This much I know about what we have to do to address the mental health issues in our schools

I have been a teacher for 26 years, a Headteacher for 11 years and, at the age of 50, this much I know about what we have to do to address the mental health issues in our schools.

Tom Bennett tweet

As Tom well knows, I am a big fan of creating an evidence-based profession, but this I know from mere experience: Relationships matter in schools above everything else.

Local Authority resources are dwindling. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are shrinking. As the gaps in provision for children suffering mental health issues appear in front of us like sink holes, the instinct is to fill those gaps but I’m not sure whether we can; as Sam Freedman has pointed out, schools face a minimum of a 10% cut in school funding during the next parliament, whichever political party is elected. And don’t let anyone kid you that the Pupil Premium funding is new money…

Efficiency savings = fewer people doing more. If we are losing some essential Local Authority support services, then I think every single adult in our schools needs to be professionally trained in supporting the emotional well-being of our children. The aggregation of the marginal gains of each and every adult’s enhanced ability to relate more effectively to the children in our care will go a long way to remedying the mental ills of our young people.  What students want from us is quite simple really…

10 things students want educators to know

Every teacher speaks to every child in every lesson. A simple policy which really works.

Professor Tanya Byron has launched a Children’s Mental Health manifesto in conjunction with journalist Rosemary Bennett and the YOUNG MINDS Charity; sign up on the link below:

Times Child Mental Health

And what is the unnecessarily pressurised culture in our schools doing to our colleagues? Have a listen to this week’s episode of File on Four called Sick of School to find out.

sick of school

Joe Strummer is so last century, but I stand by every word he says here.

 

Children will not learn from you if they don’t like you. Watch and listen to Rita Pierson…and learn.

 

Meet Maddie. I know her. She’s truly remarkable…

 

Love not fear…one might argue that the legacy of the last ten years of education in our country is record rates of children’s mental health issues and a teacher retention crisis. How on earth have we let that happen? In Roland S Barth’s words, We educators have taken learning, a wonderful, spontaneous capacity of all human beings, and coupled it with punitive measures. What he goes on to say should be a rallying call for anyone in education who cares for the mental health of our children: Achieving [a] better way [of doing things] takes recognition of and moral outrage at ineffective practices, confidence that there is a better way, and the courage and invention to find it and put it in place. Have those of us working in schools the courage and invention to stand up and find a better way?

10 v2


johntomsett

Introducing… The Echo Chamber Uncut

If you follow me on Twitter you may have already seen it, but this will be an introduction for many readers. I have set up a new website, Echo Chamber Uncut. This is a companion site to The Echo Chamber where my team of volunteers and I have been blogging links to the best blogposts we could find.

The Uncut site is different in that it is largely automated (occasionally some blogs that do not have RSS feeds are reblogged manually), and that it is intended to reblog everything from the UK education blogosphere regardless of whether I think it is good or not. This is likely to be substantially more than 100 posts every day, so this is not really a convenient site to follow to read every post. However, you may find it useful for a number of things:

  1. Discovering blog posts you weren’t familiar with. A short time browsing through the posts is likely to give you a chance to find plenty of content you weren’t familiar with. You can also watch out for new posts by following @EchoChamberUncu on Twitter.
  2. Searching for blogs on a particular topic. While it is uncategorised and only has a basic WordPress search, that should be enough to find posts related to any keyword you search for. As it builds up it will be a good way to find out what the denizens of the blogosphere are saying about any given topic, whether that’s an issue in school, a news story or advice about something to do with teaching.
  3. Finding blogs to follow. Browsing the posts should give you a chance to look out for writers you weren’t familiar with and it also has a Blog Roll (which I will update from time to time) listing all the UK education blogs I know of (more than 1200  of them).

So please, take time to have a look.


Scenes From The Battleground

Politicians Competing To Be The Most Clueless About Education

Today it was announced that the government will fund the “Claim Your College” coalition of vested interests and their scheme to create a professional body for teachers that’s actually open to “anyone with an interest in education”.

Either the government hasn’t read the proposals, or simply does not care what they are funding as long as they can say something about education during the election campaign. They are promising to make “significant funding available to the ‘claim your college’ consortium – a coalition of leading organisations in the education sector – to support them in their endeavour to establish an independent college of teaching, which will be owned and led by the teaching profession” [my italics]Where this ownership is meant to come from given who is setting this group up and who is allowed to join it is beyond me. But now they seem likely to have something like £12 million of public money to play with. Worse there is the suggestion that:

It is expected that the new college of teaching might take on greater responsibility for areas such as professional standards and continuous professional development, should it so wish, thus moving stewardship of the profession out of the hands of the government and to the profession.

