Should schools have a teaching and learning policy?
For the past 2 years, I have spent much of my time consulting and leading on a whole-school teaching and learning policy. This has been developed, reviewed and edited by all staff in a large number of professional development sessions from September 2015.
The school policy is something I’ve been proud of developing with colleagues. It’s been a labour of love, yet the above question is something I’ve pondered on over the last 6 months. Has anyone read it? Does it work? What impact has the policy had on teaching and learning? On school results? Will OfSTED actually read through the details or simply ask the ‘impact’ question?
Why are schools ‘bashing themselves over the head’ with policies they do not need to publish (by law); to then have leadership and management questioned in a school inspection.
Since the launch of our policy, we have had approximately 40/100 new teachers to the school. Staff induction has become a never-ending process – and that’s how induction to a school should be – but with all the plethora of school life, induction and maintaining standards, catching new staff ‘in-year’ to equip and train them with the skills to deliver consistently good teaching, is a major challenge.
Yesterday, I spoke to a senior colleague who works in school in another part of London. They have 60 students and 15 teachers. She explained how she left a her deputy headteacher post in a challenging school because of the never-ending challenge of compliance and consistency – and that how her school and personal life was more manageable because she was working within a smaller context. Ultimately, it was easier to achieve consistency across the school.
Working with 75% Pupil Premium students and 95% with English as an Additional Language sets the context for a very challenging school. However, working in North Westminster, London, also brings with it recruitment challenges. The costs of living are high, colleagues largely commute into the city from far and wide (some as far away as Cambridge 60 miles away) to work in the school.
Due to this natural turnover, technically 40% of our staff have not been part of policy development or the initial consultation and training. With reducing budgets, there are less staff available to help train new teachers. I know there are countless variables and there is some susceptibility of selective perception (bias) – the tendency for expectations to affect perception.
Last week, I placed this tweet online and it received a large number of mixed responses.
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If we set aside the above school context-specifics, I’d like to unpick the statement posed in the above tweet.
Why schools should have a policy?
- The policy will offer clarity for all staff.
- To inform lesson planning, and support assessment and feedback expectations/standards.
- To support all students, particularly those students who are not making sufficient progress.
- Consistency can be monitored to ensure teachers are meeting the needs of ‘their’ students.
- The policy can serve an a training (or new staff induction) manual.
- A policy offers guidance to all staff and demonstrates the school has capacity to improve.
- Monitoring of the policy demonstrates the leadership and management team can identify areas for improvement.
- Teachers who are under-performing can be held to account.
- … and so on.
Why schools should not have a policy?
- It is unlikely any inspector will read your policy in full – no matter how short and refined it is.
- Whatever you write in your policy – it will be tested during the 2 days of an inspection – to gauge whether or not teaching lives up to what is written in the policy. I suspect that if your policy has been an evolving document and training manual over the past academic year, this will unlikely be worthy of consideration in any external validation.
- Marking and feedback – however you define that in your policy – will be tested. Even if you reduce the frequency to support teachers’ workload, it will likely never be good enough if overall school outcomes are weak.
- The real test is this: ‘What is the impact of your policy?’ You will be required to evidence this impact … and the most obvious source is marking because it is a good source of progress over time. Sadly, no-one can ever evidence the subjects that use verbal feedback (E.g. drama, art and P.E.) as a default mode for assessment in lessons.
- A one-size-fits-all approach is often the easiest to test impact and make a judgement. The danger of having a common marking approach, is that it will penalise some subjects.
- If your teaching and learning policy clarifies expectations of lesson planning and seating plans for example, I would expect this work to be largely ignored. OfSTED do not require lesson planning information, so there is little point in writing anything in a teaching and learning policy, other than if your school wants to insist on every teacher to produce lesson plans.
- If you elaborate on teaching and lesson planning details, it is likely that inspectors will only be concerned about how the teacher actually meets the needs of all students in the lesson.
Overall, external verification should consider the journey a school had traveled. Sadly, the only opportunity you may get, is a 10-minute ‘chat on a playground bench’ …