No matter how long you’ve been in the classroom, when an observer enters your classroom, you still get that flash of anxiety. It is, therefore, difficult to overstate the professional courage and generosity offered by Claire Stoneman, who invited more than 30 teachers from around the country to watch an English lesson at ResearchEd Birmingham. She has transcribed the whole thing in this fascinating post. One thing that stands out for me is the way that watertight routines are presented within a “purpose over power” context. For example: “Year 11 enter in silence…CS hands them the Do Now as they enter…CS waits for a minute as pupils unpack bags quickly. Scans room. Doesn’t move from spot…Pupils sit down immediately with no fuss. It is 54 seconds into the lesson.”
There are few people writing about education who can synthesise and summarise the best available evidence like Tom Sherrington does. What makes his work so compelling is that the real-life classroom is always centre-ground, with common-sense applications constantly offered. More than this, though, he takes on the thorny debates in education, and does so without bombast, cutting through ideology and dogma on either side. Such is the case with this post, which tackles student agency. Whilst acknowledging the efficacy, and at times necessity, of “no-excuses” behaviour policies, Sherrington asserts that: “Silent corridors can’t be an end-goal; surely they can only be a means to an end. At some point they have to be phased out if true agency and sincere trust are to be fostered.” This measured analysis offers huge amounts in our shared goal of fostering positive use of student agency.
Every year at its annual conference the National Education Union passes motions to abolish everything. And every year Twitter dives into their respective trenches and begins hurling grenades. This year was different, though, because Jeremy Corbyn promised that Labour, if elected, would abolish SATs. For primary headteacher Simon Smith, however, the tests are the wrong target. The “real issue is the accountability inherent in current set-up. Let’s not forget it was never meant to be like this. There were never supposed to be league tables and school comparisons. These are the things that create the crazy culture. Our current accountability system is fundamentally damaging to schools, staff and ultimately pupils.” There is a danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater in addressing legitimate concerns around accountability. Testing can be a powerful learning tool, and is more valid, reliable and fair than teacher assessment. So it’s pleasing that, despite their many shortcomings, Smith opens with “I’m going to say it I don’t agree with the idea of getting rid of SATs”.
The Grumpy Teacher
Both advocates and dissenters of “zero-tolerance” get a fair hearing from the Grumpy Teacher. (S)he begins by listing the “tremendous advantages to a zero-tolerance approach…it promotes good behaviour…[is] consistent…eliminates the whole ‘he’s all right for me’ culture…and I do very much recognise that some teachers can undermine others by being too lax”. So what’s not to love? Well, for Grumpy Teacher, zero-tolerance is chemotherapy. It may well blitz chaotic behaviour, but in doing so it eradicates flexibility, basic common sense, and, most damagingly, teachers’ relationships with their pupils. A number of powerful examples show where context would override the immediate consequence for any violation of the “rules”. I’m sympathetic to the zero-tolerance line, but Grumpy even convinced me to let off the 13-year-old cricketer who shouted “Oh for fuck’s sake” in front of a teacher from another school.