So that’s not just money, but also power over our professional development, in the hands of a body that has no mandate from the profession, only one from vested interests including (as I pointed out here) at least one private company selling professional development training.

Now, this sort of thoughtless spending of public money would be challenged by a competent opposition spokesman. In fact, in any other sector, it probably would be. Could you imagine Andy Burnham standing by if the government proposed giving power over doctors to an organisation set up by pharmaceutical companies? But in the Bizarro World that is education, the opposition seem as dead set on this quango as the government. In a speech today Tristram Hunt implied that the College of Teaching, rather than being a product of vested interests holding meetings on weekdays, lobbying for public money, was a grass roots product of social media:

…we need an element of trust. To reject an affliction which seems to bedevil Westminster culture. I call it the cult of the big reformer. A sort of alpha male compulsion to see public policy through the prism of your ‘reforming legacy’.

But you only have to see how social media has sent a shockwave through the teaching profession and its conversation about a new College of Teaching, to see how profoundly out of date this attitude really is.

… the days of education by diktat must come to an end. More than ever before change in education must come from the bottom-up. Through decentralisation. Through devolving power.

Yes, that’s right. He thinks that chucking money at vested interests to regulate, sorry, to assume stewardship of the teaching profession is decentralisation. If he’d actually read the conversations on social media about the College Of Teaching, he’d know how few of those involved are actually teaching now and how little say those of us in the classroom have had.

That said, Tristram Hunt was probably focused on trying to deliver the worst speech on education from a British politician I have ever read. In what seemed to be an attempt to give an aneurysm to anybody trying to play Bullshit Bingo, he managed some outstandingly cliché-soaked passages of which the following extract gives a flavour:

But I don’t think anybody here would argue with me if I suggested we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what we could achieve. 3D printing; Augmented reality; Coding; Robotics; Big data; Interactive textbooks; Adaptive learning software; The technology is truly remarkable. So whilst I know it has been prematurely prophesied many times before, I do believe this is finally the moment when technology changes the way teachers carry out their craft. We will see schools where every lesson can be simultaneously tailored to the needs of each individual pupil; schools where data about the effectiveness of different pedagogies can be shared with teachers in real time; and schools where software has liberated teachers from the yoke of marking exercise books.

However, the needs of the economy will dictate a rebalancing of what we teach as well as how we teach it. After all, a creative age demands more creativity. A digital economy demands advanced digital skills such as coding and big data analytics; And a world class STEM sector demands we finally consign our deeply engrained cultural snobbery towards technical education to the dustbin of history. But as Andreas Schleicher of the OECD has argued – our schools system must also“prepare young people for jobs that have not yet been created, technologies that have not yet been invented and problems that we don’t yet know will arise.”

Between government ministers unable to tell the difference between the teaching profession and the CPD industry, and an opposition spokesman sounding like Shift Happens, this is a grim day for the politics of education. Perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me, but I don’t remember even Ed Balls being this hopeless, and the Gove era is a much-missed golden age compared with this shambles.


Scenes From The Battleground

Parents’ Evening = Teacher-Appreciation Night!

ParentTeacherConference

School halls the world over.

I’ve just been to my son’s parents’ evening; earlier this term I went to my daughter’s. I just want to say Thank You! It’s such a privilege to sit on the parents’ side of the desk, talking to a series of committed, professional people who know my children in ways that I don’t, sharing their passion for what they do and spurring my kids on.  On both occasions the kids left encouraged, motivated and challenged, their commitment to learning affirmed and their relationships with their teachers strengthened.

As a parent I left both events full of admiration for the wonderful people who play such a big part in my children’s lives.  Now I get why my son loves geography so much; I can see where his enthusiasm for their latest English project started; and now I know he’s actually quite good at Art – he’d kept that quiet.  I’m grateful to my daughter’s teachers for giving her a burst of much-needed encouragement to get through the early barriers of the GCSE-AS transition – and for letting us know about the minor punctuality issue!

