How to Blog For @LabourTeachers

We are always looking for contributions to this blog. While there are times when we’ll want something different, we’re always happy to be sent a blogpost that:

  1. Is by a teacher who is a Labour Party supporter (or even better member);
  2. Is less than 700 words long;
  3. Has content relevant to Labour supporting teachers (regardless of the point of view);
  4. Has not been published anywhere else beforehand.

There is more detailed guidance here. Some suggestions are here. Some advice about writing is here.  Advice for new bloggers is here. I will update this post with links to further guidance whenever I add any to the site. You can email content  to me here. It will be easier for me if you include it in the main text of the email rather than as an attachment.

Thank you.

It’s time to get serious about recruitment | @RosMcM

JpegAfter 31 years of teaching, 15 of them as firstly  Headteacher, then Principal, and latterly as Executive Principal and CEO of an Academy Trust, Ros is now working independently in the sector.

I am getting really bored of hearing the old excuse that we are in a recruitment mess because the economy is picking up. Yes, I admit that has been an historical pattern, but that is not where we are now for a number of reasons:

  • We are still hearing about graduate unemployment: it is simply not the case that graduates can pick and choose any number of well paid jobs. I think that while the argument might hold for physics and maths (which is true in economic downturns too), it doesn’t for English, geography, history and languages. And frankly, this doesn’t feel like an economic upturn – it feels like a flatlining.
  • ITT is a mess. Some of it is superb training far in advance of the training I received but the routes in are confusing and central planning seems to be non-existent.
  • In the past it was generally accepted that while teaching may not be well paid, it was a secure job with good holidays and a great pension. When I entered the profession in the mid-‘80s fellow graduates going into industry knew that those of us entering public service had an unspoken contract with society which sacrificed high earnings for those aspects.
  • The current incoherence of the accountability systems and the extreme stress and pressure upon heads and teachers is being understood and observed by school students who go to university with the clear impression that teaching is an unattractive profession.

These factors are not just affecting teaching by the way, the situation facing recruitment into medicine is frankly terrifying in the face of greater and greater demands on the health service. So it is definitely time for the Labour Party to look again at how we wish to recruit and train into public service.

  1. With the pressure on public spending, teachers are not going to earn massive salaries competitive with industry, be given annual bonuses or invited into “profit sharing schemes”. They, therefore, need incentive to see that those going into public service are rewarded and respected by society in other ways. The sensible place to start is student fees. For every year of service 10% of student fee debt should be automatically cleared: this means that a teacher who works for 10 years will have no debt left and will have not had to repay anything. Not only is this fair, it also addresses the problem of retention which appears at its most problematic after 3-5 years of service.
  2. There should be no student fees for ITT. It baffles me that we expect youngsters with debt from their degrees to then pay for their training which involves them working in schools. Instead of them paying, they should receive a minimal salary during training.
  3. The best place to learn how to teach is in a school and the best place to reflect on practice and be given the space to think and network with academics, practitioners and other students is university. Currently we have a complete dog’s breakfast of a situation with some working full-time but with largely excellent academic support (TeachFirst), some in a traditional PGCE university model, and some in Schools Direct schemes which are hugely variable in quality. This is simply not good enough. We need to take the best from all models to create one single model which guarantees excellence.
  4. Teaching is demanding and rightly so because we are nurturing and preparing the nation’s greatest resource. I don’t think anyone believes the days of early retirement at 50 and enhanced final salary pensions are going to come back, but the idea that non-stop working at the pace and level expected for 45 years is sensible is just plain stupid. After 15 years, 30 years, and 40 years of service all teachers should be entitled to a sabbatical on full pay to be used however they wish: for some this may be the trip round the world and for others it may be a chance to study, or even be a full-time parent.

When I think of the current wastage in the system caused by ill-health, recruitment costs and lack of retention these simple and clear policies don’t seem too expensive and they are an investment in our greatest resource.

RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: BUS-ted: The Great Leadership Myth Part 2 | @kevbartle

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on kevenbartle’s Blog on 16th December 2012.

In part 1, Kev was critiquing the following quotation from leadership guru, Jim Collins:

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.

