My post for the Labour Teachers site as part of their ‘Floating Voters Week’

This post was written for Labour Teachers as part of their  ‘Floating Voters Week’. you can find out more about this feature and the Labour Teachers site here.

In Floating Voters Week we are accepting posts from teachers who may not vote Labour at the next general election.

This post is by Paul Banks a secondary school headteacher based in Essex who is on Twitter (@hibs1974) and occasionally blogs at

I should start by stating that this post is about policies that would make me consider voting Labour at the next election. I qualify for the ‘floating voter’ category in these posts by not having voted Labour in one of the last 2 elections. I should also point out that this post is about what policies could make me think about voting Labour. I am not suggesting that anyone needs to agree with me, I’m just putting my thoughts out there.

What education policies could make you vote Labour next time?

Before I answer this question, I think there is a fundamental point that needs to be made. I really don’t know what ‘current’ Labour policy is on education. It simply isn’t clear and this needs to be addressed. In trying to write this post, I made a quick internet search trying to find what current Labour policy on education is. I really struggled. The closest I can find is ‘Labour’s better plan for education’ from April 2015 which you can read here, and a speech by Lucy Powell MP to the Labour Party conference in September last year which you can read here.

The fact that this is all I can find on current Labour education policy, leads me to my first point on what education policies could make me consider voting Labour at the next election: Make education a major issue for the Labour Party.

The other education policies that would make me consider voting Labour would be:

  • Be bold about funding. Every child in this country deserves a state education system that is properly funded. It is not enough just to ‘protect’ the education budget as they set out in their manifesto pledge last year. The current government have ‘protected’ the budget and this is leading to massive cuts and redundancies. People need to know that Labour are serious about education and that they will invest heavily in this area. It needs to be more than ‘protection’ of budgets and more about considerable investment.
  • Be serious about recruitment and retention issues facing education. We are in the middle of a recruitment and retention crisis at the moment and I can’t see it getting better anytime soon. Reduce contact time for teaching staff, reduce the burdens placed on schools so that working in schools becomes an attractive option for people. Invest in the professional development of all staff. We need new people into the profession but we also need to keep the high quality staff we have.
  • Ensure that there is a commitment to academic rigour in schools whilst, at the same time, ensuring that sports, the arts and technology are also seen and regarded as vital components in the education of our children. A ‘knowledge based’ curriculum is essential for our children and we should not lose sight of this and we should also ensure that the importance of the arts and sport are not lost in this.
  • Following on from the point above, consider introducing a true, national ‘baccalaureate’ for our children (Tom Sherrington-@headguruteacher) has spoken about this last year: )
  • Ensure that there is proper resourcing for students who have additional and complex learning needs.
  • Make a real commitment to reducing the attainment gap for ‘disadvantaged’ students. This needs to start early and, ideally, before children start school. Make a promise to engage in rebuilding a programme with a vision that the old ‘Sure Start’ programme had. By the time students get to secondary school it becomes much, much harder to reduce the attainment gap.
  • Ensure that there is a programme for rebuilding many of our state schools-a significant majority are in considerable disrepair and are not fit for purpose.
  • Ensure that any future curriculum and examination reform is based on evidence that these reforms will improve the quality of education for our children. If not, don’t change it.

I’d also like to see these policies presented as a positive way forward, policies and programmes that present a vision for our children. If the Labour Party want to engage with floating voters on matters surrounding education then I think they should start by presenting positive and clearly identifiable policies. People should know what Labour stand for when it comes to educational policies and, at the moment, I don’t think they do.


Teacher workload in schools-we need more time for teachers to prepare and mark effectively during the school day

Teacher workload in schools-we need more time for teachers to prepare and mark effectively during the school day

This post is designed to hopefully add to the debate surrounding teacher workload in England. As a HT in a large secondary school I am acutely aware of the issue of teacher workload and the impact that this has on every teacher in a school. In an educational environment of reduced funding to schools, a new national curriculum, new GCSEs and A Levels, assessment without levels and new accountability measures for secondary schools in England it is essential that school leaders try to reduce the burden of workload and pressure on teaching staff.