Both my children’s schools do a decent job dealing with the inherent logistical imperfections of parents’ evenings. One school issues computer generated appointments for the teachers you are allocated (you can’t see them all – because they simply don’t have time); the other allows us to book our own appointments online.  It works.  There are gaps and delays but when you sit down for your five golden minutes – it just seems worth it. These are the people behind the stories; these are the people who have my children’s education in their hands – and it was lovely to meet you!!

Things that really work for me:

  • The teacher talks to my children directly – asks them how they are doing; involves them in the discussion right away.
  • They have some concrete information to share – marks in a mark book or examples of work on which to base the discussion – but no Levels; thank goodness those have gone.  The most recent parents’ evenings have been a total levels-free joy. It’s all about authentic assessments, actual bits of work and general guidance for pushing forward.
  • They reference specific examples of work – they really know who the kids are and what their learning looks like.
  • They have something to offer by way of ‘what’s next’.
  • They give affirming praise freely and offer constructive feedback with warmth.

Several times during the recent parents’ evenings, I’ve told the teachers how much my children enjoy their lessons. The reaction is lovely – it’s appreciated. They probably don’t hear it enough; parents give praise to their children’s teachers too sparingly.  Whatever concerns arise, I see it as an opportunity to say Thank You.

Teachers, you may have no idea how important you are and how often you feature in our evening conversations but I want you know that I’m deeply grateful for all that you do for my children every day. I really am. Once again, Thank You.

 

 

 


headguruteacher

This much I know about…The Sutton Trust/EEF Toolkit and the Golden Thread from evidence to student outcomes, via deliberate intervention

I have been a teacher for 26 years, a Headteacher for 11 years and, at the age of 50, this much I know about The Sutton Trust/EEF Toolkit and the Golden Thread from evidence to student outcomes, via deliberate intervention.

Golden_thread1

Can evidence really inform practice so that student outcomes improve? The go-to source of evidence about effective interventions is the The Sutton Trust/EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit. What follows is a tale which illustrates the Golden Thread from evidence to student outcomes, via deliberate intervention.

 Crim-Grad-Class-51707D51pf

Interventions to help students learn can be done for next to nothing. The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Learning Toolkit rates Meta-cognition & self-regulation as a cheap and highly effective strategy to improve students’ learning.

How do students learn how to train their brain to operate effectively during the 90 minutes of an AS level examination? Like many people, my students’ AS mock examination results were pretty disappointing. I know they know their economics theory, but under examination conditions they do not seem to have a sharp enough grasp of how to respond effectively to score as many marks as possible. Command words are ignored; diagrams are left unlabelled; answers are expressed carelessly. On the evidence within their examination papers, my students’ powers of meta-cognition & self-regulation in the examination room are modest at best. Instead of despairing, I thought hard about what to do next…

Modelling thinking so that students’ learning improves is a challenge. What I did in response to my students’ AS mock examination results was model for them explicitly my own thinking, something I had never done before. I completed the same examination paper, not answering the questions but writing on the paper what my brain would have been saying to itself, question by question, should I have attempted the paper. I then talked them through the pdf, showing them just how alert and alive my brain is when I am being examined, teaching them how to think about their own learning more explicitly.

View this document on Scribd

 

What makes great teaching? According to Professor Rob Coe et al, great teaching is defined as that which leads to improved student progress. Well, explicit modelling/teaching of examination room meta-cognition and self-regulation skills might just be the teaching and learning strategy I’ve been searching for these past twenty-six years. The students who have re-sat the AS Economics examination because they attained a U grade first time round have all improved by three or more grades. The one student who I know for sure improved precisely because of his use of the meta-cognition and self-regulation intervention I modelled for him is Oliver. He went from getting 24/60 and a grade U in his first paper to getting 51/60 and a grade A in his second paper, a completely different paper to the original mock (and I only gave him 30 minutes’ notice before he sat the re-take paper).

Why am I so sure it was the intervention which helped Oliver improve? Well look at how he has made explicit on paper his mental checklist for ensuring he completed the question thoroughly.