My third issue with the Collins quote, and it is the most oft-repeated mantra in current school leadership is the notion of getting “the wrong people off the bus”. It’s hard to know where to start with this one. First of all there’s the concept of “wrong people” that has very troubling notions underpinning it. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that all teachers and students are perfect and understand that there is the need to permanently exclude students and take capability procedures against bad teachers, but “wrong people”? It seems to convey that leadership is about sifting people into arbitrarily-drawn categories of rightness and wrongness that will surely lead to the creation of echo-chambers of self-reinforcing cheerleaders whilst at the same time effectively steamrollering all dissent. I have yet to see a highly effective leader who can’t hold their own in an argument with the so-called wrong people or who can’t defend a position that others don’t agree with. In fact, the best of them sometimes even modify or change their views and sense of direction in light of the contributions from these “wrong people”. After all, if the bus driver is heading down a one-way street in the wrong direction they would do well to listen and act upon the advice of those they disagree with.

I also abhor the notion of “getting” those “wrong people” off the bus, which is a weasel form of words that is shorthand for dismissal, be it justified, constructive or unfair. It’s the highly active verb I can’t bear, the sense of a deliberate strategy to force people out of an institution because their face doesn’t quite fit or their views are seen as being heretic. Again it doesn’t sit well with the whole bus metaphor either, unless anyone else has seen bus drivers regularly stopping in order to eject the wrong people. My real frustration with the phrase is that I am fairly confident that those who use it most are usually those who wouldn’t act upon it if faced with a genuinely challenging member of staff or student. Instead it is trotted out to provide the mood music of hopelessly heroic leadership, an anthem to martial management in word but not deed. It also evokes the throwaway culture that we live by these days and applies it to people rather than the food, clothing and domestic appliances that normally litter the landfills. I’d sooner believe that a good leader can take almost every child and adult in a school with him or her, in much the same way that a good bus driver gets all his or her passengers to their destination safely. For me the only thing getting off the bus is “off the bus”.

The final problem I have with the Collins quote (by god, I sometimes think I could pick a fight in an empty room!) is the notion that school leaders have to “stick with that discipline…no matter how dire the circumstances”. I’ve blogged about ‘Mosquito Moments’ before – the view that sometimes when leadership teams have dug a big hole for themselves then there comes a time when they need to put down their shovels – but the Collins quote seems to reinforce the fatuity of unthinking ‘groupthink’. For me great leadership needs to be sinuous and adaptive as well as focused and thought-through. After all, who wants a bus driver who ignores diversion warnings and missing bridges (think Sandra Bullock in ‘Speed’ but without the spectacularly silly and anti-gravitational special effects) because they are not prepared to take into account the dire circumstances and out their foot down hard on the brakes?

So there you have it: my multiple issues with that one oft-repeated quote from the Collins book. I am sure adherents of ‘Good to Great’ can put me right on one or two of my comments here, but fundamentally I guess what I’m trying to say is that the metaphor of the bus doesn’t stack up. I’ve seen plenty of other more convincing metaphors, not least the notion of the conductor of an orchestra, but the fact that all metaphors run out of steam eventually. Or perhaps more worryingly all metaphors will eventually lead to a blind alley if we follow them too closely. Regular readers of this blog will know how much I value the power of metaphor, but school leadership is too multi-faceted, too ever-changing and too bloody important to be reducible to a pat abstraction. So if you’re leading a school like it’s a bus from the comfort of the drivers’ seat, slow down, pull over, stop, get out, stand back, close your eyes, look again. See, it’s not a bus at all is it?

RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: BUS-ted: The Great Leadership Myth Part 1 | @kevbartle

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on kevenbartle’s Blog on 16th December 2012.

Hands up if you’ve ever heard of this one from the Leadership Guru, Jim Collins:

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.

If you’re sitting there with your hand up there’s a fair to middling chance that you are a member of a school’s senior leadership team. There’s also a pretty good chance that you’ve done some form of NCSL qualification, most likely the NPQH. And there’s a similarly high chance that you have heard of the flywheel metaphor from Collins too (there are a lot of metaphors in the book).

