The New Ofsted Framework

Ofsted. The big O. The bane of every teachers life. You won’t find much love for Ofsted from teachers. Mainly because of the stress that is placed on them by Senior Leadership Teams because of the dread of Ofsted. Well, Ofsted are back with a shiny new framework. The most controversial aspect is their redefining of ‘outstanding’. Well, according to dictionary.com, it means ‘marked by superiority or distinction; excellent; distinguished’. Isn’t that what we all thought it meant anyway?!

When it comes to the judgement of Ofsted on the school, the school cannot be judged outstanding on teaching alone. It should be a collection of things, including a comparison of the judgements of the Ofsted team with the judgements of the school. This makes sense to me. I do not understand how someones ability to teach can be judged in 30 minutes. Therefore, you need to look at a broader spectrum. Plus, during an observation, the teacher isn’t getting watched much. The students are. Why? Because they will show how good a teacher you are. They will show the inspector, in their behaviour; attitude; work; progress etc. Their progress over time will show whether you’re outstanding or not. Whatever the outcomes, it should feed into your CPD. A school that doesn’t help improve your areas of weakness is a school not interested in you. Time to move on!

Believe it or not, the Ofsted inspectors don’t expect to see a lesson plan. They want to see a well planned lesson that enables all students to learn and make progress. This implies that you have planned personalised differentiation, up and down the ability spectrum. They’re looking to see if you have catered for all of your students and do it all the time. Again, the evidence for this will be in the work the students have done and in the progress they have made.

The downside for some subjects will be the focus on literacy and numeracy. If this isn’t well supported, you are likely to be judged inadequate. Either way, it’s the duty of every teacher to promote these no matter what subject they teach. Some subjects lend themselves to this more easily than others.

The good news is that homework only has to be set if it is appropriate to the learning needs of the students. Hopefully schools will interpret this sensibly and remove the need for every subject to assign homework of a certain length every week/fortnight.

So there you have it. Some good, some bad, some downright ugly. Ofsted inspections are about the management team of the school. If there is a problem with a teacher underperforming, then as long as the school has a system in place to help and support that problem, then that should be enough.

Religious Education Review

What are your thoughts on RE? Have you read the Phase 1 Scoping Report? No? Well now is the time! Public consultation is now open. You can read the report here and complete the online questionnaire here. It is really important that you have your say and, as with most things, money is a real issue here so the consultation will end on Friday 7th December.

RE can be like Marmite. You either loved it or hated it. And for many students it’s the same. Like all subjects, it needs to be reviewed. Time changes. The world changes. The needs of the students changed. Society has changed. While not all teaching of RE is good, there is some really excellent teaching going on. It is a valuable subject but it needs to be treated as an equal and stand tall against the other subjects. The RE Review will help with this. The RE Review needs you.

Please, please, please. Help the RE Council and take part. And share the information. The more people that can fill in the questionnaire, the better the results.

Thank you!

The RE Review

Religious Education has taken a bit of a battering over recent years. It is very clear that Gove does not want to find a place for it in the modern British Education system. Despite this, the RE community isn’t going to go quietly. From NATRE and the Culham Institute to the Save RE Group on Facebook, the RE community is very alive and shouting their point of view from the rooftops. They are fighting their cause from every corner possible, from writing letters to Gove and Clegg to setting up this review, supporters of RE are reinforcing the fact that good RE is an essential part of the curriculum. As it wasn’t included in Gove’s review of the National Curriculum, the RE Council is undertaking its own review. It is being run by Dr Janet Orchard and it has been broken down into 4 phases, starting with setting up a panel of expert witnesses. Members of the Phase One Expert Panel are:
Bill Gent, Karen Walshe, Lat Blaylock, Julian Stern with Janet Orchard (Project Manager) and Sarah Smalley (REC Executive Support Officer).

The aim of the review is to:

  • Analyse the current strengths and weaknesses of RE
  • Consider the impact of current Government policies on RE
  • Establish a ‘Case’ for RE
  • Refocus the RE curriculum
  • Promote exemplars of good practice in RE
  • A way forward for qualifications in RE
  • Secure the national/local balance of responsibility for RE
  • Identify and resolve further emerging issues

In order to achieve this, the REC is aiming to draw upon its very wide-ranging membership to make the review as inclusive as possible. It’s inviting everyone in the RE community and beyond to have a say on what Phase One has established so far. The consultation is from 12th November until 7th December. So make sure that you get involved and have your say about RE. The Phase 1 report can be found here on the REC’s website.