Ollie annotations

The Golden Thread: Professor Steve Higgins,  Professor Rob Coe and Dr Lee Elliot Major write The Sutton Trust  Teaching and Learning Toolkit – the Education Endowment Foundation become co-authors of the Toolkit – our school starts reading the Toolkit and we begin thinking harder about how we develop our classroom practice – we appoint a Research Lead, Alex Quigley, in our drive to become an evidence-based school and begin working with the EEF – Oliver does badly in his mock exam and our baseline data before my pedagogic intervention is his mock result – I remember what the Toolkit says about meta-cognition and self-regulation because Alex keeps research in the forefront of our thinking about pedagogy – I devise my intervention and implement it – Oliver recognises how the intervention might help his performance and consciously changes his behaviour in his re-take examination – Oliver improves by 27 marks and five grades. Go figure…

 

 

 


johntomsett

Labour Teachers – Under New Management

I’m already managing to spend half my life reading blogs and interacting with bloggers, but I recently volunteered to take on something else. The following is from the Labour Teachers website:

Last year, when we decided that we wished to step down as editors of Labour Teachers, we were keen that the site should continue: as a discussion space for Labour-supporting teachers (and those who want to talk to them) that operated without policy motions and activist-centred conferences, we believed and continue to believe the site has something to offer to the process of debating education within the Labour Party and amongst teachers. In an age in which social media has become increasingly important in the wider political discussion of schools policy, Labour Teachers retains significant potential to build support for Labour amongst educators as well as challenging and shaping the consensus on education within the party.

For that reason, we are delighted to say that prominent education blogger Old Andrew has agreed to take on the mantle of Editor of Labour Teachers. Andrew has a long pedigree in education blogging: his Scenes From The Battleground is required reading for anyone interested in the education debate, from the Secretary of State on down. He is a powerful and passionate advocate for traditional ideas of teaching in education, but has always made clear his commitment is drawn from his own left-wing beliefs. As a member of the Labour Party and the NUT, Andrew is well-placed to share and examine ideas for education emanating from the labour movement.

But more than just sharing his own ideas, Andrew has shown a consistent commitment to amplifying the voice of other teachers on social media (including many with whom he has crossed Tweeted swords) via the Education Echo Chamber blog (and it’s even more comprehensive “Uncut” sibling) and his creation and curation of the most definitive lists of UK education bloggers available. Andrew has also written for Schools Week, highlighting excellent education blogging. As we have always been, Andrew is committed to offering a platform to the diversity of views on education, and under his editorship, Labour Teachers will continue to seek out differing perspectives from the chalkface amongst Labour supporters.

We will both continue to be involved with Labour Teachers, writing and helping out in other ways, but as we approach what may be a defining election for Labour, now is an excellent time for a new editor to take charge.

Andrew’s combination of firm Labour values, well-considered policy positions and desire for intense but open debate makes him the ideal person to take Labour Teachers forward, and we both wish him well.

John Blake & John Taylor
Editors of Labour Teachers 2011-2015 

I’ll give more details on the Labour Teachers website as soon as I get a moment, but my plan is to organise regular blogging, at least a couple of posts a week, on the Labour Teachers blog from the start of April. However, first I need to recruit a range of teacher bloggers who are either Labour Party members or Labour supporters. I’m not planning to push an editorial line, I want a range of views and lots of debate. Anything on policy, Labour or being a teacher is fine. If you are interested, please email me using the “Contact Me” details on the sidebar of this blog or on Twitter @oldandrewuk. Happy to hear from both experienced bloggers (who are Labour members) wanting a regular slot (every month or every two months) and from new bloggers, or people who are Labour supporters, wanting to write something on a one-off basis.

Thanks to John & John for the work they’ve done and for giving me this opportunity.


Scenes From The Battleground

For the record.

Gosh – what a weekend.

First the TES and then the Daily Mail.

For the record, behaviour has been an important area for me since joining Highbury Grove but, by no means the only one. We’re also working on our curriculum and pedagogy, building a strong trust culture across the staff, exploring research-engagement, changing our professional review systems to take out data targets and the fear of PRP ; using the ideas embedded in the Trivium to shape learning, creating a Baccalaureate-style post-16 model, building the Sixth Form, tackling homophobia – amongst other things.  You can see the whole school development plan here, just to get things in perspective.

I wrote about our ideas about behaviour just before I started : Towards ‘Impeccable Behaviour’. Together   I’ve set out some principles for a behaviour system – stressing that the system isn’t an end in itself; we need it so that learning can flourish.  I was delighted that Sam Freedman picked up on this on his twitter feed.