One of the biggest contributors to teacher workload is the ‘pressure’ of the timetable. If we take that a school has a 25 hour a week teaching timetable and that most mainscale teachers will teach 22 out of these 25 lessons, then it becomes very clear that teachers cannot plan, prepare and mark effectively within the timetabled school day. No teacher can do all of this in 3 hours a week. This means that the majority of planning, preparation and assessment takes place outside of the school day and, inevitably, this will be at home/at weekends/or during the holidays. This, in my opinion, is one of the fundamental issues relating to teacher workload. 10% of timetabled time is completely inadequate and one of the biggest issues leading to concerns over the ability for any teacher to effectively manage their workload. Teachers need to be given more time to plan, prepare and mark/assess within the school day. This, however, cannot be done at a school level without an increase in funding to schools.

In 2014, Nicky Morgan pledged to cut teacher workload: in the face of serious concerns from trade unions and colleagues up and down the country about the issues surrounding an increasingly unmanageable workload. After a series of pronouncements all we essentially got was this:

Interesting that at no point is there any mention of reducing the contact time of teachers. If the Secretary of State for Education is absolutely serious about reducing teacher workload then this is where she should start.

Except she won’t.

She won’t, because to do this is going to cost a lot of money and this government is in the process of budgeting what the Institute for Fiscal Studies anticipate will be around an 8% reduction in real terms to school funding:

In a recent blog, Ross Morrison McGill (@Teacher Toolkit) spoke of the need to give teachers more time to plan and mark: and I completely agree that this needs to happen. It will only happen, however, if there is significantly more money given to schools to allow this to happen.

If, for example, we were to move to a ratio of 20% PPA (double the current level that most schools operate at) then the financial impact on schools would be immense. If we take my school, we have just over 100 teaching staff, with an FTE of around 80 staff. If we were to give an additional 2 periods of PPA to each full time member of staff and an additional 1 period to part time staff, this would generate close to around 200 timetabled lessons that need to be covered. This means I would need at least an additional 10 teaching staff to cover these lessons. If we assume that each member of staff ‘costs’ around £30k (and this is a very conservative estimate) then the cost to my school would be an additional 300k per year (I won’t even go into where we would get all these staff in light of the teacher shortage at the moment). So if the government are serious about reducing teacher workload then this is what they need to do. Give schools more money to employ more teachers to decrease teacher contact time to ultimately improve the quality of earning that takes place in the classroom.

Call me cynical, but I am going to assume that this isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

School leaders therefore need to think about what they can do to try and act on the issue of workload on teachers. I should say that I am going to suggest a few things that I am trying/doing in my school. We haven’t got it right, indeed we are only just starting to look at this, so please don’t take the next section as a ‘look at how good we are’ type of post. We aren’t perfect but we are trying. Similarly, I will mention a couple of programmes/systems that we use. I am in no way endorsing these products but use them to give colleagues an example of the kind of things that you can do to help. Finally, there are a few books that have really helped my thinking on this issue and are well worth a read. These are mainly based about creating an organisational structure and culture that values staff but are really good reads: ‘The Way We Are Working Isn’t Working’ by Schwartz/Gomes, ‘Professional Capital’ by Hargreaves/Fullan and ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins.

Deal with behaviour as a whole school issue

I’ve blogged about this before, but ‘behaviour’ is another huge contributor to increased workload. Ensure that you have effective systems that support staff and that the ‘burden’ of dealing with those that do not do what is expected ultimately sits with middle and senior leaders.

Trust your teachers

Ultimately you have to trust your teaching staff to get on with it. They are professionals and you need to allow them to operate within a structure that lets them teach in a manner that is effective to them. If they are having issues-support them. Use lesson observations as professional development opportunities. Give them the chance to share good practice and observe each other. Don’t, under any circumstances, ask to see their lesson plans every week!!

Use technology to create flexibility in working patterns

Using web based programmes to input data/rewards detentions/set homework etc. really gives people a huge amount of flexibility as to how they can manage their time. You can also use web based programmes for setting homework (we use Show My Homework) that will really reduce workload in that they allow resources to be shared very easily within departments and you can also ‘reuse’ prepared homework.

Have a marking policy that is realistic

We introduced a new marking policy this year after a trial at the end of last year. The premise of the policy was that we started with what teachers thought was reasonable and then took it from there. We will be reviewing this with staff this term to see if we need to make any alterations.