For More Information:
In order to maximise the consultation phase, the RE Council has created a hash tag, #REReview, to use on Twitter. This is a great way to be able to add your thoughts to the process and see what other people think. Updates about the Review is also included in the RE Council’s monthly newsletter, summarising the latest news, and the RE Review also has its own newsletter, which explains the developments in the review in more detail and this can be found on the REC website.

To find out more information, have your say and to get the latest updates on the RE Review, click on the images below to get to the RE Council website, Facebook page and Twitter timeline.

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Myths about Teaching

While writing my previous post, I  became incensed by the comments I read in response to Sir Wilshaws comments about teachers pay. And it got me thinking about what people think about teaching today. Everyone has an experience of school, but being a student gives you a very different perspective to that of a teacher. My OH regularly defended my profession to people who ‘joked’ about it being easy and all about watching videos, by saying he’s never seen anyone work so hard. He had no idea what teaching involved until we got together and he saw it for himself.

  1. Teaching is a 9 – 3 job. False. If a teacher is only working from 9 – 3, then within the first day, they’ll be behind. A teacher has to plan all their lessons every day. Depending on the number of classes they have (a teacher of English will have fewer classes than an RE teacher, but have to plan more lessons), the amount of time they spend doing certain tasks will vary. When teaching, not only to you have to stand in front of the class for 5 – 6 hours a day, you also have to plan each of these lessons. You then need to mark the work from each of these lessons. You’ll have to do 2 duties a week and organise the pastoral care of your tutor group. Throw in meetings before and after school, as well as training, parents evenings, open evenings and other possible events depending on your subject. I’d like to meet these teachers who only work 9 – 3 and ask them how they do it!
  2. Teachers get tons of holidays. True. But how many people do work during their holidays? Not many I’ll bet. Again, not every teacher will work during the holidays. Some might, some won’t. But in order to stay on top of everything, there are an awful lot of teachers who work during at least some of their holidays. The only time I didn’t work during my holidays was when I went abroad. As my OH wasn’t a teacher, we didn’t go abroad every holiday. So I would work during Christmas, Easter, at least one half term and half of the summer holidays. When I was Head of Department, I would go into school during the first week of the summer holidays to sort things out from the end of the school year & prepare for the new one, and then again at the end of the summer holidays for results day and getting things ready, like displays, organising books, getting to know the students who had specific learning needs etc.
  3. Teachers get a good deal with pay & pensions. Mmmmm…kind of. Teaching can pay very well, depending on your cost of living. In the last few years of my teaching career, the money I earned for being Head of Department (all £200 of it) went on my diesel. No joke. The pay I received for being head of department in no way reflected what was entailed in that job. And this is thing, teachers might get a decent amount of holidays but they do an awful lot outside of their contracted hours. Day trips, residential trips, buying things out of their own pocket, getting in early etc. If I calculate the number of hours I worked on average during term time, and not even factoring in working on the weekend, it boils down to earning just above minimum wage. Now I know not every teacher worked like I did, but something tells me that working as hard as I did for effectively minimum wage, means I wasn’t getting a good deal. I wish Wilshaw had brought up this idea of pay rises for hard workers when I was still there! Do teachers need decent pensions? Probably not, because the statistics of teachers dying early in retirement is shocking. Raise the retirement age even further, and they’ll be dropping in front of their white boards.
  4. Teaching is a job for life. False. When I started teaching back in 2002, I thought teaching was a secure profession to go into. Who had ever heard of teachers being made redundant? They’re essential right? True, to a point. Due to the ‘economic downturn’ or whatever you’d like to call it, times are very tough for schools. Even making schools academies isn’t the silver lining in the Tory Government cloud. It was only a few years ago when the school I worked in called for voluntary redundancies. This year, only a tiny handful of teachers will be replaced after a massive handful left. Teaching is not secure at all.

My Granny considered teaching to be a noble profession. But if you look at the comments on newspaper & TV websites when anything to do with teaching comes up, you’d think that teachers were the scum of the earth! And that they alone were the cause of everything that is wrong in the world.

I don’t understand at what point teachers became the root of all evil but I wish it would stop. Nothing in life is fair & I don’t think that lots of people who work hard in their various professions or fields get a good deal either. I don’t think its fair that sections of the Armed Forces or other public services are so underpaid or have rubbish pensions. The same way that I don’t think its fair for the Government to claw back money from those who are most vulnerable in our society because the wealthiest created a massive financial black hole. Sadly we live in a world that isn’t fair & there will always be people who think teachers have got it easy. They are wrong, obviously, because none of us who work hard & don’t see an equal financial return for that hard work, whatever it is, have got it easy. But hey ho, that’s just how it is.