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 17.40.16

I also reported the process we’d gone through and the final details of the system:  Towards Impeccable Behaviour Part 2: Ready for Launch

In January I wrote an article for the TES – they asked me to write something and this seemed like a good story to tell. It throws up all kinds of issues about school culture, what we mean by standards, how schools need to work with a diverse community of students and parents and how systems need to have a certain spirit.  I tried to capture some of that, including the pain barrier we’ve been through to make improvements.  I was being honest and open – why be anything else? This included a reference to the need to bring parents onside including someone (one person) who felt a detention was ‘Orwellian’.  When the article finally came out on Friday I was horrified.  The headline twists the emphasis in a radical way:  ‘How my school came to love Big Brother’. What??   A sub-heading further on reads: ‘Surveillance Culture’ and the magazine has a large jokey image of a security camera on someone’s head.  Ha-bloody-ha.  So – you can’t even trust the folk at the TES to treat a sensitive story with a bit of respect.  Yes – I know. Doh! How naive.

For the record – we don’t have a surveillance culture at Highbury Grove; the detentions are not Orwellian – there is nothing Big Brotherish about our behaviour system that we have come to love.  That’s not how it is.  We’re explicitly trying to show our students how it feels to inhabit a world where ‘impeccable behaviour’ is real – so that they learn to be self-disciplined, motivated learners.  The initial wave of detentions dropped within a couple of weeks; we’re at a new equilibrium point now – preparing for the next push where standards will rise further still.  Slowly, steadily, sensitively with love and care.

But the TES disappointment was just Phase One.  OMG – when the Daily Mail pick something up it’s time to brace yourself…

Screen shot 2015-03-15 at 13.58.21

The whole thing is cast as the story of a Super-Strict Headmaster transforming an unruly school by dishing out detentions. It’s all very….. Tabloid!  Some of my friends and colleagues love it.  They’re saying ‘well done’.  But I’m not relaxed about it at all.  It is pretty weird to read our story as told to please the Mail Mafia alongside the recipes for ‘menopause muffins’.  For the record, Highbury Grove was not an unruly school when I arrived – there were difficulties; standards needed to improve but ‘unruly’ suggests something else altogether.  Behaviour has improved for sure – but the idea that things have been transformed isn’t accurate at all.   We’ve only just started – and we’re building in a sensitive way towards a culture of learning that anyone would embrace.

Reading the comments below the Mail Online version is eye-opening.  I’ve never experienced anything on this scale  before – polarised views of what we’re doing thrashed around with all kinds of assumptions made about me and my motivations:  eg ‘I bet Christmas is fun in his house’, ‘big man picking on little children’, ‘In North Korean it’s called dictatorship’,  – and apparently I’m a power hungry careerist.  Strewth.   On the other hand, the supportive comments  dominate  – albeit in a way that reinforces the idea that we’ve introduced some kind of oppressive regime.  For some, I’m the new age Rhodes Boyson, just a cane short of the real deal.  Well – for the record – Highbury Grove doesn’t feel like that I can assure you.  There seems to be no room for nuance in the way this story is told!  And since when was a strong discipline policy the preserve of Right Wing thinking?

All of this goes to show how difficult it is to walk the line.  It was probably a mistake to write the article.  Reflective posts on my blog clearly don’t translate to a mainstream publication; there is a price to pay.  Lesson Learned.   I’m so much more interested in what the school actually is than what it sounds like or looks like from the outside but  there’s a risk that the message is getting distorted.   Right now I’ve also got a fairly major responsibility to deliver on the National Baccalaureate; that’s hugely important to me and all of this Noise is a distraction we don’t need.  I’ve got work to do.

So, no drama, but I’m considering shutting down for a while so that I can focus on my school a bit more privately.  I’ve got a huge backlog of posts to write and lots to talk about and share but for a few weeks at least I may need to do the day job behind closed doors.  It’s just too hard to manage the message.   I might hang one of these up (metaphorically – obvs). Knowing me, it won’t be there for long.

closed

 


headguruteacher

The College Of Not-Actually-Teaching

An article in the Independent yesterday reported that:

Mr Laws [the schools minister] said funding for a Royal College of Teaching would be announced before the election, to put teaching on an equal footing with professions such as law and medicine. “This has the potential to finally give the teaching profession the recognition, respect and high status it deserves,” he said.

It has always been a likely prospect that clueless, but publicity-hungry, politicians would be making announcements about this in the run up to the election, although there is some irony that that plans to subsidise the education establishment were announced in an article claiming that Michael Gove still had lots of influence over education policy.

