What Are The Challenges and Strengths in U.K. Schools?

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Just Great Teaching


In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
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What and the common issues schools are tackling across the U.K.?

From the many schools that I have been visiting, there are common threads that are consistently requested by headteachers in all of the schools I work with. Of course, context matters and every school is unique, but there are some typical approaches that we can all learn from one another.

Here I share the reoccurring conversations I frequently have with head teachers across the U.K. …

What are the challenges head teachers are facing?

First, I would like to share some of the challenges head teachers say they are facing. These themes will feature in my new book, Just Great Teaching, published in September 2019. The concept is to highlight all the challenges that every school is facing and share some of the insights from schools that are doing one of these things really well. Aside from school funding, which is largely out of our hands, I discuss the following topics that are prevalent in every school:

  • Marking and assessment
  • Planning (including edtech)
  • Teaching and learning
  • Teacher wellbeing
  • Pupil mental health
  • Behaviour and exclusions
  • SEND
  • Curriculum
  • Research-led practice
  • Professional development

Below is a graphic showing what challenges and strengths 10 head teachers are facing in schools across the UK.

Just Great Teaching by Ross McGill


Which schools are tackling these aspects of school life well?

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If you scroll through the following images you will see the school names, the number of pupils on roll, their location and intake, plus one graphic which explains individual schools who have been identified as doing something rather well – by themselves, not me!

What do teachers find most challenging?

Over the last 18 months, I have had the privilege of working with over 15,000 teachers. What I can tell you, is that regardless of context and location, every teacher is struggling under the burden of marking and what every school must do, is remove the burden by stripping away all the unnecessary myths, approaches and techniques that have no impact on learning.

The graphic, using data from 300 teachers, indicates that teachers are very comfortable with their day-to-day practice. The challenge, which is very similar to head teachers is the increasing dialogue to be immersed with research and reduce the fear of missing out or lagging behind. This is a difficult task for time-poor teachers and I would encourage every school to have a research lead champion that reads and disseminates the latest research into bite-size friendly formats for the busy classroom teacher.

Just Great Teaching by Ross McGill

You will notice that what teachers find the most challenging, is managing their own wellbeing as well as the increasing demands placed in the classroom with lack of school funding.

Teacher strengths and head teacher confidence

You will see from the graphics below, that teachers and head teachers are very secure in teaching and learning practice and head teachers are particularly secure in managing behaviour and exclusions. Schools do face challenging behaviour without a doubt, but I would argue that it is not a national crisis, and the recent announcements to support behaviour management in schools across England’s are welcome, but the core issue is lack of funding – which restricts a school their autonomy to tackle the issues for themselves.

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In both groups, you will see that being research led is a challenge, and head teachers particularly lack confidence was planning, which I am unpicking behind-the-scenes.

Common discussions

I have learnt that every school has a unique and individual journey and that the requests I receive are common from school to school, with conversations from head teachers or those that organise professional development for their staff, revolving around the following types of themes and/or questions. I’ve shared them below to help you gather a sense of ‘where you are at’ in your own setting:

  1. Why should I work at your school?
  2. What does day-to-day practice look like?
  3. Is there an agreed common set of teaching principles?
  4. What is the expectation for pupils from classroom to classroom?
  5. How does this change for performance? For example, school inspection
  6. Are teachers willing to have difficult conversations with one another?
  7. Is there a weak link in your leadership team?
  8. Is it being tackled?
  9. Is there a member of school leadership available every lesson of the day?
  10. Are all middle leaders aware that they are responsible for leadership across the school?
  11. What makes a teacher on an upper pay scale, different from someone on the main scale?
  12. How does the teaching change when another adult enters a classroom?
  13. Does the behaviour of pupils change when a school leader enters a classroom?
  14. When last did your school staff have a say in the behaviour/teaching and learning policy?
  15. Do you hear swearing on the corridor? Do you sometimes hear laughter?
  16. If teacher performance is weak, what is being done to support the member of staff?
  17. How does your school promote professional development?
  18. Is there a research lead who disseminates the latest information?
  19. Is this evidence/information also shared with parents?
  20. Does your school have a bespoke CPD programme for individuals?
  21. Can your school afford to protect 0.5% of its overall budget for professional development?
  22. If your school has moved away from grading lessons, what makes appraisal lessons different?
  23. Has your school embedded a coaching culture? Do all the teaching staff receive coaching?
  24. Is there a stigma associated with ‘being coached’?
  25. What has your school done to reduce teacher workload?
  26. How many teachers have left your school this academic year?
  27. What are you doing on social media to promote your school?
  28. What would Mr./Mrs. ‘cynical teacher’ say about the latest school initiative?
  29. What does the school playground look like 30 minutes after the bell rings? Is there still litter on the floor?
  30. Is graffiti tackled immediately after it is found? Do your staff walk past litter?

I don’t know all the answers, and these are a small snapshot of our conversations, but I am aiming to find out and support schools by asking those questions above, sharing the data that I have from my travels to provoke your thinking and actions. I hope you find it useful to take back to your colleagues.

Get in touch if you would like support.

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