3 Things I’ve Learnt From Schools Across The U.K.

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United Kingdom


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What challenges are facing our schools across the United Kingdom?

Over the past 12 months I have been supporting teaching and learning in schools all over the United Kingdom. This post shares the key things I’ve learnt from the work I’ve offered in schools across the land …

1. Context and Challenge

What school do you know that doesn’t want to be better?

State school teachers all over the country are working hard under difficult circumstances; funding and curriculum reform appears to be the greatest challenge for the classroom teacher. I knew this already, but it has been valuable insight to visit 65 schools this academic year – more than the current Secretary of State – with some defined as ‘special measures’ and some as ‘outstanding’ according to OfSTED who still wish to provide their teaching staff with valuable planning time.

  • Without sufficient funding, teachers will be overwhelmed with to-do lists.
  • Without sufficient time for planning, teachers will always struggle to be one step ahead of students.

This is not sustainable.

In my opinion, an INSET day is also not sufficient. Schools with their fingers on the pulse appear to offer workload opportunities for teachers to meet with colleagues. This happens in and out of school and frequently throughout the school year. In terms of context, the critical factor is how the Government defines what a school is doing from a snapshot heading. Every school is working within a different context, and although schools themselves recognise this, it is far more important that OfSTED and the Department for Education do this also …

2. Workload

It’s never going to go away – and we must be clear – school leaders hold the key to unlocking teacher workload and retaining the best teachers in the profession. This is hard in any school, but having polled over 10,000 teachers in all contexts: primary, secondary, PRU, independent, state and international, the greatest day-to-day burden for all teachers is marking.

A question I often ask is: “Do you know what effective marking looks like?” The reason I ask this is that, after 25 years in the classroom, I still don’t know! I have some techniques I’ve always used and some recollection of time and impact, but beyond my classroom, I have little idea what works best. What hope is there for the profession? For parents and for students? What hope do we have if we are all still seeking those answers?

Until we get to the bottom of this issue, we will never escape the marking frenzy. It is vital we let parents know what works and what doesn’t. It is also very clear that OfSTED is the root cause of teacher attrition; workload and teacher mental health.

3. Social Media vs. Classroom Floor

Having blogged for ten years on this site and having using social media for professional development, it is clear that teacher-online-discussion is an echo chamber. Although online educators ‘may’ be ahead of the dialogue and influencing Government agencies, what educators discuss on social media and/or on blog sites is very different to the discussions that are taking place on the ground. I know not everywhere, but it is certainly the majority.

A perfect example of this is hearing the word ‘Learning Styles’ still being used in teacher-dialogue in some schools, or Pygmalion research which thousands of teachers online has been sharing and discussing before 2013. Rarely have I met anyone on the classroom floor who is aware of this research – a debate to those who use social media that is well-cited and has been and gone.

It is important that we ask all our teachers to keep up with the latest dialogue and research. Last month I announced new action research I am conducting with UCL and IoE. The aim? To place ‘speaking with students’ rather than ‘evidence that teachers have spoken with their students’ at the heart of every classroom. Why not get involved and help shape the national agenda?

In September 2019 I will be publishing my fourth book which will be highlighting ‘what works’ in Great British schools against the challenges all schools are facing in today’s education system.

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