I’ve argued repeatedly against the latest plans for a College of Teaching, largely on the basis that they are plans for a body that non-teachers can join which would, nevertheless, seek to speak for or even regulate, the profession. The latest plans seem to have been built around the idea that any group currently involved in CPD, including trade unions and at least one private company, should be involved in the initial structure, and that any recognition of current practising teachers should be put off for at least 4 years and only apply to some subsection of teachers, approved by those setting the organisation up.

There are several reasons such an organisation cannot be trusted to spend money intended for the professional development of teachers.

1) The College of Teaching needs to be free to argue for and organise changes in how professional development for teachers is provided even if that does not fit the agenda of those already involved in the CPD industry. That cannot happen if the organisation is full of appointees of current vested interests. The involvement of SSAT, a private company providing CPD is particularly suspect. Imagine if a pharmaceutical company had set up the Royal College of Medicine? This is not an independent body.

2) The College of Teaching needs to be able to speak for those actually teaching in schools and colleges. It is that lack of power and a voice from the frontline that has deprofessionalised us. If the membership is dominated by educationalists, consultants and non-teaching headteachers it will do the exact opposite of what it is meant to do. It will reinforce our powerlessness.

3) The model of professional development being put forward is one that, I believe, many teachers will object to. It is currently being suggested that teachers be assessed and classified as associates, chartered members, or fellows. This is the old model, where teachers were considered experts depending on where theeir game playing had got them, i.e their position as managers, ASTs, or even as “outstanding/good/requires improvement/inadequate” teachers based on their latest appraisal. This is not what teacher expertise looks like. We should be recognised for our different types of expertise in different areas, not ranked. The only teachers who would join an organisation dedicated to saying that one teacher is a better teacher than another, are those who think they are better than their peers, or who are chasing promotions or other opportunities to teach less. It will have no appeal to those who actually just want to get better at teaching. And this problem would have been utterly obvious if the movement to set up a College Of Teaching had been teacher-led, not led by vested interests.

Of course, without public subsidy or a means to coerce teachers to join, this organisation will get nowhere in its present form. But if politicians are looking for the appearance of supporting teachers without any of the substance, they are going to throw money at this. So let’s be ready to say loudly and publicly that money paid to the proposed College Of Teaching is money spent undermining, not supporting, the teaching profession. Let politicians know they will face difficult questions if they throw public money at this proposed quango and then claim they are doing something for teachers.


Scenes From The Battleground

Working 9 to 5 – the way I want to work and still be living

I did not wake up one day, have an epiphany and decide to become a teacher. Nor, did God (or any other deity, including Zeus) visit me in a dream and tell me teaching was my thing. Nor, did I fail at something and so I thought, ‘What the heck – let’s teach!’. Nor, did I come from a long line of teachers; a bit like Russian dolls; each one getting progressively smaller. No, I stumbled into teaching. I fell into it. Ten years later I wrote this blog.

I felt I needed to say, before, I carry on with this blog, that I have done other things than teach. I have worked in the ‘real world’, as they like to say. I have worked with only thirty odd days of holiday a year and no long holidays to punctuate my life. But, I am growingly worried about the way teaching has changed over the last ten years. Some days, I’d like just thirty days where I don’t have to think about work. However, that isn’t the case for teachers these days. Before, in the ‘real world’, when I finished work, I actually did finish work. I locked my work brain away and safely stored it until eight o’clock Monday morning. When I left work, I physically, socially, spiritually and mentally left it. Alone. Abandoned. Hidden. Yet, teaching, in part, all those years ago was a bit like that.

Firstly, I am now on-call all the time. I used to be your typical teacher and I’d be out shopping and then I would be occasionally hit in the face with some inspiration for a lesson. Then, until six o’clock on a Sunday I would not think of school. Yet, the beauty of email and the speed of communication and the ease of a sending a message have combined to mean that I can get emailed at any time in the day.  Oh, about anything. Instead of me being an unattainable figure, I am a teaching equivalent of the 24 hour help desk. Got a problem: email the teacher. We are only a few years away from having text messages or phone calls out of work hours. I don’t begrudge resolving problems and I have no issue with speaking to parents. But, I question the accessibility of teaching staff. I am entitled to my weekend, even if I do spend a part of it blogging about teacher stuff.

Occasionally, I have had some issues with my daughters’ school. Instead of emailing, I will usually wait to speak to the teacher on the playground or make an appointment. It has never instantaneously resolved the problem, but nonetheless it was usually resolved in time. Messages are instant, but solutions are not. And, some things are not easily resolved with an email. A phone call is needed. 