What is less likely, I would guess of you arm-raisers, is that you have actually read the book in question, “Good to Great”. I’d like to be the first to confess that I haven’t read it either and so this post is all about its usage rather than its genesis. I tend not to read these guru-scribed tomes, for which I might be rightly praised or rightly criticised. The only leadership thinkers I have ever read devoutly have been David Hargreaves for his attempts to understand the education system in its entirety and Alma Harris for her work on distributive leadership.

I have a problem with the quote above (and the bus metaphor more generally) for a number of reasons. The first is purely ideological: this book, as the Edugurus see it, is about applying the principles of leadership of business to the education sector and to individual schools. I have massive issues with this, although I do recognise the need for schools to balance the books and be financially astute in their dealings with the world. But we are all about human and social and cultural capital first and foremost. There is no profit to be made in schools of the kind that would motivate the great leaders. I crossed swords with a right wing thinktank leader at the London Festival of Education who wanted the profit motive to be introduced to education. Although she talked exclusively about small-scale social enterprise models I asked her how the corporate genies of Tesco and Serco (amongst others) could be kept in their bottle once profit – and through this, European laws on competition – were unleashed on the education sector. She affirmed me as an ideologue but never answered my question.

Indeed, the quote above from Jim Collins leads into a section praising the leadership of a CEO of the American mortgage lending firm, Fannie Mae, called David Maxwell in the 1980s. He may well have been a good egg all round (certainly I can find no criticisms of him anywhere in a short google hunt) but what is abundantly clear is that his successive successors ran the company into the subprime mortgage ground, and with it the global economy for which we are all paying now. If this is the bus we are supposed to be turning our schools into then I want no part of it, and I hope (perhaps against hope) that my last breath has left my body before for-profit schools come into being in the UK.

The second problem I have with the Collins quote is his belief that leadership is about “first the people then the direction”. In fact it is here the the metaphor runs into trouble as a coherent explanation. If the leader is the driver then the other people on the bus must be the school staff and then (maybe) the students. They must be the passengers, which makes them extremely passive participants? But say that we accept this view of our people as passengers, then we have to understand why passengers get on a bus and to my mind that has only one answer: to get to the destination they want to go to. If that is the case then surely direction must come before people!?!? I know that there’s always an element of the Magical Mystery Tour about school leadership (in equally enthralling and frustrating measures) but we can’t pressgang our colleagues and our pupils into coming aboard or, for that matter, staying aboard. Instead we have to offer a convincing, coherent and conviction-laced indication of where we are all going and why we are going there. It’s surely that sense of a terminus and a route (however sketchily drawn) that are critical factors for all collective human endeavours.

Continued in tomorrow’s post. Or you could just read the original one. Up to you.



RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: On (not) Learning to Teach | @Michael_Merrick

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on the “Outside In” blog on 11th August 2015.

There is something of an irony in contemporary education debate, certainly the online variety, in that discussion is nearly always about skills. In as much as this is the case, the vanguard of the educational revolution often sounds very much like those they’re meant to replace, becoming devotees of an idea or method that can be transposed seamlessly from one classroom to another.  This is understandable, of course, since in a forum with representatives from every subject the common ground clearly exists on the generic skills front, and so it makes sense to discuss it. In addition, it is genuinely useful – after all, learning more about how to teach can only be a good thing, right?

Well, it depends at what price. For example, am I best developing my effectiveness by reading the latest John Hattie book, or the latest Norman Davies? Which is best for my students, that I read the latest Encyclical, or the latest article by Daniel Willingham? Does my teaching get better with debating residual scores on the latest report on the effectiveness of direct instruction, or in a detailed discussion with a specialist on the social, religious and political contexts that framed the ‘Glorious’ Revolution(/Revolt)? The answer is not straightforwardly one or the other – but in my experience, teacher debate and, crucially (I will return to this), professional development, far more often focuses on the former than the latter – at times, even at the expense of the latter.

