How can schools secure the balance between autonomy and accountability in the classroom?
Without coherent teaching and learning, curriculum intent and implementation is insignificant if teachers are incapable of bringing content to life. So, how can schools give teachers the freedom, but also offer pupils consistency without the need for compliance? Grab a copy of the best teaching and learning policy (below).
Teaching trumps everything else …
Over the last 18 months, I have been working with schools all across the U.K. and in Europe to improve the quality of teaching and learning. After all, quality first teaching and learning trumps curriculum for breakfast and without classroom rigour, discipline, school vision and values are hard to achieve. For the last 5 years, I developed a Mark Plan Teach methodology with our teaching staff and decided to make this training dialogue a guidance document. A one-page summary for the busy classroom teacher, reminding us all of a common vernacular between classrooms and our teacher training sessions.
You can read the entire teaching and learning journey from the beginning.
Behind the scenes, the design evolved into a detailed 25-page document with detailed guidance and evidence of research, best practice and cognitive science – the intention to use for teacher training sessions and new staff induction.
All this hard work went against us when we decided to make our hard work a policy document. Five visitors popped in for a couple of days to gauge the quality of education being offered, visited over 40 classrooms and on day two of the inspection, had still not yet spoken with the lead person in charge of whole-school teaching and learning. After a ‘Please can we have a chat?” conversation in the morning, I finally had a one-to-one with an inspector and we briskly walked the entire school building in 45 minutes and has a 5-minute debriefing on a playground bench.
Three years of work evaluated in less than one hour.
So, here lies the dichotomy. How do schools secure autonomy and accountability without it going against you? Well, with hindsight my advice is this: A teaching and learning policy isn’t statutory, so why make it policy when it is not required by law?
So, why set yourself up to fail?
Call it guidance and use the information as a set of guidelines for your teaching staff; to support new teachers to the school, but never call it a policy which makes documentation a tool to evaluate leadership and management. Working in a school with 30 or 100 teachers, no school will ever get every teacher doing exactly the same thing. I know in reality for those working in touch schools, consistency is key, but why would you want all teachers doing the same thing, only for an inspector to feedback and say: “Ross wasn’t doing XYZ, therefore teaching and learning is not consistent and in line with school policy.”
Probably the best …
The best teaching and learning policy I have discovered on my travels has been produced by Suzanne Best, headteacher at Great Kingshill Combined School in High Wycombe. I think she has nailed it and I’m yet to find any other school who has produced something better. Something concrete for parents, pupils and teachers – without fear of being penalised by any visitors, with enough freedom and accountability on a one-page summary to enable all teachers to get on with what they need to do most: Mark. Plan. Teach.
What are the expectations?
- Each class teacher is free to determine with their class how they will provide feedback.
- Pupils should be able to explain how they get feedback from their class teacher.
- There is no expectation that verbal feedback will be recorded.
- There is an expectation (note, the document below says “exception”) that feedback will have a direct impact on pupils’ outcomes.
It’s not complicated …
That’s it. Four simple statements. Nothing complicated. No sign of that dreaded work ‘marking’ and something which allows all teachers to work in a manner that suits their subject or age group. Easily understood and designed to support teacher wellbeing and mental health.
You can download the policy here.