5 Teaching Ideas to Bin in 2020

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Teaching Ideas to Bin


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 teaching ideas would you like to say goodbye to in 2020?

A collection of ideas I’d like to see banished forever in schools across England. 

These suggestions build upon past blogs I’ve written and my experiences of working with teachers all over the U.K. Given the complex nature of education, some of my suggestions will not be a solution for some die-hard authoritarians.

1. Unnecessary workload

For years I’ve been researching the root cause of teacher workload with results suggesting that ‘school leaders’ were the problem. However, my latest research suggests that there has been a tipping point: School inspection appears to be driving teacher workload rather than school leadership.

SchoolDash has previously used staff sickness leave as an indicator of motivation and wellbeing which shows the strong correlation between Ofsted rating and days lost to staff sickness. School inspections, albeit important, adds unnecessary workload for teachers, especially those who choose to work in a disadvantaged context.

Why work in a disadvantaged school?

The process that causes a teacher to leave teaching starts a long time before a teacher actually leaves teaching, but I wonder if school inspection or the type of school, is the final nail in the coffin for many teachers…  There is a clear trend in teacher sickness by school deprivation level and the Department for Education and Ofsted would do well to start collecting data on teacher mental health.

2. Frequency and compliance

If the main reason why teachers leave teaching is (always) workload, it suggests to me that we will always keep haemorrhaging teachers unless we tackle the details. Schools with large groups of disadvantaged pupils tend to use ‘frequency and compliance’ methods that disempower teachers.

Pointless written feedback, meetings, mocksteds and marking policies which stipulate coloured pens and frequency (how often a teacher should mark books) also impact on the mental health of our profession. There are some schools that are bucking the trend, yet some schools continue to peddle marking and planning nonsense which I do not believe is unique to state schools or disadvantaged contexts. We must challenge this dialogue and consider alternatives

SchoolDash analysis suggests that there are more teacher vacancies at schools with high proportions of poor pupils, and secondary schools with larger proportions of poor pupils tend to show greater recruiting activity, suggesting that they have more teacher vacancies and/or experience greater difficulty in filling them.

5 Vacancies

3. Experience as a commodity

“…the UK has one of the least experienced teaching workforces in the world. More than a third of all teachers have less than 5 years’ experience!” (Education Policy Institute, 2020)

Did you know, that the average life-span of a teacher is a mere 13 years of service? Note, the greatest attrition also happens in years one and two of teaching! I believe the current government model for teacher recruitment does not support experienced teachers. This is especially true in terms of valuing their wisdom or paying them the necessary salary. To work in classrooms for 25 years, I am unique. I have rarely met a teacher who has worked more than 20 years in the classroom, but they do exist, although few and far between!

The government continues to subsidise new teachers rather than grant experienced teachers with better pay and conditions. Because of this, we will continue to lose experienced teachers in the profession. As a result, our younger teachers will continue to be regurgitated within the system and leave prematurely. The DfE census data suggests this is the preferred model…

SchoolDash analysis suggests there is a declining proportion of teachers over 50 years old, in both primary and secondary schools. There are also quite big differences in the proportions of older teachers around the country. The following images show 2019 data for primary and secondary schools and are taken from SchoolDash Insights. There are fewer, over 50 teachers, working in secondary schools in the North of England with more primary teachers (over 50) in the South East. The Department for Education would do well to publish routine data on the lengths of teachers’ tenure.

4. Performance Appraisal

Currently, in most schools, the performance management system is led by a tick-box, high-accountability culture that essentially boils down to a paper-gathering exercise driven by the setting of targets. This has been exacerbated by the introduction of performance-related pay in England. A culture of performativity has pervaded our schools over the last two decades with graded observations. This also includes performance-related pay, target setting and data collection. In schools where bureaucracy is king, the consensus is that teachers are gathering reams of evidence to justify their work. Proceeding on an annual basis, the quality of appraisal is largely determined by the quality of the relationship between oneself and one’s line manager, even though research suggests this has little or no impact on performance.