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Teachers Pay

It’s been a while since Sir Michael Wilshaw said something to annoy the teaching community so his most recent comment was sure to stir things up. According to this report by BBC News, Wilshaw told the Times that teachers must work extra hours if they want a pay rise and teachers who were out of the door by 3pm shouldn’t be promoted. Staff who went the extra mile, should get promoted.

I agree.

Now I never thought that I would agree with anything Sir Wilshaw said but there are a lot of teachers who work incredibly hard who don’t get any recognition. When I was teaching, I worked a lot. For example, I worked 14 hour days & worked Sunday as standard. I was always looking for ways to improve my teaching & improve the learning experience for all my students. Nothing was too much work. Another teacher at the school didn’t work to the same level that I did. For example, they didn’t plan or mark regularly. However, due to them passing threshold at a previous school, they earned more than I did. How was that fair? It wasn’t. And it used to get to me big time.

If someone isn’t doing their job, why should their pay get increased? Why should they be considered for promotion? If they can’t complete the basic requirements of their jobs then they shouldn’t get paid the same as someone who goes the extra mile.

Now, all Wilshaw needs to do is put his money where his mouth is. There are plenty of teachers who do go the extra mile and my hope is that for those teachers, they can start to see some extra money in their pay packets. No one gets into teaching because of the pay, pension or holidays. They get into it because of their passion to help young people learn and improve their life chances.

It is an incredibly stressful job, not stressful like being on the frontline of the Armed Forces, but it is stressful. And it’s not easy. With the Government constantly moving the goalposts & with each new class bringing with it fresh challenges and needs, it is like being in a hamster wheel. Unlike teaching in the past, teaching is no longer a secure job. Schools up and down the country are making redundancies and teaching posts aren’t being filled due to lack of funding, causing some teachers to regularly teach outside their specialism. This only adds to the tension within schools. No one is saying that teachers should be above and beyond economics but they are doing a very difficult job. So many PGCE students start the school year with full to the brim with enthusiasm  Find those PGCE students 5 years into their teaching career & they are exhausted.

Just like every other profession, there are great teachers, mediocre teachers and awful teachers. It would be impossible to weed out the poor ones from every school but I think rewarding those who do a great job, as long as it’s not just based on performance, is about time.

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GCSE’s

Sixteen years ago, to the day, I received my GCSE results. I’d worked very hard to achieve 1 A, 5 B’s and 4 C’s. I even managed a C in Maths, which I really wasn’t sure I could do, but needed for university. I cried as I opened my results, and can picture my Mum sitting next to me in the car, double checking them because I didn’t think I had read it right the first time. For years after, I waited for a letter for the exam board saying they had got it wrong!

At this time of year, education is under intense scrutiny. If results exceed expectation, people accuse exam boards of ‘dumbing down’. If they fall, like they have this year, people blame exam boards for ‘harsh marking’. If a student fails, their teachers are asked to explain why. What could they have done differently? Did they do everything they could for that student? It’s the most soul-destroying part of teaching I have ever experienced. You are accountable for the successes and failures of your students. Not the students, I hasten to add, you are. This makes me so angry. And why I think performance related pay is so dangerous. You can do everything in your power to prepare your students, then they can go into the exam hall and write nothing. And this does happen, not very often, but it does happen.  When I was preparing for my Maths GCSE, I had a tutor. We did this because I was struggling. Maths has never been my strong point and I needed extra help. At no point did we blame the teacher for lack of attention or the school for not preparing me, I just needed 1-1 help and this wasn’t possible every lesson at school.

“The key question is, are [GCSEs] fit for purpose for the economy today?”

The quote above is by Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the Commons’ Education Select Committee. For once, I actually agree with a Conservative politician! I don’t think they are. I think GCSE’s lack the very things our young people need for going into the world. Skills, entrepreneurial ideas, innovative thinking, being ready and able to adapt should be at the forefront of qualifications, but they aren’t. Sure, we need to know the basics, but we also need to remember that young people need qualifications that prepare them for their lives, not just to give us statistics to play with. Some GCSE students today will work in jobs that don’t necessarily exist yet. Very few will only work in one sector. There is no such thing as a job for life and schools need to be able to prepare them as best they can for this.

GCSE’s don’t do this, but neither will Gove’s idea of reverting back to O Levels. We need to harness the best minds in education, business economics and government and come up with something new. Otherwise we’ll all fail our young people.