A colleague of mine has students email her homework so she can mark it at home over the weekend. I question when her relaxation time actually takes place. Sitting by a computer, waiting for the emails and responding to them isn’t really my fun idea of a weekend. She feels she must do it, or in some way she is letting her students down. She might say it is really easy and it really helps, but I question the long-term effectiveness of this approach if the teacher is constantly thinking about work and not recharging.

In a response to the email dilemma, I have done what most sane people do. Don’t go on my school email account after five o’clock, or at the weekends. The problem comes when you like to be prepared. I am a born scout. I always like to be prepared for the next day, so checking emails is always one of those processes. But, since banning the emails after five o’clock, it has meant that I don’t have to those eleventh hour surprises just before I am about to go to bed that leave my brain swirling with thoughts like a washing machine on the rinse mode. In fact, it leaves me more time for marking.

A person recently moaned to me that they had a hundred and eighty piece of work to mark. My response to the individual was a bemused look. I think there is unwritten rule in education that non-English teachers should never moan to English teachers about marking. Enough said. We won’t moan if you don’t moan. Anyway, the raised levels of accountability in teaching has left us with a tsunami of marking. I never count how much marking I have to do; I just look at it all forlorn in a corner and occasionally poke it with a stick. I teach just over one hundred and fifty students. That is one hundred and fifty books that need marking on a regular basis. Add assessments. Add GCSE Controlled Assessments. Then, add the fact that these students produce lots of work over several lessons.    

It always saddens me to hear people describing their Saturdays or Sundays on Twitter. One pile of marking down. Off for a walk and then on to attack another pile of marking.It is like the weekend is there purely to help teachers cope with the marking load. But we all know what is driving this: Ofsted. Because, they will look at books.  We were all led to believe that no-notice inspections would make things better. But now teachers have this perpetual state like ‘over sleeping after not hearing the alarm clock go off’. A perpetual state of worry. A perpetual state of insecurity. You know that no matter how quick you are, you are still behind by at least an hour. So, the weekend becomes a marathon for marking. Long bursts of marking whole sets of books unproductively, because you are tired. If you don’t do it, then you have an albatross around your neck for the whole weekend. The guilt of someone opening an exercise book and finding that, gosh shock horror, it has been over a fortnight since the book was last marked.

Of course, there is dedicated PPA time in schools to do all this marking and speaking to parents. But, for most of us, it is the equivalent of watching all the ‘Lord of the Ring’ films, including the ‘Hobbit’ films too, in a two hour stretch. You can’t possibly do it. You might watch the opening of a film, but you never get it all done. So, you do a bit after school, but then you want to beat the traffic. Finally, you do a bit a home, at night, and are too tired. So, where does it all go? The weekend.  

Then, there are the changes. New levels. New GCSEs. New KS3 curriculum. New texts. These things don’t suddenly appear in readymade systems and units. They have to be planned, organised and designed. The lovely Government provided us with tonnes of resources and a week off teaching to deal with this major overhaul of the English education system. No we got a PDF file instead. So, where does that planning go. Oh, yeah. The free time that isn’t used up by marking.

Ten years ago, I did not access my emails at home. Ten years ago, I did not endlessly worry about what I had and hadn’t done for an Ofsted visit. Ten years ago, I had a good idea how students would do in the exams. Ten years ago, the curriculum wasn’t always changing. Ten years ago, I felt that the students worked hard. Now, ten years after all that, the teachers work harder than the students. All this drive to raise the academic quality of teaching has left us with frazzled, tired and questioning everything.

I love teaching.  We all do it to help students and but mainly I do it for the perks, like copious amounts of red pens and… the treasury tags.

Thanks for reading,

Xris

Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog

Marking – The Circles of Correction

One of the frustrations we face daily in marking is that students don’t read our corrections. Their eyes search avidly for the final level and comment, but the rest gets no thought at all. Nothing. Zilch.  The time spent tireless correcting the incorrect use of ‘their’ or ‘a lot’ instead of ‘alot’ can often be useless. It is merely a PR stunt for anyone looking at the books. Parents can see that I have read the work and spotted the errors. Teaching observers can see that I have picked up an exercise book and actually looked at it in the last few weeks. But, what students do with the work is another thing.

