Sunday, 1 February 2015

Don’t you dare make a judgement about my teaching from the Ofstedcategory of my school.

On a good day I’d say that, after eight and a half years at the chalk face, I might finally be getting the hang off this teaching malarkey. The horror shows are fewer and further between and I’ve come to recognise and celebrate those light bulb moments when they come about. But, if you want the credentials, I’ve been formally observed twice by Ofsted and my (ahem) ‘teaching across time’ on both occasions has been graded ‘Outstanding’. Sod it, every PM observation I’ve ever had has been graded a 1 too.*

And yet, my school ‘Requires improvement’ and I’m sick and bloody tired of this meaning people automatically assume that I need to be paired up with a teacher in an ‘Outstanding’ school in a Teaching Alliance or other network to learn from the teachers who work there.
No. What me and the other teachers in my school need is more time to share our own good practice from within and get better together. We do not need the local private school ‘doing their bit’, thanks Tristram. We need less pressure, more PPA/CPD time, praise and encouragement, some sort of work/life balance, and space from the relentless judgements and pressure that Ofsted bring to make true strides forward for our students.**

But it’s so easy for us to fall into the trap too; too easily we learn to think of ourselves as sub-standard. Tired teachers who are continually under the cosh from the media or Inspectors don’t have the poop to speak up for themselves and shout, ‘Hang on a second, Mr. I’m actually blinking good at what I do’. Perhaps as a consequence of this, I think there’s a perception amongst some at my school that the ‘Outstanding’ judgement in observation (sorry Mr Moyse we still grade at our place) is some unattainable measure that requires props, bells and whistles to secure (which is clearly rubbish). I think on occasion less experienced observers might even be tempted to hold it back, despite seeing students that are engaged, inspired and – fundamentally – learning.

It’s perhaps no surprise that a government who’ve demonstrated their belief in grammar schools is now seemingly creating a two-tier mentality amongst teachers: us and them; the haves and have nots; RI and ‘Outstanding’. Is a ‘Requires Improvement’ school the new secondary modern? Do the entitled grow in confidence because they’re told they’re inherently able and academic and encouraged? C’mon teachers, let’s not buy into this false dichotomy.

So how do we fight this crap? It’s apposite that the answer was tweeted to me at 9.40pm on a Sunday night by our brilliant Deputy Head of Maths @mr_g_walton. It’s positivity. It’s recognising our own hard work, commitment and talent. It’s celebrating one another’s teaching and shouting about the good practice we see. It’s the good practice blog started by one of our Senior Lead Practitioners. It’s our school website that lists the amazing things our students do on a daily basis – not just on the two days in two years the Inspectors choose to swing by. It’s working with other brilliant teachers without knowing the grading attributed to their school by Ofsted. And not caring about it either.
Rant over.


*Btw I do know this is a horribly arrogant way to start a blog, sorry, but it seemed necessary to make my subsequent point! And, for the record, external judgements are absolutely not how I would choose to judge my own teaching: I do that via the achievements of my student…  and the occasional ‘thank you’ card.
** Note: this is not the same as saying that our fantastic and hardworking SLT don’t provide time for this. Improving teaching and learning is at the core of every Inset and staff meeting. My comment is aimed at those external forces that make a presumption about the CPD needs of my school without having any understanding of it.

***There were supposed to be two more sections to this post, but I’m going to pause here and leave them for Round 2. Coming to a blog near you soon:
Don’t you dare judge my students and their achievements by my school’s Ofsted report alone.

Don’t you dare judge my school, its aspirations and the learning that takes place within it, solely by a number assigned to it on a piece of paper.


Teachers alone will not change this world

This blog post started as an NPQSL thinkpiece response to the NCSL's 'The Light is Worth the Candle' - hence the citations which I've left in to sound 'like brainy and stuff'. Anyway, the thinkpiece is a fab, optimistic piece it's well worth getting your hands on, but it left me feeling a little like Atlas: the world on my shoulders. Note: I've adapted it a little to try to help it make it a bit more sense without reading the original stimulus...

Education has practical and moral benefits: it has “positive effects on health and wellbeing” (Ross 1999) and “reduces the risk of poor mental health” (Feinstein et al 2006), but also has the ability to “create the kind of society that reflects and sustains what we believe to be good human relationships.” For those of us working in education, this is clearly aligned to the moral purpose with which we approach our jobs. From mentoring individual students to whole school professional development to improve the quality of teaching, this sense of commitment to a worthwhile endeavour is important in sustaining us in what is an increasingly challenging profession.

“Most would agree that a young person’s attainments, health and wellbeing should not to any large degree be determined by his or her parents’ income”. I too find the persistence of the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers extremely concerning, not least in the context of my own school. It seems logical that here will be ‘private, social and economic returns’ if the gap is closed, but also agree that this is fundamentally a moral issue or fairness and equality.

Dyson, Goldrick, Jones and Kerr (2010) highlight that education “All too often, instead of equalising life chances… reproduces existing advantages and disadvantages”. The most recent Teach First advert did a good job of communicating the emotive nature of this achievement gap, calling it “an epidemic and national scandal”. However, despite also acknowledging that this is a “multi-layered problem” it is my opinion that Teach First here falls into the trap of presenting their initiative as one of the ‘silver bullets’ that has the power to bring about significant change. If this achievement gap has “persisted across more than a century of public health and education provision” then I do not believe that teaching initiatives alone can reverse this trend in any more than a localised and/or temporary context whilst such inequalities persist in wider society. The more cynical may even say that scapegoating educators as the solution to this societal issue is a convenience for a government in which the gap between the richest and poorest in society has been a significant issue.

If nothing else, then the thinkpiece reaffirmed my own commitment to the comprehensive state school system. As it notes, in the historical tripartite school system “comparatively few children from working-class families were going to the grammar schools”. In this context, the current government’s reaffirmation of the grammar schools is troubling. Similarly, the diversification of British schooling through Academies, free schools etc. would seem to raise concerns that, rather than providing equality of opportunity, educational reform is in fact creating a plethora of varying opportunities and experiences.

In conclusion, when it comes to narrowing the gap in achievement, school leaders may well need to focus on their own localised contexts, celebrating ‘small wins’ where gaps narrow and accepting that any wider whole scale shift towards true equality is in the hands of politicians and wider socio-economic systems. Teachers alone will not change this world.