General Election 2024: What's wrong with asking teachers to supervise tooth-brushing?

Dr Kathryn Spicksley discusses the changing nature of teacher's jobs in light of Labour's plans for supervised tooth-brushing for young children.

Young boy brushing this teeth.

For primary school teachers, a Labour government being elected in July might bring about an additional responsibility, as Kier Starmer has proposed to introduce teacher-led tooth-brushing sessions in primary schools to relieve pressure on NHS dentists.

Asking teachers to clean their pupils’ teeth will have an impact on teacher workload, adding yet another task to an already demanding working day. In England teachers already have a significant workload, working longer hours than most OECD countries. But this is not the only issue, having to clean children’s teeth changes the nature of teachers’ work.

Recent research has proposed a distinction between workload, work intensification, and time poverty, which is helpful when analysing teachers’ working responsibilities (Creagh et al., 2023). Workload refers to the number of hours teachers work or are expected to work. Work intensification refers to qualitative aspects of teachers' role - the type of work they are expected to undertake. It is generally acknowledged that the nature of teachers' work has substantially changed since the latter half of the 20th Century, with increased accountability requirements placed upon teachers in efforts to improve national economic productivity.

Making teachers responsible for cleaning pupils’ teeth seems likely to place further stress on teachers, both by increasing their workload and by intensifying their work. This policy therefore risks generating or further exacerbating feelings of time poverty amongst teachers. These negative feelings are unlikely to be helpful in the current climate, in which teacher supply is in a 'critical state'. 

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