Stop emails after a certain time

I do agree with Nicky Morgan on this one. When we get back after this holiday, I will be putting an ‘embargo’ on emails. I will be asking staff not to send emails to each other after 5pm. There will be emergencies and exceptions but, as a rule, there is nothing that needs to be done after 5pm that cannot wait until the next day. We will also be reinforcing to parents that there will be a 48 hour turnaround on all emails to staff. We have also disabled the ‘all staff’ email to reduce the amount of emails going around.

 Think before introducing any new initiative/policy

Start by saying, how will this impact a teacher who teaches 22 out of 25 lessons a week. If it increases their workload then you either have to stop them from doing something else they currently do or don’t introduce something new.

Do a workload/well-being survey and be genuine about changing practice based on feedback

We recently undertook a whole staff wellbeing survey. There are many out there but I have used this one on a few occasions:

They give you a complete analysis of your organisation based on how staff feel and give you detailed feedback on what you are doing well and what your organisation needs to improve on. I would urge leaders to do this as  the results will help you become a better organisation.

Think about INSET days/meetings

Try and make sure that the majority of time on training days is spent in departments so that colleagues can work collaboratively on issues that are relevant to their subject or teaching and learning. This year we put a training day in on the last Friday of November. We worked 2 additional twilights in September/October in lieu of this day meaning that teachers didn’t have to come into work on this day. This gave everyone a bit of breathing space in the middle of the longest half term and was very well received. We’ll be doing it again next year.

Check the timetable-ensure there is equity

Make sure that there is a fair distribution of workload across departments/faculties. Look at sets/groups/exam classes and ensure that, wherever possible, everyone has a fair and balanced timetable.

Stick with ‘rarely cover’

Unless there is a real emergency, don’t expect teachers to cover lessons.

Try and do ‘little things’

Provide free tea and coffee for all staff at breaktime. Provide food for staff if there is a parent/open evening. Provide water, tea and coffee for staff during parent evenings. We also provide a flu jab every year for any member of staff who requests one. Try and let staff attend their children’s sports days/plays etc. It isn’t always possible but start on the basis that you will try and accommodate them.

These aren’t ‘major’ things and come nowhere near the positive impact that doubling the PPA ratio would have on reducing teacher workload, but I think they just make a difficult job a little bit easier.

Things will never fundamentally change, however, until teachers are given more time during the school day to plan, prepare and assess. And to do this we need more money for more teachers.





A short post on ‘checking’ lesson plans

A short post (rant) on ‘checking’ lesson plans

I heard a few months ago from a colleague that I worked with that, at their new school, all teachers had to submit a full set of lesson plans, a week in advance, to a member of the school’s Leadership Team for checking. Every week. Every teacher. Every lesson.

Although appalled by this, I thought it was an isolated ‘incident’-a LT that had forgotten what was really important-and forgot about it. Until a twitter conversation that I was involved in over the weekend.

It would appear that there are still a number of schools out there who require staff to submit lesson plans for ‘checking’ by middle or senior leaders. Some unfortunate colleagues have to upload their plans onto the school’s servers by the Sunday before the school week starts or submit the following week’s plans on a Friday. Every week. Every teacher. Every lesson.

This is quite a shocking state of affairs and one that saddens me greatly.

That is not to say that I do not expect teachers to plan lessons-as a HT who still teaches I am fully aware of the need to plan lessons properly and I expect all teachers to plan their lessons. How they plan their lessons is up to them and I’m not about to start checking that they are. The seeming obsession that some schools have to ensure that their staff are slavishly planning lessons in great detail worries me.

It would appear that some schools trust their staff so little that they require them to submit their plans a week in advance. Regardless of the fact that you couldn’t send a clearer message to your teachers that you don’t trust them, I would ask simply what the purpose of this exercise is-how is this improving the quality of teaching and learning in your school?

For example, I teach my GCSE History class three times a week. In our department there is an excellent scheme of work and my planning revolves around the key points/messages that I want to get across in the next lesson. I could tell you what my plans are for tomorrow’s lesson but not for the lessons on Wednesday and Thursday. That’s because I don’t really know. I have a rough idea of where we’ll be and what we are covering but I can’t really plan for these lessons until I teach tomorrow’s lesson and see where we get at the end. I think that this is effective planning.

Handing in lesson plans for every lesson in advance is illogical and pointless. I cannot think of one way that this exercise improves the quality of teaching and learning and, more importantly, think it smacks of adding a significant workload to an already stretched workforce. In a time of teacher shortages and a need for more people to enter the profession, why do some leaders think that the way to retain staff is to trust them so little?