Now, to save the hernias of the excitable who at this point feel compelled to jump up and down shouting ‘FALSE DICHOTOMY!’, I fully accept that this is not zero-sum. Equally, time is finite for the finite. And we teachers, marvellous as we are, are nonetheless finite beings. Meaning that the spare time we have can only have a certain amount fit into it. And as many will testify, this time is never enough. Some of the more thoughtful souls even make this point by tweeting pictures of all those books they still have to read, lolz.

Still, the point remains: in spending so much energy and effort getting up to speed, and keeping up to speed, with how to teach, an essential focus on what to teach can become lost.

And this is something I have noticed. As my career has progressed, I feel I have become less and less well versed in my chosen subjects. My knowledge feels like it has become a static body comfortably regurgitated, whereas it was once an evolving and organic thing. And the main reason for this is time: I no longer have the time to develop my knowledge as I once did. And I’d wager that this is true for the vast majority of teachers. Which is fine if the subject is reasonably static, but not so much when it isn’t. And whilst this process is taking place, I tend to wonder if I’m becoming a less effective practitioner.  Spoiler: probably.

Which brings us to attitudes in education. It is perfectly right that we insist on subject specialists and subject specialism – it is also perfectly bonkers to think this is something that is completed prior to becoming a teacher, and not an ongoing process which runs alongside it. In other words, perhaps we don’t insist enough.

To pull the lens out a bit, workload issues, and the current fashion for teachers with a single-minded dedication to teaching, has meant that having outside interests is increasingly a luxury many cannot afford. It has become the norm to allow teaching to trump all other commitments one might have or wish to have (which can even include family, by the way – it’s not healthy).  Whilst such frenzied dedication might seem, on the face of it, to be A Good Thing, something essential is nonetheless lost: the ability of the teacher to bring the outside world into the classroom; to sniff out external opportunities for students that they might never come across whilst cloistered away in the teaching community; to develop their own knowledge through the pursuit of private interests and in so doing, become better teachers. On a personal level, opportunities that I could (and did) provide when I first entered teaching have disappeared with those networks which fell by the wayside precisely because of the all-consuming nature of the job – is this better

This can easily be viewed, of course, as a tad indulgent – one can immediately see the relevance of reading the latest research on peer assessment, but attend a lecture on English Jacobitism? You’re having a laugh. That is something that you should be doing in your private time. Only…

And so we complete the circle, with both time and fashion making it increasingly difficult to be the rounded professionals, indeed rounded people, which the best teachers must surely be. Perhaps, then, during our holidays we should take a break from learning how to teach, and go do other non-teaching things. It might just make us better teachers.

RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: What I have learned about addressing inequality in schooling and life chances | @RosMcM

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on the “Ros McMullen: Things I’ve learned and things I’m learning” blog on January 17 2015.

There is a link between poverty and educational underachievement and this is a causal link.  The fact that some children from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds have remarkable achievements should not disguise this. This is so well researched and so well documented that it is completely beyond dispute.

The traditional response from the left to this is to attempt to create a level playing field and each decade has seen new initiatives for education which aim to spend more money on the education of the most disadvantaged. Statistics show us, however, that very little has changed and this is largely because the children who are brought up in families who value education have home and school working together and those who are brought up in families where schooling is not valued have home and school working in opposition. Traditionally the professionals who have educated the poor have either chosen to do so from a sense of social justice and service, a commitment to make a difference, or because they have not been terribly good educators or not terribly well qualified themselves and have “ended up in the worst schools”. Hence a culture often emerged in schools serving disadvantaged communities of “cuddle and muddle”, typified by the phrase “we are very good pastorally”, and very often by “our kind of children”. The resistance to the standards agenda comes very strongly from this culture.

Thankfully over the last 20 years or so this traditional response from the left has changed and we have seen the standards agenda embraced by the Labour Party and by the profession. We saw the new response in the early academies agenda: spend more money on the education of the most disadvantaged, set committed professionals free from interference and set challenging targets. It was a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and frankly an exciting time. Leading one of those early academies was a great privilege. However, I quickly came to realise that far from regenerating the area I was working in I was doing no more than providing an escape tunnel out of it. The academy I lead demonstrably narrows the gap: from no children going to university to over 90% of sixth formers doing so and from 9% achieving a pass in both English and Maths at GCSE to 55%, but poverty in the area is worsening. And of course not all the early academies were successful and the response to this has been less freedom, less money, more restriction.

