What are the common problems all schools face with regards to teaching and learning?
Over the last two years, I have been privy to at least 100+ school teaching and learning policies. At some point, I hope to translate them all and then share them, but at this stage, I want to share 5 common problems I believe some schools get wrong, and as a result, set teachers up to fail.
What school do you work in?
Does your school operate in a high-stakes model or a system which ignores rigour and pedagogy? I believe there are a good number of teachers who still work in a compliant culture and at the other extreme, many who work in a school where all forms of accountability is absent.
The result? Teachers are either bombarded by tracking in all aspects of school life, through work scrutiny, formal observations, data reporting and meetings, or at the other end of the spectrum, a culture where little or nothing is happening. Both these types of schools exist!
Is your school lonely?
Imagine working in a school where nobody wants to observe you? You are the person in sole charge of your curriculum decisions. There is no professional development and nobody, not one person, talks about research or cognitive science to influence ‘how to teach better’. Worse, no one wants to support you or asks for feedback. Classroom doors are very much shut!
Is your school talking about teaching?
I suspect you (the majority reading) are aiming for a happy medium in your school, something between both extremes. Where culture is distilled with commonsense approaches, driving pedagogy as much as curriculum, supporting behaviour management, cognitive and psychological approaches as well as research-informed interventions. I also suspect there will be one or two aspects of school life you are unhappy with or are yet to crack!
One key example, achieving teaching and learning consistency.
Schools getting it right…
Schools need to strike a balance between both extremities, and although they have been rare in the past, these schools do exist and are increasingly emerging to the fore. I would encourage you to look at my training map to discover which schools I have visited near you, then ask me for information on those schools and I will see if I can help. Here are a small number of examples:
- Three Bridges Primary School, Hounslow
- Slough and Eton CofE Business and Enterprise College, Slough
- Great Kingshill Combined School, High Wycombe
- Layton Primary School, Blackpool
It’s a difficult task to achieve a happy medium, but it’s not impossible!
5 Common Problems
In terms of communicating and developing clarity, here are the common threads.
The most common issue is that school teaching and learning policies are far too detailed. They fail at the first hurdle. Too much detail makes the information hard to retain. Too much definition makes its interpretation difficult to achieve.
The second greatest problem I have observed is a leadership issue and one which is very easy to resolve. Teaching staff haven’t been consulted in the development of the school’s teaching and learning policy. It is often written solely by the headteacher or the teaching and learning lead. Teaching staff knows the policy exists, or at least some of them do. They probably haven’t read it. If they have been given very little time to explore and talk about its content, they are also unlikely to care about the pedagogical development of the school because they will have limited knowledge, understanding or investment in its details.
3. Compliance (to the policy)
As a result of specified details written in the policy, for example, frequency of marking, classroom life becomes enforced for formal and informal observations whenever anyone ‘pops in’ to get a sense of what is happening in the classrooms. School leaders walk around corridors and visit classrooms, aiming to understand what is happening in aspects of school life through learning walks, checklists or work scrutiny, aiming to translate what is working and what can be improved. Rightly so!
4. Ignoring nuance
Taking this to a deeper level, these checklists or requirements laid out on paper are written out in great depth, often exceeding two pages of A4 paper for observers to complete during a lesson observation, pupil interview or work scrutiny. Again, rightly so, but at what cost? And impact? Binary decisions e.g. frequency, compliance, coloured pens being stipulated rarely signpost effective teachers. What they do prove, are the compliant one who I suspect, are working night and day to adapt to poor proxy methodologies which seek to achieve that ‘elusive consistency’…
5. Reflection and refinement
Finally, professional development is off the radar. Time is not protected and teaching and learning is not a priority! Schools that are getting it right are protecting this time fiercely so that teachers can regularly discuss teaching practice. Accessing research, reading books and developing pedagogy, cherry-picking aspects of educational work to suit your own context is at the heart of developing a collective teacher efficacy – What does this look like in the classroom? How can we use XYZ in our school? The research on ABC suggests… Those schools reflect and refine on a monthly basis.
Teaching and learning is certainly not a one-person policy.
I know what school I would choose to work within. Oh, and remember a teaching and learning policy is not a statutory document – don’t set yourself up to fail.