(Another) First Day Back

Back to work today and so somewhat reluctantly switch on The Twitter to see what delights I may have missed. First thing to catch attention is list of ‘9 teaching ideas to bin in 2018’. After a New Year’s Day spent gleefully dismantling evidence of The Festive Season and sending numerous pieces of card to the recycling, find self fully in tune with notion of putting anything in bin and so settle in for quick and hopefully informative checklist of activities to avoid for the year ahead (not so naive as to suggest sending these ideas to landfill, however, since Experience Has Told Me that these ideas will once more return to fashionability in a few years).

To my surprise, find self agreeing with several of the items on the list. Pleased to see not alone in distaste for schools displaying OFSTED grading signs on every available wall (previously assumed this feeling driven by jealousy of never working at a so-called Outstanding school). Gladdened too by suggestion that ‘Progressive vs Traditional’ actually little more than a false battle manufactured by people caring more about their Follower Numbers on The Twitter (mine remain resolutely in double figures) than what is actually happening in their classrooms. Notion that schools ought to rely on support networks of other local schools to engage in some kind of peer-review system also raises cheer in times of general darkness and bleakness.

More confused, it must be said, by multiple suggestions in list that schools ought to dodge any notions of staff accountability or monitoring. Culture of School Leaders not looking in students’ books or watching colleagues teaching may work in idealised environment where every individual Works To A High Standard but not wholly convinced this is Living In The Real World. Willing to concede this is Cynicism At Work, or at very least the January Blues.

Determined too not to sound like someone who thinks that Lessons Can Be Learned From The Private Sector, and feel need to stress clearly that I am fully in favour of a solution-focused supportive approach to teacher development and improvement (also make no apologies for using word ‘improvement’, since this is un-arguably relevant in some cases – self by no means excepted). But if not work/book scrutiny, and if not lesson observations (agree these should not be graded, however) then what?

Book look / work scrutiny by far most useful method of EQ/QA I routinely experience in role as school leader. When used in conjunction with Student Voice (talking to the students with their book in front of them and asking them to tell you about it is immensely informative) it is an invaluable measure of whether they are making progress in that class (and yes, better than any Data Analysis – so find self wholeheartedly agreeing on proposal to consign Data Drops to the educational trash can of 2018).

Book look / work scrutiny / Talking To Students also invaluable to see whether students are getting feedback on their work. To this extent find self standing up and applauding suggestion that ‘Marking By Frequency And Colour’ be deposited firmly in recycling centre, to be replaced by policies for feedback. Admit to being confused to apparent abhorrence of notion of ‘policy’ in list, however. Certain that suggestion of “sharing expectations” is essentially same as distributing a policy, since what is a policy but a set of expectations?

Rack brains to think of something else to add to list of of things to send to the educational refuse collectors for 2018 but can only think of Teachers Writing Blogs About Teaching For Sole Purpose Of Self-Promotion. Decide this entirely in spirit of Celebrating Contradictions and subsequently rest brain. First Day Back is always so exhausting after all.

Bah Humbug

Actually that’s too strong because it is my (second) favourite holiday (nothing compares to the five week decompression chamber of The Summer Holidays). Spend most of the day explaining reason for not wearing Christmas Jumper or Foolish Hat. Unclear if many Year 7s would understand extended explanation of anti-capitalist/consumer stance of refusing to collude in Market generated obligation for purchasing items that will be worn once for a few hours and then promptly discarded and so simply tell them it’s important to understand that one does not always have to Follow The Herd. Despite insistence that such a stance in no way intended as criticism of those who choose to wear Christmas Jumpers and Foolish Hats, cannot help feel that many take it as A Personal Insult. Thankfully distribution of sweets at end of the day alleviates much of this sense of mistrust and almost all go home happy in the knowledge that it is The End Of Another Term.

(Still) Life After Levels: Same As It Ever Was

Book scrutiny this morning for some year 7 and 8 students. Evidence of progress? Yes. Evidence of diagnostic feedback that enables that progress? Well, yes, I suppose so. A bit (admit levels of generosity to colleagues perhaps slightly higher than normal At This Time In The Term i.e. with The End In Sight). And are the students on track to reach their target GCSE grades? Yes, no, maybe.

Evidence from infrequent visits to Other Schools in recent years has shown often bewildering range of strategies to cope with the removal of Levels at KS3 some years back, most of which appear to have replaced notion of Levels with some other arbitrary concoction (I heard of one school who were grading students according to different types of bird. “I am happy to report that Charles is on the Golden Eagle pathway” and “I’m rather afraid to have to inform you that Jezebel is struggling to raise herself from the Common Sparrow pathway”. Cue Prisoner proclamations of “I am not a bird! I am a free man/woman/preferred gender identity!”.)

Common sense however appears to be settling like a fine dusting of snow on Educational Landscape, driven no doubt by the transition at GCSE from Grades As Letters to Grades As Numbers. Good to see evidence in books therefore of students being assessed as being “on flightpath to 5” and “on flightpath to 3”. More elderly and cynical colleagues suggest this Perilously Close to being a Level but they are clearly mis-informed.

To ban, or not to ban? And is it really a question at all?