The problem with the current appraisal process in many schools is that it largely operates around the bias or poor practice – delivered by individual line managers with little training. Decisions made are sometimes anecdotal rather than evidential, and this is not only unreliable, but it is dangerous. It is damaging for teachers who are working to the best of their ability. There is another way motivate and evaluate teaching…

5. Grading lessons

Embarrassingly, this still needs a mention six years later…

There are still some state schools in England that choose to grade their teachers in lessons. This is despite the research – and even Ofsted – stating that it’s a poor method for evaluating teacher quality and effectiveness. It’s absolute nonsense and I will continue to tell every teacher I meet to find another school…

If any headteacher wants to win the hearts and minds of their teachers, they’d do well to heed this advice. It’s only a matter of time before some schools isolate themselves from prospective applicants throughout 2020…

To read a deeper analysis of the data, visit SchoolDash.

11 thoughts on “5 Teaching Ideas to Bin in 2020

  1. Couldn’t agree more.

    Thankfully in Music Education (Music Hubs), we have really moved away from grading lessons or performance based appraisal. The nature of the subject means that the outcomes are many and varied. One music teacher with a specialism in classical music might have different development needs to one with a specialism in folk music. The teachers also tend to work with variety of ages in the same lesson and are not bound by the same kind of school structures and accountability. Experience is also definitely valued as musicians definitely develop enhancements over time. But we’re not funded like schools and so unfortunately i agree that staff pay does not represent the huge commitment or skill that schools often receive. It’s an interesting comparison.

    If you ever want an insight into the world of music hubs, the national plan for music education (that headteachers ought to know but don’t https://wolverhamptonmusicservice.org.uk/schools/important-documents/ ) and other myths that need some debunking, I’m happy to give you a whistle stop tour.

    1. Thanks for the comment Ciaran. Your example highlights the complex world of teaching and learning that exposes the real difficulty in evaluating quality, and then adopting these hallmarks across other disciplines.

  2. As a teacher over 50 and still classroom based, education keeps trying to invent the wheel. Re lesson grading the fact this should have been binned a long time ago. I left a school where I became very stressed and had a nervous breakdown as the awarding of a number was used against me. On one occasion it was because the children didn’t overtly recall the lesson objective. This was an internal observation Behaviour had been excellent, all students had been engaged and students were able to share something they had learned in the lesson. In a previous inspection pattern this lesson would have been good, and the the observer admitted this.

  3. 25 years of teaching – just had to leave. Constant monitoring, PA obs, book scrutinies and weekly learning walks. Could not get on with the real job of teaching , worrying about negative feedback from all of the above and ridiculous target setting. Sad to leave but for my own well being and mental health it had to be done!

  4. After 23 years in the profession, I am one of those teachers who is now leaving it. Having climbed the ladder to as high as I wanted to go, I settled back into just being a ‘classroom’ teacher – a position I truly enjoy. However, after being forced out of my last job by a bullying Head, my new school would only give me a temporary contract. A few weeks ago, I applied for my job as a Performing Arts teacher, but didn’t get it. They gave it to a trainee/NQT to start in September. For what I offer, I am too expensive – UPS3 -, and there are plenty of teachers of performing arts out there who are cheaper. Budgets and bureaucracy are killing teaching and the more experienced teachers get to a point where the budget comes first. I am resigned to the fact that any job I apply for now in teaching will take one look at my salary and dismiss me – unless they are a school that ‘need’ teachers or it’s a temporary position. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I’m about to step away from a career that I worked hard for to get into and enjoy immensely.

  5. After 26 years in the classroom I am now into my second contract in an international school- I am doing all the things that I lived about the job again and have time for a life again! And I always said I would never go selective or independent- but I am loving the job and my life.

  6. I left the UK in 1993 after teaching there 18 years and went to Canada.I was a head teacher in the UK but was fed up with the low pay and the never ending calls for teachers to solve every problem that existed in society.In Canada,I was very well compensated and appreciated in all the schools I taught at and the joy of being a teacher returned very quickly.I taught there for another 20 years and had a life outside school. My only regret was I should have gone there sooner.

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