Turning to the traditional response from the right to the underachievement of the poor we can see that until recently it was nowhere near their agenda. Apart from a strong attachment to grammar schools as a way of providing a ladder out of poverty for a few they had no response.

It was initially heartening to see the right taking a interest in the quality of schooling for poor children but, oh dear, what a mess. Challenging a culture of an under aspiration amongst teachers – a good thing, but the blame culture, the punitive approach, the failure to listen to committed experts in the field together with the savage cuts is a disaster. We are left with a serious crisis in teacher supply at a time when we have never had a more skilled and committed bunch of teachers, and with a system which actively penalises the best teachers and school leaders for working in the most challenging schools. Leading my academy precludes the possibility of being an outstanding leader, and all the expertise in the system at what works in raising standards is discounted with punitive targets driving inappropriate curriculum. The joy has been gradually sucked out of the system. (If we succumb to it, of course, and many of us don’t)

Nothing typifies the current muddled thinking more than pupil premium. I lead an academy with 67% pupil premium. This is pretty staggering for a secondary school; however I have less budget, not more. Pupil premium is not new money. It also comes with punitive targets around closing the gap. For us pupil premium means desperately trying to continue addressing disadvantage with less money than we used to have, while justifying how we spend pupil premium. It is a nonsense, but here is the bigger nonsense: we know there is a causal relationship between poverty and underachievement and the poor are getting poorer. Think of it like this – setting targets around healing a wound, giving the ‘wound-healer’ less money but making them justify that a portion of it is spent specifically on healing the wound, while giving the patient less food and increasing the bacteria in their whole environment. The national figures show pupil premium is apparently not closing the gap. Are we surprised?

So here’s a radical idea – if we are serious about creating the opportunities for equality (which is a much more sensible approach the talking about equal opportunities) how about addressing seriously the causes of disadvantage. Worklessness needs to be tackled and so does benefit culture and the under aspiration that results from it, but in so doing we have to take the children out of the culture of poverty – all I see happening at the moment is the situation being worsened. New thinking is required or once again we will only be tinkering at the edges and the cycle of disadvantage will continue.

RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: Outstanding | @srcav

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on the “cavmaths” blog on 12th July 2015.

It used to be one of my favourite adjectives. I thought it was the perfect way to describe something so good it stood out from the crowd, but now I hate the word. I die a little inside everytime I read or hear it. The reason this is is that in the majority of contexts I hear it in it no longer means outstanding. It means ‘ticked a lot of boxes that often have no bearing on learning.”

I was once told by a senior leader that one NQT was outstanding and one required improvement. The outstanding one had made less than expected progress over the course of the year with the class in quest and the requires improvement one had made more progress in his class than any other class in the year group. It was this experience that led me to really believe that the criteria people were using to judge teaching was fundamentally flawed.

A colleague told me a few weeks ago that he’d “never be outstanding” but would get his classes to make excellent progress. I told him that this made him outstanding and that finally, since the Sutton trust report and reviewed ofsted guidance, this was being recognised by the inspectorate. The colleague then raised this idea in a training course with a lead ofsted inspector who told him he “vehemently disagreed” with this idea and that engagement and gimmicks were required to be outstanding. He apparently spoke highly of use of mini whiteboards but then said their use needed to be evidenced in books, which kinda defeats the point,  in my opinion.

I was disheartened by this news, because it seemed that despite ofsted making progress at an institutional level that lead inspectors weren’t paying the blindest bit of attention. But then I found myself in a meeting with a different lead HMI inspector who spoke of teaching and learning judgments being intrinsically linked to outcomes. This gave me hope that the first guy had been a rogue.

The weirdest thing with the tick box brigade is that they all have their own, seemingly different, checklist that needs to be followed. Here are some of the oddest:

Success criteria on every slide

This comes from the idea that meta cognition is something that has a positive effect on learning. I can believe this. But meta cognition is sharing the destination and how to get there with the student. Writing success criteria on every slide isn’t meta cognition, it’s ticking a box, especially given that some people don’t even discuss them.