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Inspire A Generation

Wow! What an amazing couple of weeks we’ve had with the Olympics. I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely been inspired to get my trainers on and get out the door. And from what I’ve been seeing on Twitter, so have lots of young people. Fantastic! Now, if only we can think sensibly about how to move this forward, especially in the wake of the news that lots of schools have sold off their playing fields…

1. Schools. We need to stop thinking schools are the answer to everything. they aren’t. Young people are in only in school for a certain amount of time. They are not solely responsible for raising a child. Yes they play a massive role and have a huge responsibility, but they can’t do it on their own. They don’t have the time or the funding and have a huge number of issues to contend with such as timetables and resources. It is essential that we instill in young people the importance of an active healthy lifestyle. They need to associate wellness and health with a balanced lifestyle and diet. They need to know how to fit that in with their academic work. However, one of the problems is that schools cannot accommodate all types of sport. They don’t have the facilities for everyone to have a go at rowing or archery or cycling. Some will, most won’t. They don’t have the funds to access these for every students. It’s just the way it is. So how can this be rectified?

2. Community. Where are there are rowing clubs for example, they need to get into schools and publicise what they have on offer. The community needs to pull together and work with schools to help young people get involved and stay involved. They’ll need funding and this won’t always be easy to come by but if everyone pulls together, fund raises, bids for anything and everything they can, then something might be able to work. Community sports groups will need help from schools and possibly the most important group of all.

3. Parents. So many athletes during London 2012 thanked their parents for their support. So parents, please don’t underestimate how important you are. You are essential, whether your child is going to be the next Jessica Ennis or not. You need to show the type of balanced lifestyle that schools are being told to instill in young people, but if you aren’t doing that, it will be difficult for most children to see it working. Are you eating your five a day? Do you wear a cycle helmet while out on your bike? Children emulate what their parents do – we learn everything from tolerance to money lessons to eating habits from our parents, no matter what schools do. It’s parents who drive their children to the swimming pool. It’s parents who will buy the boxing gloves and mouth shields. Are you inspired to help your child become the next Nicola Adams?

Each group cannot work independently and succeed. They all need to work together if the inspiration from London 2012 is going to have any kind of longevity. I think it can succeed. The Paralympics will only increase the inspiration, as these superhuman athletes achieve beyond expectation. We as communities, as a society and as a nation need to do what we can to encourage these seeds of inspiration to grow. We can’t rely on the Government or even the athletics association. Money is tight. Resources are tight. But if we want to have the same buzz we had this summer in four years time, we need to pull together.

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Buried News

Well, with all the Olympic news, it would have been silly not to release this on the opening day of the Olympics. It just goes to show how clever our Government really are. They released this information during the summer holidays when the worlds media are focused on super-human athletic events. Well, wouldn’t you? If you were about to undermine an entire profession, again?

So what am I talking about? The news report that the Government has decided that all academies should be kept in line with free schools and be able to employ teachers who don’t have QTS. They feel that this way, academies will be able to employ real specialists eg. computer scientists. This also puts the academies on a level footing with free and independent schools who don’t have to employ qualified teachers. This can be looked at in two ways.

One. The Government has our young people’s best interests at heart and wants them to have the most qualified specialists teaching them, so that when they leave school, they will put the UK on the map for all the right reasons.

Two. The Government wants even less responsibility and is continuing its plan to reduce its responsibility of educating our young people.

Now I’m not exactly known for my optimism but this has to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I’ve worked as a mentor on a PGCE programme at a prestigious university and while the majority of the students were great, some of them weren’t. Trust me, you wouldn’t want the bad apples teaching your children. I wouldn’t have put the bad apples in charge of a pencil let alone a young persons education! And these were the ones who’d got through the application process. These bad apples were dealt with accordingly. If they hadn’t been put through their paces, taught how to handle differentiation or behaviour management strategies, then things would have been a disaster. Those that were excellent, and most were, during their PGCE year excelled with the training they received and made great teachers.

I don’t understand where this idea that anyone can be a teacher comes from. They can’t. The same way that not everyone can perform surgery (I’d pass out!), not everyone can be a premier league footballer and not everyone can be education secretary. Teaching is a juggling act. You have to be able to do 15 things at once, while carrying on at least 5 different conversations and thinking about 10 minutes ahead. All the while you need to be conserving enough energy to get you through the day and onto whatever after school meeting/activity you have to do. This is not for everyone, not even the best PGCE providers can turn you into a teacher. Why the Government thinks that just because someone is a specialist in their field means that this will translate into them being able to teach their specialism is beyond me. It will in some cases, and to those people I say bravo! To those for whom it doesn’t, then you have my sympathy.

And I also realise that not everyone who is a qualified teacher is good at it. I have first hand experience of dealing with someone who should never have been allowed in a classroom. The scary thing is how far up the ladder some of these people get. Even scarier is how hard it is getting rid of someone who isn’t up to the job.