Now, there are lots of approaches that people use successfully and unsuccessfully in the classroom to combat this issue. Some might hide the level until the student has read all the work. Others, might get students to complete some action based on highlighted mistake. The problem becomes a simple case of fixing things. I have marked several drafts of work for students and the difference between the first and second draft is the correction of the errors I have highlighted. There’s been no other thought process involved.

Marking policies for years have included marking keys to: (A) help teachers mark quickly; (B) help students decode what their teacher means. I don’t mind having a marking key, but, to be honest, they can be a bit like the ‘Da Vinci Code’. You need the equivalent of the Enigma machine to work out that a student needs to use paragraphs and check that he/she uses capital letters correctly. It makes the student work, but maybe not it the way we want them to. They work out what is wrong and then shrug their shoulders. Yeah, I knew that.

This year, I started circling errors. I such a lazy teacher. Can’t even be bothered to say what is wrong with their writing. Yes, that’s me! Hands up. I read the work. Comment if I like something and, if there is a technical error, I will circle it. Then, I circle the next error I spot. And so on. I measure the amount of circling I do, so their piece of work does not resemble someone with chicken pox. Finally, I write a comment and a target.

When I return the work to students, I get them to do two things. One: write down next to the circle the mistake. Two: write down the correction. The students work hard and I don’t. They have to solve what is wrong with the aspect highlighted and fix it. Rather than simply decode a key, they are engaging with their mistakes and going through the thought processes – which they should have done when writing it in the first place. The two parts to the circling are important. Identifying the mistake is crucial. They need to understand the mistake made. What rule have they broken? Then, the student writing the correction reinforces the correct way of doing things.  If they can’t work it out, they ask the person next to them. If that person can’t work it out, I step in and help them.  

 

I find that this approach has really helped me with my marking and with how students respond to marking. You could spend three lessons looking at contractions and still find errors with them in the work produced, but this way, students do seem to be less blasé about making mistakes. They know that it will come back to haunt them. It really does help things to stick. After all, it is them trying to learn from their mistakes - by themselves.

Thanks for reading,

Xris

Learning from my mistakes: an English teacher’s blog

Employment figures for 2014 in the UK

Employment is the most basic requirement for the development and growth of an economy and United Kingdom is not an exception in this regard. From the past few decades, the world economy is in the grip of unemployment and even the economically developed country like UK had to face the brunt of this situation. However with the arrival of the year 2014, there seems to be a lot of improvement in the employment situation of UK. In the recent report drawn by the Statistical Authority, it was found that the unemployment rate in UK has reached its all time low of 7.1%. It is pertinent to know that this rate was 7.4% in the last three months of 2013 and economists around the world had anticipated for a decline of merely 0.1% which is very low as compared to the current reports.

According to office of National Statistics(ONS), there is a fall of 167000 people who’ve been affected by unemployment in the current year. Now there are just 2.32 million people in UK that are devoid of employment. The decrease in unemployment rates in the present year even indicate that now maximum number of people in the UK are having work and are capable of supporting their families. This value even indicates the biggest ever quarterly increase in the employment levels of UK. Despite of all the predications made by labor markets around the world, today Britain is experiencing an economic revolution that certainly needs more fuelling from the government.

This rate of unemployment at 7.1% is the best so far, ever since the economy of UK has started recovering from economic depression. According to ONS, following statistics relating to employment in UK in the year 2014 have been generated so far:

  • The rate of unemployment among the active population in UK is around 7.1% in January, 2014.
  • The total number of people that have a job and are actually working comprise of the 30.15 million of the total population.
  • UK government grants certain allowances to the unemployed population and it is astonishing to know that the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s allowance in January 2014 fell by 27600 people. So now the total number of people claiming such allowance is just 1.22 million.
  • The ONS conducts employment and unemployment survey every month but compares between data of three months i.e. quarterly comparisons are made.
  • In 2014, the economy of UK experienced a major change because the employment rate jumped by 280000 points to reach the biggest quarterly high of all times to record a number of 30.15 million. An important thing to note down is that such an increase in employment was last seen in Britain in the year 1971. The employment though increased well, it was the wage growth of people that drew attention of various governmental agencies. The wage growth in UK is going flat at 0.9% from the past 5-6 months which is not even at par with the current inflation rate of 2% here. Thus much of work is required to be done in this regard and a lot of major policy changes could improve the same numbers.

    There are many learning based employment apprenticeships schemes in Birmingham available for young people (aged 16 - 19 etc) - one provider of apprenticeships (Gordon Franks)