Lolly sticks

And other random name selection devices. I’m not massively against their use, if a teacher struggles to include all students in their own questioning then by all means use them. But there are many occasions where targeted, differentiated, questioning is more relevant. I know one teacher who was applauded for his use of them, but actually he’d used blank ones and targeted the questions, using them purely because he knew the observer liked them.

Verbal feedback stamps

The idea that verbal feedback needs written evidence seems silly. A former colleague asked me recently I’d I had any ideas of how he could evidence verbal feedback. Student notes weren’t good enough at his school and he needed a way to evidence it better from a teachers perspective. The only way I can see is to type or write it out, but then it ceases to be verbal feedback and becomes written feedback. Surely the improvement in the quality of the work is evidence itself?

There are many other ideas like this, some based on solid foundations but losing their meaning through the mandatory nature they are imposed and the relentless need for evidence. I’ve even heard of schools where teachers have their entire lessons prescribed for them. Surely this is not what it should be about? Surely, as teachers, we need to be in charge of our classrooms, and using our knowledge of our subject and our students to plan the best lessons for each of them to progress?

RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: The bearable discomfort of being a teacher | @JamesTheo

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on the “Othmar’s Trombone” blog on 1st April 2015.

“The aim of this project is to avoid as much as possible stationary postures and promote mobility. My will is to introduce a “bearable discomfort” for our well-being.”

Benoit Malta

The above quote could very easily be a mission statement for a school. Certainly it would fit any school that follows what Keven Bartle calls a ‘deficit model’.

In schools up and down the country, a combination of the weight of accountability with the relentless and endless stream of (what we are told are) education’s aims and objectives means that teachers are in a permanent state of motion.

We are unable to adopt “stationary postures” –  the essential states for completing many staples of teaching, such as reflection and planning. As such, we are in a constant state of “bearable discomfort”: as a collective entity, we just about endure despite the crippling workload, constant changes, regularly updated directives,scope creep, regenerating to-do-lists and time theft; however, as individuals many of us don’t survive: this is when the bearable discomfort becomes unbearable and teachers become headline-grabbing statistics.

In the quote that opens this post, however, Benoit Malta isn’t talking about teaching. As far as I know, he doesn’t have any influence on education policy. He is actually a designer from France. The quote is actually about this:

As you can see, the Inactivité is a two-legged chair. The thinking behind the design is that it forces the user to constantly make slight movements in order to maintain balance. One cannot simply sit back for a moment and relax in this chair – it is necessary to be in a perpetual state of response to external forces in order not to fall. This is the bearable discomfort of which Malta speaks.

I think the chair seems perfectly symbolic of what it is to be a teacher today.

The principles of the Inactivité are like the lot of the teacher: we must constantly respond to the forces around us to achieve stability. Of course, some of the forces we face are to be expected: those that come from direction of the students. This is because learning and behaviour are often unpredictable and so cause a disequilibrium that it is our job to stabilise.

However, I’d argue that the majority of the forces that cause teachers bearable discomfort come from other sources. This is a result of the endless accountability measures and extensive managerialism of the education sector.

What is the answer to this? Well, to continue the analogy of Benoit Malta’s chair… in order to be balanced, teachers need to be supported. To resist the forces from above, we need more stability at ground level. Teachers need to feel bearable comfort in the shape of a genuine focus on teacher wellbeing.

Nicky Morgan, Nick Clegg and Tristram Hunt have all taken up the issue of teacher workload in the run-in to May’s General Election. However, whilst this issue is in the hands of politicians, it is conveniently taken out of the hands of schools. Politicians aren’t going to provide the stability that teachers need for bearable comfort. That stability comes from the schools themselves. The best thing that politicians can do is to incentivise teacher wellbeing and retention and put the responsibility into the hands of schools. From here, we might begin to see some change in the manner in which schools respond to directives and trends.

Like many of these directives and trends in education from recent years, the two-legged chair seems eye-catching and innovative. But, of course, like many of those directives it could equally turn out to be counterproductive and harmful.

