Most teachers will already have thought about what they’d like to achieve this new year. But what about the things they’d like to see the back of?
During the festive season I thought about the teaching ideas posed by the Department for Education (DfE) that I’d like to see banished this year. Here are my top three suggestions.
Character was a buzzword banded about by the DfE last year. Nicky Morgan even set aside £4.8 million to help to promote character in schools and in one speech announced 18 characteristics that pupils should develop “including qualities such as perseverance and tolerance”.
The education secretary even proclaimed students without “character” may excel at passing exams and absorbing information, but may not have the skills they need to tackle the challenges that lie ahead, to make the right decisions and to build their own moral framework.
I have no doubt that developing character has stemmed from lessons learnt in the charter schools in the US, or perhaps in excursions to Shanghai – referencing work and research from growth mindset, grit and resilience that now makes the rounds up and down the UK.
But teachers already know that our students have character. It’s really the relationship that matters more than anything and this is where character can be developed by form tutors, and by subject teachers in lessons, through love of their subject and from experiences provided through enrichment and extra-curricular activities.
It is almost 18 months since Ofsted first alluded to the end of (one-off) lesson gradings, but this is not yet evident in all schools. The Association of School and College Leaders says that half of schools across England grade lessons. That’s more than 10,000 schools and tens of thousands of teachers judged in one-off lessons.
Despite research showing this methodology has flaws, how many teaching careers are still damaged by poor observational proxy? And worse, how much of it is contributing to our retention crisis?
It’s time all schools moved towards a coaching and mentoring system that frequently observes to develop teaching and learning in classrooms and to provide teachers with time to use solutions such as lesson study to help develop practice.
Data-crunching will buckle our recruitment and retention hopes
The purpose of any lesson observation, even during inspections, is questionable if whole-school judgments are heavily reliant on published data. Visiting lessons during an inspection is merely a litmus-test of what goes on over a longer period. As Sean Harford said when I met with him last April, “there will always be a margin of error.”
It does not take a genius to work out that there are still flaws in the system. Teachers must start asking questions of their leadership teams if one-off judgments are still being pushed as an ideology! Let’s take back ownership of our classroom practice.
Data crunching is the No 1 bugbear we have yet to crack. The requirement has never been greater but it will buckle our recruitment and retention hopes and any chance of attracting the best teachers into our schools.
How long do teachers spend crunching data? Then uploading it on to their school’s management information system? It could be as much as 10 per cent of their allocated timetable.
There is no harm expecting all teachers to thoroughly understand assessment and be able to assess students’ work accurately, but uploading student assessment is an administrative task and is another pinch-point on an already stretched timetable. Therefore, one of my goals this year is to ensure that guidance, already published by the DfE in its Workload Challenge Report (January 2015), is evident in all new policies.
In the advice, the DfE makes the following recommendations: how many are your school doing for its teachers?
– Encouraging students to complete more peer and self-assessment
– Sparing use of more detailed marking and written feedback
– Effective use of whole school data management system/registers (including training for staff)
– Use of software for marking, homework and tracking pupil progress.
Isn’t it time we got rid of some of this nonsense and started taking back control of our profession? If you could throw away some teaching ideas, what would they be to help support the work you do in your school?