Time for a change?

I seriously considered leaving education today. And if I had a viable exit strategy I might have taken it further.

Did I have a bad lesson? Was a pupil abusive, violent or threatening towards me? Not at all. I had the pleasure of my delightful Y7s, made a breakthrough with my Y8s, managed some productive revision and even had a pleasant time on a cover lesson.

What made me think about leaving was the agenda for Monday’s full staff meeting. Item 1? OFSTED. And pinned up next to it, the minutes of a recent Heads of Faculty meeting.

  • In recent years we’ve been told our lessons have to be pacey.
  • They have to help the students demonstrate independent learning.
  • We have to give the students time to explore concepts and ideas.
  • We have to demonstrate progress. From every student. Every 15 minutes.
  • We have to make sure we build literacy explicitly into every lesson.
  • We have to show an awareness of which pupils are FSM, EAL, EM, GAT, SEN, SA, SA+.
  • We have to show how we make learning activities available to kinaesthetic learners, visual learners and audio learners.
  • We have to differentiate our work for multiple intelligences.
  • We have to aim for a 70:30 classroom.
  • We have to assess every student every 6 weeks (that is, after every 6 hours – imagine having to assess every employee at work at the end of every day).
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have a full suite of policies to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed exam analysis to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have a detailed, evidence based SEF to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have marking that demonstrates progress to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed lesson plans to show them
  • When OFSTED show up I have to have detailed ‘narrowing the gap’ data to show them
  • When OFSTED show up  I have to have seating plans to show them

Via the minutes of the meeting I was informed that in my gained time I also have to arrange for a collaborative observation program for my department. Every member of the department has to carry out observations and also has to be observed. Each observation must be written up, objectives set, observations repeated and the whole process evaluated. In addition to planning new schemes of work, updating resources, rewriting lesson plans using the new double sided lesson pro forma, preparing book scrutinies… oh, and at some point teaching all of the Y7, Y8, Y9, Y10 and Y12 students.

At the same time I am told that I will have to work for another 36 years. That I will receive less pension than I was promised (despite the fact that the TPS pot has been overpaid for many years). That tests are too easy. That my subject is not good enough. That I need to solve gaps in parenting. That I should receive performance related pay. That teachers are paid too much. That public sector workers in the north are paid too much. That teachers ‘cheat’ when the watchmen come. And today I’m told that ‘teachers don’t know what stress is‘.

Three local schools have had the dreaded ‘O’ visit them in the last 3 months. Two were graded Satisfactory (which will soon be officially less than satisfactory) and one was given notice to improve. SLT appear to be living in a climate of fear that is pervading every meeting, every document, every decision and every discussion. It appears that my job is becoming more and more about pleasing our overlords (Did I say overlords? I meant protectors – Jonathan Coulton) and less and less about educating and enthusing children.

I’m not leaving teaching today, because there are still too many moments that I enjoy. The XKCD comic at the top of the post perfectly sums up the reason I became a teacher. The idea that someone can leave the room knowing more than they did when they went in has always fascinated me, and that I have the ability to be a part of that is wonderful. The fact that my AS Computing class is taught almost exclusively out of schools hours – when neither I nor they are required to be there – fills me with hope. TEACHING is a great activity. Teaching, at the minute, doesn’t always feel like a great job.




Originally uploaded by ZoeARP

It’s that time of year again. A Level projects are in (Edexcel Applied, 6958 and 6960 if you’re interested). GCSE ICT controlled assessments are in. GCSE Computing controlled assessments are in. iMedia portfolios need packaging up and sending off. All of this makes me wonder why we’re paying the exam boards and not the other way around.

Oh, and, of course. The KS3 assessments are due too. And a parent’s evening.

That lot should keep me busy for a fortnight, then Easter should keep me busy for another.

See you in a month or so!

