. I came to this blog after reading it in the “Independent” and (shortened ) in the “i” paper. So many good points! So many corroborating replies, well-written by people who really know the subject! This needs distributing to all concerned with education – and with democratic government.

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  33. As well-written as it is terrifying. I have a four-year-old at the mercy of this and am very worried. I’m reminded of the opening scene of Hard Times: ‘Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr. Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.’ I gave up on academia for similar reasons to the ones you cite. where I was, the business Nazis took over. I work for myself now. Good luck to you, and god help us all!

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  34. If it helps, though it may simply add to the anguish I can say a few things with certainty Mr Paramour.

    The first is this. You will be missed. The second is you have made an impact. With this writing, with Question Time, and with my sons at least.

    You don’t know me but I have two sons at your school. I remember the first time I saw you you were new, and tall, and, if I’m brutal, slightly awkward in your stride in the playground.
    Oh heck! I thought.
    A couple of nights later I was collecting my eldest from after school club. You walked through their space. You had an easy affinity with the children, knew their names, had a mastery of the teacher trick of talking to two children in front of you and, by magic, another behind. Yet you respected that it wasn’t a classroom and they were all their to relax.
    Good, I thought. He belongs with the kids. He knows them.
    From then on whenever I saw you, and you reminded me of the best of my own teachers, pinching a hat here, reassuring pupils taking part in a talent show, concentrating as hard as the nervous performers from the back of the assembly hall, I was relieved that my boys had another great male teacher in a school which has golden ones.

    I am not a stalker by the way, I am just a working parent who isn’t around a lot. I have to drink in the minutiae of school ethos when I’m there or I would have nothing of my children’s school days to think on or discuss with them at all.

    And then there is moment of pep you gave my eldest child during a comprehension style lesson last term. The confident blast you gave him in his creative writing. You aren’t his class teacher, but you go in for an hour or two each week. My sons are normal little boys who rarely tell me about their unique private life at school outside bursts of joy at successes and rage at injustices. Which is why I remember so well how spoke, confidently and the whole way home, with passion about the short time you spent with them doing exercises. If I’m frank, the content of the exercise sounded potentially a bit dull, so I was surprised at the enthusiasm. But as we got home it was clear that the teaching wasn’t dull, it was inspiring, and that you had listened to him which had helped him find some joy in listening to you and trying to do his best for you. So you didn’t try to make this hopeless situation work for him and his class, you did make it work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll resist the temptation to try and work out whose mum you are but thank you so much for those kind words.

      I’m very proud of our school and I think we are still able to package an increasingly narrow curriculum in a relatively inspiring and interesting way in most year groups…but the challenge of having to fight against so much nonsense in order to do so is becoming exhausting and it’s time to let someone else take over.

      I’ve still got a term left and there are still so many parts of the job I enjoy (some of which you’ve described) so I’m going to make the most of it for the time I’ve got left. It probably won’t be the last you see of me either. There are a number of ways in which I may be able to do some occasional work with the school during next academic year.

      Liked by 1 person

  35. I qualified in my 30’s so had worked in the private sector before which was a whole lot easier. I left teaching a year ago due to hoping that someone might crash into my car so I ended up in hospital just so I had a good enough excuse to not have to go to work. Crazy profession! Glad I’m out as no one deserves to feel like that. I still miss the children but definitely not all the ridiculous demands faced by teachers.

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  36. Come and work in our Waldorf Steiner School. As an independent school, we have much more say over what we teach and how we teach it. The profession needs passionate people like you…. P.s our head is retiring next year!! Keep the faith!

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  37. Such a sadness for yourself and the pupils. Myself, I worked in a support role and always felt, from my seat amongst the students that I was watching someone akin to a stand up act? I would see how the class mood changed, always dependent on who was ‘entertaining ‘ the pupils.
    So many times I witnessed, what felt like, lengthy negotiations between student and teacher.
    The more troublesome pupils would begin to disrupt the ‘message’, the focussed students would need to wait patiently whilst the negotiation was in progress. Many times only half the lesson was completed, the teacher exhausted and the disrupters jubilant.
    My role was to manage expectations of both teacher and student, but even that was thwarted by either the teacher or the pupil. I suppose I had the luxury of seeing students behaviour in many different contexts so I could prepare for the dynamics before entering the classroom.
    I held that position for 15 years and it was an honour to be included and useful within the education system. Teaching can be a hugely positive experience but politics has polluted our schools and created chaos for staff and students alike. I don’t know how the impasse will pan out but, something better has to be offered to the school,college, university communities.
    Well done for sticking at your job. The young people that you managed to reach will never forget your contribution.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Pupils will react to teaching which is pedestrian and boring. Engaging young people in learning is a skill to be learned over time and can not be done by anyone, despite what certain ministers in this government think!

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