One of the questions we often ask when considering introducing something new into schools is: “Has this idea got legs?”

But perhaps we should be asking, “How many legs has this idea got?”

Now, how many times do I need to tell you – sit on that chair properly or there’s going to be an accident.

RECYCLED POSTS WEEK: Showing Gratitude | @DoWise

RecycledIn Recycled Posts Week we are representing posts that have appeared elsewhere. This post first appeared on the Douglas Wise blog on 20 December, 2015.

Recently, @Joe_Kirby wrote a blog post about the value of teaching students the habit of gratitude – you can read it here.  I think he’s absolutely right: it’s important for students to be grateful and to show gratitude. It makes a huge difference.  And he got me thinking about how poor (really poor) I’ve been at showing gratitude myself.

I’m fortunate to work with a group of teachers and support staff who are generous with their time and who, quite remarkably, have been willing to go above and beyond all reasonable expectations to get me out of a number of tricky situations.  A quick example… The EAL Co-ordinator at my school agreed, during the final days of the final week of term, to help run two hours of literacy CPD with me on the first day back in January.  She didn’t need to agree and, of course, she could’ve declined most honourably: I’ve actually got a meeting booked during that slot – I can’t really rearrange it – but I’d love to help out at some other point.  I thanked her (of course), told her how grateful I was, said I’d email her with the details (of course), and then quickly scuttled away to teach my next lesson.  And that was it.  Job done.  Unimpressive, right?

So, what’s my point?  Nothing more than this, really: in schools, it’s easy for staff at all levels not to show gratitude in a way that’s meaningful.  And I’m far guiltier than most for not taking the time to show proper gratitude, despite frequently feeling incredibly grateful.  It’s something that, periodically, I promise myself I’ll get better at: I’ll make that announcement in briefing, write those Christmas cards, buy those bottles of wine…

Schools rely so heavily on good will.  It seems strange that, amidst all those headlines about staffing shortages and falling morale, we can all, at least occasionally, fail to say a proper thank you to those around us (and, actually, make ourselves feel better in the process by doing so).  In Joe’s school, students are encouraged to write praise postcards once every half-term; the same thing happens at my own school.  It’s a system that I believe works well.  So, teacher praise slips?  Nah. I’m not sure we need them quite yet.  However, I do believe that, in this profession, and particularly at this time, meaningfully showing gratitude, and being shown gratitude, really does matter because it’s all about feeling valued.

Nicky Morgan, take note…

A Dystopian Education | @ragazza_inglese

HeadshotSummer Turner is Head of Faculty, English and Languages and leads on Teaching and Learning at the East London Science School. She tweets @ragazza_inglese and blogs here.

I don’t really get BETT. Every time I go there, I feel like I just am missing out on a secret that everyone else knows about. I like BettFutures, the little corner of hope that I find myself in, speaking on a panel on the subject of ‘Teacherpreneurs’. I’m not much of a tech pioneer, but it’s come to my attention that there is something entrepreneurial about being involved in the leadership of a free school, particularly one that has a traditional curriculum but also embraces innovation. In this small hopeful, grass-covered corner of BETT – it is that story that I tell. I’m always surprised at the reaction, the shock at realising that so many teachers and leaders do not have this freedom that I speak of – the freedom to do what they believe is best for their pupils. I have to hang onto the idea that there are schools and individual teachers that are able or are brave enough to do this – I’ve met some of them, and I have to believe that there are many more. Yet the shock, the disbelief, the joy that I get in the reactions of those I tell about my school makes me think otherwise.

As does wandering into the BETT ‘megashow’, where I see endless sets of stalls about whiteboard projectors, about data systems and about technological resources that will help teachers ‘close the gap’. I see assessment tools designed around GCSE specifications, I see reading programmes based around the idea that we don’t like reading, I see resources that talk of differentiating so that you can create challenge for some and not for others. Maybe I’m not looking right, but what I see saddens me: is this what we in education have created? Maybe I’m overly swept up in the dystopian stories I’m currently teaching, but this seems to be technology for tracking, limiting and controlling.

