What are your education hopes and fears for teachers in 2019?
Dear Santa, I wrote to you last year hoping that you could make my wishes come true for the teaching profession. I even wrote a letter to Mrs. Claus but I was still left disappointed; I assumed you were too busy. This year I am writing to you again and wish to see that special present under the Christmas tree.
Here are my 5 wishes:
1. Our politicians are distracted…
Our politicians have been so busy with Brexit and reforming educational policy and school structures; piecemeal funding; reforming school inspection and so forth, that they have forgotten about the number one thing required to deliver a world-class education: the school workforce.
Over the past 18 months, I have visited 85 schools. Some of them are labelled ‘Special Measures’, others have this fancy name, ‘Outstanding’. Some of them are defined as state schools; grammar schools; selective or non-selective; free schools; academies or even ‘knowledge rich’ – whatever that means. What confuses me the most, is that every one of these schools wants to be ‘even better’, broadly doing the same things to meet the same goals. Why do we need to ostracise system against one another?
2. We should work together …
With teachers allocated 90% of their contractual hours for teaching, schools are having to work hard to engineer systems for increasingly challenging situations. Lack of funding has meddled with the important things teachers need to do: mark, plan, teach. Teachers are less likely to work in challenging schools because the system treats them unfairly. Evidence suggests that school gradings by Ofsted do impact on teacher turnover and that this process advocated by the inspectorate cannot be helpful.
With 350,000 qualified teachers not working in state schools, abandoning school gradings would entice them to come back to the classroom? The teacher-blogger also community grows from strength to strength and is becoming a force to be reckoned with, but rather than argue with one another, why do we not use our collective power to make policy changes? For example, if everyone who followed @TeacherToolkit on Twitter retweeted this blog post, it could be seen by over 143 million people!
3. Marking by frequency or colour!
We still have people visiting our schools making subjective decisions, fuelled by bias, bad science or lack of subject knowledge. This notion that we can determine a child’s progress from an exercise book is dangerous, unreliable and a poor proxy for learning. On the matter of the ‘purple pen of progress’ or a ‘teacher must mark once, every two weeks’, where is the research to suggest this improves learning? We must challenge this dialogue.
What if we banished the word marking and replaced it with feedback? After all, feedback manifests itself in various forms: written; verbal and non-verbal. Imagine if we could free up our teachers to get on with their job; spending more of their time planning and supporting pupils.
4. Appraisal for everyone …
Without sufficient funding, headteachers cannot free up their teachers to become research-rich and engage with deep and meaningful classroom reflection. Instead, we use performance management, but we must move away from the notion the performance appraisal is a useful approach to motivate and keep teachers in the classroom. It is purely mathematical intimidation if we believe that performance management targets improve a teacher.
Research suggests (ASA, 2014) that teachers have a 1 to 14% impact on educational outcomes which can be attributed to schools e.g. teacher effect. However, there are still many other factors, such as class sizes, resources and school budgets that can influence a teacher’s impact. The remaining 86 to 99% out-of-school factors are outside the control of teachers and schools (Coleman et al, 1966). Perhaps we should be setting common-teacher-research goals instead?
5. Graded Lessons
This is old news, but believe it or not, it still requires a mention. According to my latest research, 33 percent of schools in England are still grading lessons and teachers. It’s unreliable and in today’s climate, a poor leadership decision.
If a lesson is judged ‘Outstanding’ by one mentor/observer, research suggests that the probability that a second person would give a different judgement is between 51% and 78%. (Measures of Effective Teaching Project). In other words, as Professor Robert Coe writes from CEM, “if your lesson is judged ‘Outstanding’, do whatever you can to avoid getting a second opinion.
Coaching transforms teachers; it empowers them and is the perfect whole-school ingredient for those who have moved away from grading lessons. So, if your school hasn’t yet abolished the grade, you could end up being a decade behind others by the time you pull the plug! Personally, I believe the Department for Education should ban schools from doing it.
Please can you pass this message on to every teacher in every pocket of the U.K. I’d like teachers to start advocating these changes we yearn for, rather than rely on policymakers.