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.
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.