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What's wrong with education? Teachers reveal all

As the teaching union conference season gets under way, we ask what the everyday worries are in schools today

Phillip Smith, secondary school English teacher and assistant head, West Midlands

The downgrading of BTecs in league tables affects us massively. As an early academy – we converted in 2009 – with a large intake from socially deprived areas, we've had a lot of success offering pupils a personalised curriculum. To be told now that you can teach whatever you like, but only some things will count in the tables, leaves you in a catch-22 situation. There were some Mickey Mouse qualifications, but we tried to steer away from them and offer courses that were of real use to pupils. Now they're being pushed into doing academic subjects that probably aren't in their best interests. Couple that with considerable budget cuts, and it limits even further what we can offer pupils. You can make efficiency cuts to a degree, but when much of your budget is tied up in staffing, there's only a certain amount you can do before you have to look at that. That in turn affects the courses you can offer and class sizes. Gove says he wants teachers to offer a first-class education and be respected, but we're being asked to do that in a climate of reduced budgets and in which pay and conditions are getting worse. For a lot of staff, the messages simply don't add up.

Damian Knollys, headteacher, Midsomer Norton primary school, Somerset

Education has been a political plaything for too long; the continual tinkering makes schools very unsettling places to be for teachers. Current inspections are part of a system that seems designed to reduce everything to a label. In doing so they fail to reflect the complex nature of schools. Heads and teachers inevitably try to simplify what they're doing to meet the latest criteria that Ofsted imposes, compromising their beliefs on what education is about. And the climate of fear and judgment engendered by Ofsted is unhelpful. By Sir Michael Wilshaw's own admission, staff morale is not high on his agenda, but we know from experience with colleagues and pupils that you achieve progress through sustained challenge and support. We need to move towards such a model, not away from it.

Claire Smith, headteacher, St Werburgh's primary school, Bristol

There's an issue around primary places in Bristol; most schools are working with some quite challenging structural issues. My class sizes are relatively small, but that's changing as we are becoming increasingly popular in the area and the population is increasing, too. Last year, we had 143 applications for the 28 places in our reception class and about 80 families put us as their first choice. It means talking to the local authority about whether we can support this growth in any way without it having a detrimental effect on existing pupils. For heads, another issue at the moment is trying to put policy into practice. We are thinking carefully about what the benefits and implications would be if we used the new freedoms being offered to schools by the government.