French appear to be making plans to outlaw mobile telephones in school. Except it appears they might not actually, since apparently “Pupils will still be allowed to bring their phones onto school premises, but will not be allowed to have access to them at any point during the school day.” So not outlawing mobile telephones in school at all then.

Intrigued by what strategies schools will employ to ensure that pupils have no access during the school day. Envisage long queues of students obediently handing devices to The Mobile Police as they pass through the school gates each morning and then collecting them as they leave at lunchtime (accompanied by soundtrack of The Pink Floyd, naturally). Do French schools all still finish at lunchtime? Entirely possible I remain firmly entrenched in own experience of French language learning and this not the case at all. “Je voudrais acheter une disque de Sacha DIstel” etc.

Entirely convinced moral panic over mobile telephones in schools (French or otherwise) driven by rabid media determined to cast children in stereotypical role of good-for-nothing layabouts addicted to worrying about what their peers think of how they look. Some truth in this timeless caricature, certainly, but by no means wholesale. Admittedly anecdotal evidence of own school suggests where clear boundaries are set then children’s use of mobile telephones most assuredly Not An Issue. Grudgingly admit that headlines of “Students cause no fuss when asked not to have mobile telephones out in lessons or corridors” unlikely to generate mass hysteria and thus sell copies of newspapers and/or generate ‘clicks’.

It’s PSHE!

Somewhat shocked to discover that “PSHE lessons improve pupils’ grades”. Closer investigation reveals research carried out on behalf of ‘PSHE Association’ so reflect that findings perhaps not so surprising given this context. Indeed, further reading of article appears to show that the “review of 1200 studies” (detailed definition of “study” not given) found academic results improved by implementing teaching aimed at “helping pupils to become healthier, more confident and more willing to take risks”. Admit to rolling eyes at this point in article and fight temptation to employ time-honoured phrase much beloved of Heads’ PA: “No shit Sherlock”.

Further hilarity ensues in precis of ‘Outcomes’ where, under the heading of ‘Physical health and emotional wellbeing’ statement is made that: “This had a positive impact on academic attainment, “by enhancing the physical and mental health of students”.” Relieved to discover that teaching about subject results in students learning about subject, but wonder too if quality of teaching may have been key factor in this rather than compartmentalising of subject within wooly umbrella of PSHE.

Willing to concede that personal cynicism at This Time Of Term may be colouring personal views on matter but at very least research puts my perviously confused mind at rest as to whether it is PSHE or PHSE. Until I forget again.

Belgian Whistles

Another email from the Head this morning in which various proposals are ‘muted’. Fight urge to respond immediately with message saying ‘I wish!’ but wonder if joke will be 1. understood and 2. appreciated. Suspect at This Time Of Term the answer would be neither so sensibly Hold Myself In Check.

Obviously this is time of year for wilful misunderstanding of the English language as The Twitter shares a story of reference to ‘Belgian Whistles’ in place of, well, if you cannot guess then it is a mute point really. Sorely tempted to create stock email response of “Belgian Whistles” for whenever someone sends message using incorrect terminology.

Now with added (secret)

Impressed with the reach of The Manchester Guardian’s ‘Secret Teacher’ column and inspired by recollection of another online diary called The Private Secret Diary I determine to re-brand my own attempt with inclusion of the word Secret. Entirely convinced that this simple addition (in parenthesis, no less) will catapult readership into the stratosphere. Or at least, perhaps, into double figures.

Rush of optimism (or more likely caffeine) additionally sees me making early Resolution to follow in the footsteps of aforementioned secretive writers to Turn This Into A Book. Share this thought with M who, at This Time In The Term understandably fails to summon pretence of positive support and instead merely offers withering roll of eyes.

Never Mind The Bullocks

Proof of provinciality today in big lunchtime alert about eight bullocks infiltrating school playing fields. To be fair, bullocks looked as perplexed as some members of the Leadership Team sent out to intercept. Fortunately four Year 11 students took control and directed rogue livestock back through gap in hedge normally reserved for smokers. Merit points dished out in abundance as result.

Acutely aware of possibility of unfairly conflating ‘provincial’ and ‘rural’ in this diary entry but feel opportunity too good to waste.

WORKLOAD REDUCTION TOOLKIT

Email arrived this morning, forwarded from the DFE, about development of WORKLOAD REDUCTION TOOLKIT (their choice of ALL CAPS). Bemused to discover that email asks (in a tone of barely concealed desperation) for suggestions about how workload reduction might possibly be attained. Deadline for suggestions is 4th DECEMBER.

Fight off temptation to instantly respond with email suggesting first step may possibly be to not overload already overworked colleagues with additional tasks at ludicrously short notice.

Additionally fight temptation to respond with an observation that in the climate of competition engendered by the various Secretaries of State for Education over the past decade or so we would only be willing to supply suggestions of effective strategies for workload reduction on a consultancy basis and attach overview of consultancy charging structure.

Decide finally to click ‘delete’ and turn attention to next item on to-do list.

280

Devastated to discover that The Twitter has doubled the character limit of Tweets to a massive 280 and in so doing completely exploding my previously posited theory that 140 character limit behind dominant movement in education of reducing complex systems to ultimately meaningless lowest common denominator single words. Convinced that Life Will Never Be The Same Again.