(I’m thinking I should rename the blog for that period to “I’m actually marking“)

It’s OK to miss things


Originally uploaded by Kilgub

My best mate at school was a huge music fan. Dave had thousands of albums by bands I couldn’t even pronounce, let alone remember. He was always ready for the next big thing, spotting the likes of Pulp and many others long before the likes of you and me had come across them. I was fortunate to borrow a few CDs now and then – I distinctly remember him introducing me to Nirvana, and many other groups you’d likely never have heard of – but I was never really up on the whole music thing.

I always felt slightly envious of him – because he never missed anything. He knew exactly what was going on and always kept his finger on the bleeding edge (I do love a mixed metaphor).

In the years since then I’ve met lots of people like Dave. When I first started teaching I worked with Darren Smith, an early Moodle adopter who seemed to be very well up on where ICT in schools was going. When I first got into blogging it was all about Islay, and Islay Ian was my go-to guy for all things Web 2.0 and technology in the classroom. Once I got into Twitter it was the likes of Doug Belshaw who seemed to be the kind of person who knew exactly what was going on and somehow managed to keep lots of fingers in lots of pies, while still maintaining excellent classroom practice.

And as great as Darren, Ian and Doug are, they’re also pretty daunting as exemplars. Like my friend Dave, they seem to never miss a trick, to always be up on the next big thing and they can easily make the rest of us feel, if not inadequate, certainly less successful.

A couple of years ago my morning routine used to consist of reading through all of the overnight tweets in my timeline, lest I miss some key conversation or idea. Then going on to my RSS reader and seeing what was going on in the blogosphere. I couldn’t bear the thought that I would miss out on something.

Of course, that’s ridiculous. There are bound to be conversations I’m not part of, blog posts I don’t get to read and ideas that pass me by entirely. That’s as it’s always been and how it should be. It’s OK if I don’t hear about a piece of software before a colleague, or if someone in the staffroom is sharing a new online tool with me instead of the other way around. And it is important that I take time away from reading up on ideas and actually try using them in the classroom (that and eating, sleeping, spending time with my family…).

What brought this to my mind is the collection of tweets, blog posts and the Teachmeet livestream coming out of the NAACE conference over the last few days. I’m not really involved with NAACE, although I know many who are. And for a moment I felt guilty that I wasn’t spending my Saturday watching the Teachmeet being beamed out live. And that I hadn’t followed who was presenting what throughout the conference. But if it’s important or key, I know that some very good people will make sure it floats to the top. Because the good ideas do tend to do that, and those very good people are on the case.

And at the next Teachmeet, I’ll try to do the same. I’ve not been to one yet that hasn’t resulted in a number of blog posts and many tweets – and those who aren’t there might pick up on one thing or another. Or they might not. And we’ll all cope, because it’s OK to miss things. We’re only human, after all.

Under Siege?

Caverlaverock Castle with Trebuchet

Originally uploaded by jarek69 & evelyn

I’ve not been blogging much lately, and while I’m not overly keen on meta-posts I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of days about why that is.

Partly, it’s because I’ve been flipping busy. But writing a post doesn’t take long, so that’s no excuse.

More significantly it’s because a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about, and even started to write on occasion, have been less than positive. And I don’t want to be whinging and moaning – partly because it reinforces the negativity, partly because it makes me look bad and partly because I’ll end up saying something that will get me in bother.

So why the negativity? I’m not 100% certain, but here’s an interesting fact.

In the four days alone I’ve seen news reports telling me that:

Teachers who say things like “I’m not a teacher on here. I’m just like anyone else, I drink, swear… but don’t tell anyone.” can find themselves reprimanded by the GTC and hauled through the press. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-16929442)

Schools who are judged as outstanding will be free from routine inspections by OFSTED, except those whose exam results drop (so no pressure there then).

Even those schools judged as outstanding will be subject to departmental inspections, particularly focussing on those subjects trying to get themselves into the EBacc (staff meeting).

Those schools judged as outstanding in every area, but merely very good in terms of teaching (based on a 2-day snapshot) will no be allowed to be outstanding.

