The Tail Wagging The Dog

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Tail Wagging The Dog


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 silly reasons drive good people out of the teaching profession?

Until someone in the Department for Education (or Ofsted) has the gusto to pull the plug on all of this nonsense, we can expect our education system to continue in a mindless and self-fulfilling loop for another generation.

Imagine two schools …

Imagine you are a teacher working in a school (A).

You may find yourself lucky enough to be working in a culture in which teaching and learning is thriving. Pupils complete homework when you set it. Parents actually attend parents’ evenings and when observed, there is no hint of a grade or a checklist to dance along to.

Meanwhile, in another school (B) across town, the culture is entirely different. Setting homework is a chore because the hard work is three-fold; chasing pupils who do not hand anything in, then abscond from your sanctions which must be set in-line with the school policy. Parents’ evenings are attended, but engagement is typically at 30 to 75 percent with lesson observations graded, as well as book looks, appraisal and even your bloody teacher planner. Repeated on a six-week cycle.

The difference?

Some would argue that postcode makes all the difference. Others cite high-quality teaching and learning, strong discipline or inspirational leadership in school A. Meanwhile in school B, behaviour is a little hit-and-miss and leadership is a grind.

Whatever makes the difference, those who claim that a school is ‘outstanding’ often forget one key ingredient – the parents. Pupils who just happen to have a household culture and structure that neatly aligns with what is valued and expected in school really does make all the difference. These pupils keep on getting advantage upon advantage as a result, especially since government agencies pretend that it was the teachers’ innate ability and hard work that produced the success for its pupils.

In school B, families rarely set foot inside the school. It’s a challenge for these institutions, who use school funds to appoint dedicated teams to help improve attendance. Pupils arrive with no bags, books or pens, where pizzas, chicken and rice and the Xbox are on the dining table rather than a pile of reading books. Fifteen-year-old Ross cannot do his homework because he needs to pick up his 3 siblings after school and becomes in loco parentis from 7PM when Mum leaves the house to work the night shift.

Meanwhile, back in school A they have just been inspected. It receives accolades from the government, expensive banners are printed for the school gates and photographs are circulated in and around the local press and radio. Parents praise the school for its work with their children and in the same breath, shame the school across town for its unsuccessful work with fifteen-year-old Ross.

Pupils in school A are praised and rewarded with ‘optional’ revision classes, technology and a broad curriculum.

Pupils in school B are told to attend compulsory intervention classes, always after school hours and during the school holidays. Mobile phones are banned on corridors, even short haircuts and a narrow curriculum offer is constructed to align with published league tables.

Imagine two teachers …

And whilst people continue to praise and slam different schools, people working in positions of power, those who can reboot the system begin to calculate where they live and intend to enrol their own children at school, pretending all the while that this is all a school thing, rather than an out-of-school thing.

We then cite effort and hard work in school A and claim that soft bigotry and inadequate leadership was the driving force for failure in school B. Those poor teachers who choose to work in school B. They have intentionally entered into a school wanting to make a difference to the lives of pupils, yet have unintentionally positioned themselves into a battle of poverty; acting as a small cog which hopes to improve opportunities for disadvantaged families.

Teacher A gets on with the job, working hard, taking risks and securing the very best outcomes for pupils. Meanwhile, hard-working teacher B is holding the burden of ‘requires improvement’ judgement from poorly-conducted work scrutiny, and for one observation this isn’t too much of a problem, but after a second observation 48 hours later, the marking workload starts to become difficult to sustain. After a half-term of constant scrutiny, nothing changes and the well-wishing-statements of ‘taking risks’, coaching and autonomy make the teacher feel numb and paralysed. The longer the scrutiny, the heavier it becomes.

The Tail Wagging The Dog

If we want to continue to accept that the least important part of the education system has too much influence over the most important part – the teaching and learning – then we must all start to support all schools in the current spectrum of school accountability. Until we all stop naming and shaming schools who sit at the top and bottom of league tables and Ofsted judgements, then I’m afraid we are all responsible for the tail wagging the dog.

If you asked me to work with your school, not only will I be flattered and accept that you and your colleagues are working tirelessly to make a difference for the community, but I don’t really give a shit if you’ve been labelled ‘requires improvement’ or ‘outstanding’. All teachers work hard and all schools require improvement.

5 thoughts on “The Tail Wagging The Dog

  1. We are two former head teachers who have both felt the high and lows of ofsted.
    We now write music for children and are slowly but surely being recognised as composers of inspirational music for schools.
    Our latest offering is a 3 song cd with lyrics for world book day from our musical Rock it to Read.
    Please check us out on our website
    We believe in care and creativity

  2. I work in school B currently in special measures. My son goes to school A outstanding in 2007! School A has grown extremely complacent imo but will continue to succeed as parents like me ensure he does homework/attend parents evening etc. They get the accolades we get the newspaper’s criticism.

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