I know the Government will waffle something about more power to the headteacher, better financial controls for the school, etc etc. In some cases this will work. In others it won’t. Some schools are already struggling to  see the benefit of being an academy. The financial incentive isn’t there. LEA’s have all but vanished and schools are going to be left floundering. I realise not all schools will jump at the chance of employing teachers without NQT status, but what if they’re cheaper? What if they’re markedly cheaper? How low can we go before we realise that this will cause damage to the education of our young people?

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Hello TED

Education in Britain does seem to be in a bit of a mess at the moment. There’s always discussions about standards, especially at this time of year, but with curriculum reviews taking place left, right and centre, I think that we have to ask ourselves: What do we want our young people to know? How do we want them to be when they leave school?

The most obvious answer is that we want them to be skilled, well educated, decent functioning members of society that contribute positively to society as a whole. It would be easy for me to say that this isn’t happening, and that would be wrong. The vast majority of young people today have these things. But that wouldn’t grab any headlines now would it? It wouldn’t exacerbate the already-strained relationship between Gove/Ofsted and the teaching profession. Having said that, and under the belief that ‘every child matters’, the education system doesn’t always get it right. I’m not going to complain (again) about over-worked teachers and under-funded schools, despite these being a constant issue. There are ways around this and some schools are doing amazing jobs at helping our young people achieve. Educators need to be innovative and that’s why I’m writing this post. I wish I’d come across TED while I was still teaching. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t but I can see so many uses for it across the whole of the school experience.

If you’re not sure where to start, then have a look at this list of 8 Great TED Talks about the Future of Education and Learning. They will inspire you and give you hope that all is not lost. My favourite is the top one, by Ken Robinson. It affirmed my own thinking that not all is well with education. But it also makes me think that we shouldn’t despair – maybe we should vote better, but not despair! If those involved within education speak up during curriculum reviews, like the A Level one that is going on right now, do what they can to be innovative, teach beyond the test and support one another (I’m including SMT’s in this too!) then surely the future of education needn’t be all doom and gloom (or led by Gove!). There are great resources out there and TED is just one of them.

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Boys v Reading

Last week, I was very interested to read the article on the Guardian blog post about the issues surrounding boys and reading by Michael Morpurgo. Towards the end of last year, I was involved in 1-to-1 tuition in school and was assigned two Year 8 boys. It was quite interesting as they were both uninterested in reading, but for very different reasons. One was very busy – into sport, music and different outdoor pursuits. The other played on his games console. That was pretty much it. But both struggled to find something to read and enjoy reading, yet both stated that they wanted to read more & enjoy reading. So someone had clearly instilled in them a love of reading, they were just finding it difficult to translate this into actually reading something. The biggest challenge for them was finding a genre that interested them. I struggled a bit here, I have to be honest. I enjoyed reading as a child, and still do. But the types of books that I read were not going to interest these boys! So off to the library we went.

The library was pretty well stocked with a variety of books for teenage boys. I roped the librarian in and we were both suggesting different books, writers, genres etc. It was a process of trial & error. I asked them to try different types of books to see what they liked. That way we could at least remove certain books from the list. They did find some that they liked, but more often than not they didn’t enjoy the stories.

Part of the reason I think is that these boys had a lot of things vying for their attention. One had a lot of commitments and finding time to read was a real struggle. He would often only be able to read at bedtime, but was so tired that he couldn’t do it for any sustainable amount of time. The other didn’t really want to find the time. The other thing is that it didn’t seem ‘cool’ to read. There was always a group of students reading in the canteen. They weren’t the ‘cool kids’ and I think that is part of the problem. You can have as many posters of celebs& sports people reading books around the school, but they aren’t really effective. With so many devices & different ways for students to entertain themselves, reading just doesn’t fit in to that. And with so many books being turned into films, you can always just wait to see it in the cinema!

Schools do  a lot to encourage reading. Whether it’s celebrating World Book Day or giving students time to read in tutor time or English lessons, there are already lots of great initiatives going on. It would be good if some kind of recognition was given for this. I agree with Michael Morpurgo’s ideas about more fathers getting involved in reading groups in primary school. Reading has to be seen as something acceptable for boys to do, and not just the geeks. But children also need to be introduced to other methods of reading – audiobooks, for example, would be great on a paper round, or ebooks. Kids love gadgets so why not, as a local school did at the end of term, give them out as prizes or do a deal with a local supplier & get discounts for parents. Have a ‘book group’ wall or blog where the students can review books and recommend new ones. Right now, whatever initiatives are brought into schools need to be cost effective and not burden the students or teachers too much.

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