Review by Sarah Gallagher

Headteacher, Snape Primary School and PGCE tutor, University of Cambridge

30 Mar 2024, 5:00

Blog

The Conversation – with Sarah Gallagher

To set or not to set

This week’s ‘Teach Sleep Repeat’ podcast features an interesting discussion about whether to set groups by ability or not. Dylan Price and Hayden Stevens discuss current research around this area with some ‘oft-quoted’ responses around the damaging nature of setting.

Some of the debate is only applicable if you work in a setting where you have choices. Working in a village school with mixed year groups and part-time teachers puts in its own restrictions, yet small schools have the privilege of getting to know individuals so much more.

However, what was apparent from listening in was the importance of maintaining a ‘fluid’ approach. Even if you set, you still need to use assessment for learning to determine who does what the next day. Whatever your groupings, that fluidity is fundamental to enabling children to progress.

I remember the days of laminated cards with group names on. Once laminated, difficult to change! Nothing to do with learning, and sadly much more to do with aesthetics and maintaining perfect stationery. Thank goodness we left that practice in the ‘I’m working in a group’ literacy stamp era.

Workload vs pay

The latest blog from Teacher Tapp summarises the polling and research organisations’ latest findings on workload, pay and time. These manage to be in equal parts depressing and unsurprising for anyone in a school with an ear to the ground.

Results triangulate with many other current discussions. Teachers would prefer more funding for more staff (teachers or TAs) over an increase in their wages. Lots – regardless of subjects – spend their weekends planning and working for school. And behaviour is generally becoming much more challenging.

Although predictable, this is surely a clear steer in terms of what needs to happen for the teaching profession. I’ve just marked PGCE assignments which focus on researching pupils’ perspectives. For 10 years now,  all the essays discuss the many positive impacts of taking this into account. I can’t help thinking it is high time we did the same for teachers’ views.

CPD for TAs

Having read the Teacher Tapp research, I then came across this blog where, among other things, Daisy Cave talks about how TAs can advocate for learners with SEND. It is well documented that schools are desperate for better funding with which to source the right and proper support for children. The stress on SEND provision is enormous and the lack of school places and wider SEND support only adds to the plight.

So reminding ourselves of the invaluable resource TAs represent while we bang the drum for change is certainly timely. However, the key quote for me here is: “Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can”. I agree that we must. I also can’t help but wonder whether breaking our backs to do it doesn’t in fact mask the lack of support we get from above.

Talking about consent

And finally, T and Teaching podcast hosts Arthur Moore and Amy Cutler provide a powerful and worthwhile listen here as they interview Monica Bhogel. Bhogel is the director of the Schools Consent Project, which aims to stimulate discussion about what consent means, its legal parameters, and how young people can develop positive and nurturing relationships.

As Cutler explains and Teacher Tapp reveals, teachers already feel they are required to cover so much these days. She is an English teacher but also uses tutor time to discuss PSHE. By no means an expert, hers and Moore’s points about how tricky it is to have these conversations with young people is well made: It can be embarrassing for the pupils but also awkward for teachers.

Bhogel, for her part, is unerringly positive about supporting teachers to start these difficult discussions with confidence. Her focus on the legal definition, which centers around choice, freedom and capacity, creates an accessible in-road to these conversations which are so pertinent amid the flood of online misogyny young people encounter.

It’s clearly not just students who need this. I urge all teachers to listen in.  

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