What teaching ideas would you like to say goodbye to in 2017?
This is a collection of ideas I would like to see banished forever throughout 2017. I’m pleased to report that some of them are slowly dying a death!
Last year, I wrote about 8 Teaching Ideas to Bin in 2016 – the 5th most popular opinion piece of 2016 in Schools Week – but, I don’t want to celebrate just yet. I’d like to carry forward ideas 1, 7 and 8 from 2016, amalgamating 1 and number 7 together as one item and ensure they are binned for good! Therefore, I bring to you in total: 10 Teaching Ideas to Trash in 2017.
The 2017 scrap-heap:
You will most likely disagree with some of the suggestions I have made, and no doubt my suggestions will not be a solution for everyone. If you disagree, what would appear in your bin? Write your views in the comments section.
1. Progress Over Time / Data:
(Carried over from 2016) … although the phrase ‘progress over time’ is a welcomed-replacement from OfSTED, the perception of one-off judgements to a more balanced and fair overview is not yet bulletproof. In the last significant School Inspection Handbook update, ‘progress over time’ replaced the term ‘rapid progress’ and has remained like so for the past 18 months.
OfSTED have promised no more changes to the inspection handbook until September 2017, and I do question what could replace this key phrase that so many school leaders cling their school’s fortunes upon. I’d like to see any kind of OfSTED terminology used less in schools in general, and perhaps we can assume that whatever is replaced, student attainment is just what it is: that students make the ‘expected progress.’
Let’s not call it anything else …
2. Progressive versus Traditional:
(Carried over from 2016) Last year I said that “this debate was fast-becoming the most boring topic for online teachers in 2014 and 2015″. There was a small whoo-ha online, claiming I wanted to ‘shut down the debate’, curbing teachers’ voices everywhere because it was “the number one thing I wanted to see the back of”.
What actually happened was quite the opposite, I wrote several times in 2016 about this topic from the position of leading whole-school teaching and learning, of which very few people who argue about this falsehood have the perspective I have, that both styles of teaching exist within many schools. Natasha Devon says, “no more need for 140-character slagging matches which paint the profession in a worse light than the children it teaches.”
Let’s face it, over three-quarters of the teaching profession do not use Twitter and have no idea what this futile argument is all about. If a teacher wants to teach facts, sit students in rows and achieve great outcomes, then they should be free to do so. Likewise, if a teacher wishes for their students to work on open-ended projects and place the learner at the heart of the classroom, then hip-hip-hooray! Good school leaders should not stop teachers teaching if students are thriving in any classroom.
The existence of this discussion in schools is rare and that this falsehood, that a teacher is either progressive or traditional, exists only because of social media. I do accept that a teacher can have more bias or preference for one method, but I cannot accept that one can exist without the other being present in the same classroom. Nor is either more important or effective. What works, is the quality of teaching that takes place in the classroom, and there will be at times a mixture of both progressive and traditional approaches. Only those who observe a wide array of teachers will know this.
“In fact I have a suspicion that both [A: Traditional] and [B: Progressive] are the very loud but extreme minority of teachers. If you just teach like A or B, I would also suggest that you don’t do a very good job. Teaching needs a bit of both A and B … My fear is that new teachers join social media and see the proponents of A or B who have a huge numbers of followers and think that therefore they should be like them and teach only like A or B. They shouldn’t. You need to be both A and B.”
… the polarisation of education isn’t what most of us actually do in the classroom. Additionally this is linked to the problem we have in politics on social media – social media is an echo chamber … In reality, teachers at the chalk-face actually don’t care what it’s called, they just get on with teaching, using whatever methods suit them and their students. And because of their workload, most have little time to be concerned. (Richard Kennett)
Both methods exist in my school and in individual classrooms. Teaching is allowed to thrive where teachers and students can teach and learn in unison. No single method can meet the needs of millions of students, nor can one million educators in the UK agree on a single approach. If you do, then you’ve lost touch with what actually goes on in classrooms.