Schools that are currently satisfactory actually require improvement. OK, I can just about accept that, but it means that all schools will either be unsatisfactory, requires improvement, good or outstanding. That sounds to me like an F, a D, a C and an A*. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16579644)

It seems to me that there are lots of students in my Y11 classes who are doing better than scraping a C, but are not up to A* standard. It feels like someone is saying “unless you are truly amazing [which, after all, is what outstanding means, at least as I understand it] then you’re just not good enough”.

You see, and now this has turned into a negative rant. Which isn’t what I want. And inspection is a necessary evil. There are some schools and some teachers who don’t work hard enough, or don’t work right. There aren’t many of them, but we do need to ensure that standards are high. Fine, I accept that. I just feel as though the entire profession is under siege at the minute.

We’re lazy (we should have fewer holidays and longer working days), we’re overpaid (hence the pay freeze), we’re greedy over pensions (which is why I’ll be losing £100 a month on top of that pay freeze), we’re rubbish (hence all the OFSTED stuff) and we’re not allowed to have any kind of public or personal life (see any news story relating to teachers and social networking – including my HT telling me that any teacher with a Facebook account is being silly).

So maybe that’s got something to do with the lack of posts lately, despite lots of good stuff going on. I think I need to start focussing on that, really.

Work/Life Balance?

Balancing act

Originally uploaded by Brother O’Mara

Two students of mine missed a week of school to go on an army course. Which is fine.

The next lesson, they were due to catch up the filming work the rest of the class had done in their absence. Taking advantage of the opportunity to work unsupervised (as I was with the rest of the class), they mucked about, achieved literally nothing and damaged some expensive equipment.

They both had a session booked after school today to complete the filming under supervision. Neither bothered to turn up.

The only punishment I can realistically offer is to organise the equipment and the supervision for another night. Net loss to pupils – nothing. I can’t allow them to fail and I have to rise above any petulant desire to vent my frustration.

And so I find myself quietly seething, almost 5 hours after the end of my working day.

What balance?

Satisfaction guaranteed?

Collar-label making process

Originally uploaded by Stephanie Booth

I have a new idea for organising my classes.

They’re currently mixed ability, which means I sometime have very bright students mixed in with less able students, and this makes things confusing, so I propose putting them into 4 groups.

I’ll have one group on the Outstanding table, where the best, the brightest (and the well dressed) can be quickly identified. I’ll also make sure I put a big sign on the table, so all the other students know who they need to emulate.

On the next table will be the Good students. Those who are doing pretty well, but could do better. If they work hard, they might move up to the Outstanding table, but I’ll have to lay down the law and threaten them with possible relegation to the Satisfactory table.

Actually, no. We’ll call it the Requires Improvement table. If I judge they’re not up to snuff, they’ll be plonked here and given a good going over. They’ll be told in no uncertain terms that if they’re stuck on this table for more than two cycles then that’s it – we’ll be looking to throw them straight down to the Unsatisfactory table (otherwise we’ll run out of room to put all those kids from the Good table who are coasting!).

Finally we have the unsatisfactory table. I don’t care if their social background is an issue, I don’t care if previous students have left their table in a mess – if they’re not sorting themselves out good and quick then it’s out on their ear and we’ll have to hire a whole new cohort of students to see if they can do better!

You see it’s all about choice, really. If I’m asking a question, I want to make sure I’m well informed as to who is who. I wouldn’t want to ask the wrong kind of kid!

Wait… what? What do you mean there’s a free table over there where the kids can pick their own curriculum and choose their own school hours?

Oh, I give up…

Remember, remember the 30th of November

The National Audit Office calculates that teachers’ pensions are both sustainable and self-funding. The Chancellor has publicly stated he wants £2.8 billion from public sector workers to plug the budget deficit. He plans to do this by cutting my final pension by a third and by making me pay an extra 60% extra every month until I retire. He also wants your kids to be taught by knackered, 68 year old teachers.

When Robert Maxwell robbed his employees pension funds he was vilified. Now Cameron and Osborne want to do the same.

Whether you agree or not is your decision, but I wanted you to know why I won’t be at work a fortnight today.