I listened to Nicky Morgan, who delivered her speech with the enthusiasm of a cyborg. When she spoke about her excitement about technology, her tone made me wonder momentarily whether she was being ironic. What came across in her speech, in the vast corporate stalls that sucked away at my soul and in the hopeful faces of the BettFuture arenas, was the danger of what a lack of passion, imagination and freedom can do to our schools.

Schools which continue to be slaves to the specifications; to look for easy fixes in making lessons work for all the diverse set of pupils we teach; to obsess over the tracking and monitoring of data (which would not be such a problem, if it wasn’t that so much of it continues to be meaningless – based on assessment systems which no longer exist or have no formative impact on pupils), and to try to dumb down content are not the schools our children deserve.

It’s easy to level the blame at the technology – but that’s just a bad workman blaming their tools. It’s also easy to level the blame at the politicians, and indeed they do have some part to play, mostly in how they can enable schools to feel free. I was heartened to see that Jeremy Corbyn visited Highbury Grove School last week and we were honoured that Rushanara Ali (Labour MP for Bethnal Green) came to our school to discuss the vote on Syria with our pupils. It makes me hopeful that Labour can have the passion and imagination to back the best education.

Yet ultimately it is about the responsibility that school leaders and teachers have to fight for what they believe is right for their pupils. It is not acceptable to be swayed by the mindless call of a device which will help you ‘close the gap’ to reach ‘high expectations’ and achieve the ‘excellent GCSE results’ which will make you an ‘outstanding’ school. We all have to be braver than that, we all have to be more intelligent than that. We all have to be a grass-covered, corner of hope.

Educhronology | @JulesDaulby

unknownJules Daulby is an advisory teacher for SENSS (SEN Specialist Service) in Dorset. Originally a Secondary English and Drama teacher, she has also taught in Further Education, Higher Education and for Parent Partnership.

Pop down to Dorset and visit Swanage.  Not only has it got the most stunning coastline, it has a lot of old and new school buildings. There is a residential school for children with severe autism called Purbeck View, run by Cambian Education. Above it, on top of the hill, there’s Harrow House, a large (and rather lovely) old school building, housing foreign students coming here to learn English.  Below these schools are four primary schools and an asbestos-ridden, derelict grammar school. Driving out of Swanage, towards Wareham, there’s the local secondary school, built on the old secondary modern site with new free school money.

This came about after a lengthy disagreement between parents in Swanage and the Local Authority.  The decision had been made to change the area’s three-tier system to a two-tier one.  The parents believed Wareham was too far to bus their children daily from year 7 and the Local Authority claimed they couldn’t achieve economies of scale or breadth of curriculum with a small secondary school in Swanage. The then Labour MP for South Dorset, Sir Jim Knight, told me that he had initially proposed a satellite centre in Swanage, staffed by Wareham’s larger comprehensive but that this had been rejected by both sides, ‘When the Free School proposal emerged, I was supportive, despite ideological opposition from the local Labour Party’.

Consequently, Swanage has experienced a secondary modern and grammar school system, a three-tier, lower, middle and upper school system, then a two-tier, with the local authority upsetting the locals as they refused to consider a local secondary school, and now a free school. It’s had the lot. The town is a palimpsest of educational reform: relics of the past’s central and local governmental bodies; all thinking that they made the right decision.

You’d hope enough would be enough now. The primary schools feed into the town’s secondary school  and the larger comprehensive in neighbouring Wareham.  This incidentally was partly expanded as it was lucky enough to have kept the schools’ building programme funding tragically lost by so many other schools nationally.

There are surplus places in both schools; some parents still choose for their children to take the 11+ and send them to Poole Grammar school, 20 miles away, should they pass. The spare spaces may change however considering a recent ruling by OFSTED that the grammar school ‘requires improvement’ yet the two local schools are both ‘good with outstanding features’.

This no longer surprises me however and, unless private schools are abolished and parents begin sending their children to the local, non-selective school down the road, I can no longer be surprised. I am educationally desensitised to surprise and change; a bit like Swanage itself really.