3. OfSTED gradings:
In 2017, I’d like to hear that school inspections are becoming less high-stakes; and that the four-scale overall judgement to reduce from outstanding, good, requires improvement and special measures to simply ‘good’ or ‘not yet good’. That’s it!
We need to eradicate subjective decisions that can be swayed, as well as develop (and publish) a framework for inspectors inspecting, inspection teams. Including, inspections for schools judged using invalidated data, versus a landscape against all other schools judged with validated data. Better still? Reduce the need for reliance on data to determine how well a school is performing. We can already see the impact on recruitment in schools who are judged requires improvement or inadequate. The impact on schools is too great.
Please can we have a system – if we are to keep one – and move from the current four-graded system to just two overall judgements.
- ‘Good’ and,
- ‘Not Yet Good’.
4. OfSTED banners:
I’d like to ask all headteachers to refrain from OfSTED banners on the front of school gates, letterheads or websites. I know it’s easy for me to say from a position of not leading a school, but who can blame schools for doing so in a system with increasing data-driven demands where outcomes are vital for admissions, budgeting and job security? Please, anyone reading this: teacher, school leader or parent. Let’s end the OfSTED banners on every school gate and on the front pages of the press. We are only feeding the beast … Perhaps we can all be a bit more like headteacher Jarlath O’Brien who said: “I don’t give a shit about OfSTED!”
Let’s pull it all down!
5. English Baccalaureate:
The Department for Education launched an EBacc consultation which did not invite comments on the desirability or feasibility of their intentions, but instead posed a series of very closed questions asking how best EBacc aspirations could be achieved. The online response closed on 29th January 2016, yet we are still waiting for the outcome.
What is all this is meddling with the school curriculum actually achieving? In October 2016, I asked Nick Clancarty to raise the issue in the House of Lords; Lord Nash responded to the Earl of Clancarty’s request in the House of Commons with: “… in due course!” A recent tweet showed a response from the DfE: “likely to be in Spring/Summer 2017 … because of the high amount of responses.”
Is this is sign that the profession is against the EBacc proposals? I think so, and probably suggests why we have been waiting over 12 months for a report back from the DfE. Our press also need to keep pushing on this issue and not leave it up to individual tweeters.
6. No Excuses:
What is all the fuss about ‘no excuses’ and ‘zero tolerance’ in terms of behaviour management in schools? How students respond to the policy is the default barometer in every school. We want students to behave and this is how our school policy supports it. A policy designed to communicate expectations and routines with students, parents and teachers; to help keep everyone on the same page so that learning can take place in a safe environment.
If a student breaches the school’s expectations, there is a consequence. And no school can have a zero-tolerance approach just because they have academy freedoms or because they are a free school. Any school can have a ‘no excuses or zero tolerance’ approach. It’s just called a behaviour policy and a ‘no excuses’ philosophy is the norm for all, so let’s just leave it as that.
7. Boot Camp!
Let’s crush this phrase before it becomes a fad!
I’m putting this out there before it becomes the fashion with our current government, with gimmicks swooning in from ‘across the pond’. Exclusion from school should never mean exclusion from education. Emerging boot camps in the UK and USA have very different interpretations: “Hundreds of troubled teenagers will tackle military-style assault courses and team-building exercises in an attempt to raise their motivation to succeed in the classroom”, suggests The Daily Mail. I feel like a failure for quoting such nonsense.
The Troops to Teachers initiative has been a total flop. £4.3M of taxpayers cash down the drain! Only 28/144 trainees completed their qualification to teach. Let’s tackle discipline with kids at home by giving more guidance for parenting, and if those kids don’t have that stable environment, let’s encourage our schools to use the powers to adopt behaviour guidance from the DfE, by funding schools better to develop other aspects of students’ learning: their emotional intelligence. Yes, something that cannot be measured!
I find it ludicrous that I’m having to write this.
Does your school still have MockSTEDs, or a dress-rehearsal for the school before inspectors arrive? Designed to test the waters or worse, secretly keep staff on their toes? MockSTEDs, the consultants ‘snake oil’ to pop in for a few days and report on what they see. Is there an advantage? Perhaps. We have a fresh pair of eyes looking at the work we do in schools but ‘why prepare all staff in your school for a dress rehearsal for a real inspection?’ I understand there could be much at stake, but we are in danger of having the ‘tail wag the dog’ and not the other way around. Isn’t the inspectorate process stressful enough without having to duplicate it?
