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OPEN LETTER: "I would love to see the Chief Minister walk a day in our shoes"

OPEN LETTER:

Monday 15 January 2024

OPEN LETTER: "I would love to see the Chief Minister walk a day in our shoes"

Monday 15 January 2024


An islander has shared her open letter to the Chief Minister in which she describes the "depressing and concerning" stories of over 40 teachers and outlines why "education, education, education" should be the Government's highest priority.

Dear Chief Minister,

It was back in 2001 that Tony Blair made the now famous statement: "Our top priority was, is, and always will be education, education, education... For us, investment in education comes before irresponsible tax cuts... We believe in our teachers and lecturers, and the necessity of giving them the respect, support and rewards they deserve."

What a far cry from our present government in Jersey, who, rather than affording our dedicated teachers the respect, support and rewards they deserve, has shown by its recent actions that it neither respects nor supports our teachers, let alone is it prepared to grant them the rewards they so rightly deserve.

Therefore, it isn't surprising that we are facing a serious teacher retention and recruitment crisis with worrying ramifications for the futures of our children? To make it quite clear, teachers only strike as a last resort when negotiations have completely broken down and the employer has simply turned a deaf ear to the serious issues being raised.

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Pictured: The stories of teachers make "depressing and concerning reading".

I've spent a few days studying the stories of over 40 teachers, which were collected and collated by the NEU in October 2023. They make depressing and concerning reading, but one of the common themes which stands out is the increasingly high cost of private rental accommodation in Jersey, coupled with systematic pay degradation over a 15- to 20-year period. This situation is forcing families to downsize to smaller accommodation which is unsuitable for a growing family.

As this point was raised repeatedly by experienced teachers who have worked here over the past 15 to 20 years, I made a few enquiries of our Government Statistics Unit comparing the rise in the Private Sector Rental Index with the rise in RPI over a 15 year period. The data they provided confirmed exactly what teachers were saying: "There was a 91% increase in the private sector rental index from Q1 2005 to Q1 2020, and the increase from Q4 2004 to Q4 2019 was also 91%. The changes in the retail prices index (RPI) for these periods were a 49.4% increase for March 2005 to March 2020, and a 49.5% increase for December 2004 to December 2019."

As teachers haven't even had pay rises in line with RPI during this period, is it any wonder that many experienced teachers are saying they are being forced to either leave the profession or leave the island?

Here is a typical message from one of the teachers' stories I have been studying:

"Teaching has changed dramatically in the 15 years I've been teaching. The last few years have been especially difficult post pandemic. During the pandemic, school staff were key workers, but we certainly aren't valued as such. The States policies, the recruitment crisis and lack of support for pupils with SEND has made teaching almost impossible.

"The review process and jam-packed curriculum has added intense pressure to already stretched staff. Our buildings are not fit for purpose and our resources are minimal. Teacher's wellbeing is at an all-time low and my colleagues discuss leaving teaching regularly. The cost-of-living crisis has made it difficult to manage, as it has for many islanders, and on a personal level my family has decided not to have children due to this fact (despite wanting them). We are also considering leaving Jersey.

"Over the past few years, myself, and my colleagues, have been physically assaulted by pupils, at times on a daily basis, often multiple times a day. Outside agencies are also suffering staff retention issues meaning those students who need it the most are missing out on much needed support. Many pupils are waiting up two years or more for assessment.

"During this time teachers and teaching assistants are left to pick up the pieces. My job is to educate, I love my kids and I'd like to be able to teach them. Instead, I'm a social worker, a nurse, a behavioural specialist, a psychologist, a family worker and an expert at inclusion. Our pay has been substantially degraded over time and clearly so has the governments respect for us. I would love to see the Chief Minister walk a day in our shoes and still tell us we don't deserve a rise with inflation."

Chief Minister, maybe you don't have the time to walk a day in a teacher's shoes, but next time they rally in the Royal Square please encourage your colleagues to take the opportunity during their lunch hour to go out and meet with them and listen to their stories. It might just help you all to understand why they deserve an appropriate pay award, together with our respect and support, and why education, education, education should be your highest priority.

Rosemary Ruddy
La Route des Genets, St Brelade 

cc. All States Members.

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