There is nothing wrong in evaluating the work that you do in school, but question ‘what’ and ‘why’ you are evaluating, then ask yourself ‘how’ it can be done. And then finally, by ‘who?’ Surely a peer-review network within local authorities and councils would work better between schools. Sharing best practice, right on your doorstep.
Let’s banish MockSTEDs from every school in 2017.
9. No PRP
Michael Gove’s performance related pay policy (2014) enables schools to determine their own pay structures. Teachers may now be held back on a specific pay scale to help manage dwindling budgets. What we now have is a disparity between schools with supply agencies taking advantage of this, often quoting extortionate 20% buy-out fees to place staff permanently into schools; they now have the financial stronghold.
Performance Related Pay (PRP) will become the Achilles heel of our profession. All state school teachers are subject to this relatively new policy, and we can already see the impact on teacher recruitment that OfSTED gradings have for schools. What next for the workforce if they are judged solely on classroom attainment? If we are ever to have growth in the sector, we need to trust our teachers. In a system of growing accountability, there is further scope for colleagues to undermine each other by focusing on PRP and not the kids in their classroom, or worse, their colleague next door. Despite a desire for transparency and consistency, it is easy for any school teacher and senior leader to become insular. This is only made worse in a growing climate of fear, performance related pay and decreasing budgets.
Will PRP improve performance and eradicate poor teaching, or simply offer schools a way of saving money in a climate of reducing budgets? Probably both in my opinion, where teachers are focused on targets more than working together as a community.
If any politician wants to win the hearts of every teacher, this is the one idea to be binned.
10. Written Feedback
Readers will know I banished ‘verbal feedback stamps‘ to the trashcan in 2016. I’m confident this message is widespread; that evidence ‘verbal feedback stamps’ are for observer purposes which add no value to the progress of the student. Given that this fad is no longer the norm, I’d now like to float the idea that verbal feedback becomes the default mechanism for assessment. That written feedback is banished as the only means for marking students’ work.
There is a fantastic case study for schools to trial if they are keen to lead on action research projects. Can verbal feedback have an immediate impact on students? And is it more desirable than written feedback?
Of course, teachers will scream ‘YESssssssss!’ as they consider the potential hours of marking dissipate. Meanwhile, senior leaders and inspectors will shake their heads and frown, wagging their fingers claiming that we need ‘evidence of progress’ and that the most reliable way we can do this, is by checking you are marking students’ work in their books. ‘We want written feedback. And lots of it!’ inspectors will say:
- That written feedback is the most valuable type
- That the best written feedback is a conversation between pupil and teacher
- That feedback must be evidenced in a book to ‘count’ towards a) progress b) evidence etc.
Well, it’s time to kick this idea into touch. The idea that written feedback is the best and only kind needs to be put to in the trashcan for 2017. We know ‘feedback’ is in the top five teaching influences on student achievement. Yet, no research suggests that written feedback is crucial. So why not? Let’s place verbal feedback top of the agenda throughout 2017 and put (unnecessary) written feedback in the bin!
Here is a snapshot of the 8 ideas from 2016:
- Progress over time: this is still OfSTED terminology. Still on the 2017 agenda …
- Character education: there are now character awards and the rhetoric has disappeared.
- Lesson gradings: crude polling suggests 50%+ schools do not grade.
- Verbal feedback stamps: a small number of teachers saying it is valuable.
- Textbook teaching: publishers and courses remain incestuous, yet curriculum change has settled down.
- Chinese teaching: I’ve received one email to observe Chinese teachers after PISA outcomes.
- Data crunching: schools determine the rhythm of teacher workload, but with Progress 8 being used in early 2017, this is not going away. Still on the 2017 agenda …
- The progressive versus traditional debate: much of this guff is created online in an echo chamber, and is certainly not a priority to any teacher I know. Still on the (online) 2017 agenda …