Surely as leaders in schools we have more to worry about than checking the lesson plans of every member of staff in our schools?

We need to trust our teachers to plan in the way that they see fit and let them get on with it. We are professionals and we should behave as such- trust our staff to deliver great lessons and plan in the way they see fit.

If you have an issue with an individual member of staff then fine, you should maybe have a conversation about planning. You may even plan a lesson together to model expectations about the thinking behind planning effective lessons. That is good practice. Checking everyone’s plans is not. Worry about supporting your staff to make your school the best it can be, not checking their lesson plans.

Rant over-sorry!

Behaviour-whose responsibility is it anyway?

Behaviour-whose responsibility is it anyway?

This is a very brief post about my thoughts on effective behaviour management in Secondary schools.

(I am trying to blog more but am trying to keep the word count under 750 to allow me to do so!)

There is a very short answer to the title of this post and that is ‘everyone in the school’. This is fairly straightforward enough but actually doesn’t really get to the real point. In a school we all have a ‘responsibility’ to ensure that we promote positive behaviours and challenge any disruptive behaviour- my definition of disruptive behaviour is any behaviour that stops others learning or causes them to act or behave in a way that they normally would not. This is the basic rule for anyone working with children in schools.

The real responsibility for behaviour, however, lies with the Headteacher and their Leadership Team. It is incumbent on us to ensure we have systems and protocols that support all staff in dealing with behaviour. Like any system or process in school it should be, in my opinion, be designed to support the classroom teacher who is on 22/25 hour lessons a week. A truly effective behaviour management system is designed to make sure that, regardless of how long you have been teaching, whether it be 10 minutes or 10 years, the classroom teacher is supported to be able to teach free from disruptive behaviour. Middle and senior leaders need to remember this-we all have a responsibility to support those less experienced in dealing with disruptive behaviours.

The system also needs to be ‘blame free’. For example, if you are teaching and have a child removed from your lesson then that is not your fault. It’s not your fault that ‘child A’ decided not to do as they were asked. It’s the fault of ‘child A’ and the conversation should be with ‘child A’ their parents about what they are going to do and rectify their behaviour. If a member of staff has repeated call outs to the same class/student, then the conversation should be about what we can do to support that colleague. Do we need to remove 1 or 2 individuals to make this work effectively? Do we need to re-room this group to make sure that their room is beside a group being taught by an experienced member of staff who can be on hand to support immediately? Do we need to support the member of staff by having them observe colleagues who apply behaviour management principles effectively? There are many, many more strategies but the starting point should always be to deal with those causing the disruptive behaviour rather than the teacher.

I should qualify this last point. The vast majority of staff who are fully supported will develop effective behaviour management strategies in their class. There are, unfortunately, some colleagues who despite effective systems and regular support still struggle but they, in my experience, are in the very small minority and schools have procedures for dealing with these situations. The vast majority of staff, however, deserve strong, robust structures led by senior and middle leaders (in a previous blog I set out what I consider to be an effective SLT:

In my school, I am responsible for behaviour. There are 1500 students and 200 staff but I am responsible for behaviour. I have pastoral leaders, curriculum leaders and pastoral support staff, however I am responsible for behaviour. I can’t be in every classroom all the time but I am responsible for ensuring there are effective systems to support teachers and other colleagues in the classroom. As a Headteacher, I am responsible for behaviour of every student. The long answer to the question in the title of the blog? Everyone is responsible for behaviour but Headteachers are more responsible than everyone else.

OFSTED September 2015-A New Hope?

OFSTED September 2015-A New Hope?

This is a very brief post about my initial thoughts on the new OFSTED Framework announced yesterday.

Much has been made on social media regarding yesterday’s announcement from OFSTED about changes to the inspection framework. OFSTED has had many critics in recent years and I would count myself as one of them. I have, however, been genuinely impressed in recent months with those at the top of OFSTED trying to listen to the profession in a bid to improve the organisation. Yesterday’s announcement contains the most fundamental shift in the inspection process since the inception of OFSTED and is premised on a number of key features:

  • There is a change in the focus of areas that schools will be judged on: Overall effectiveness, Effectiveness of Leadership and Management, Personal development, behaviour and welfare, Quality of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and Outcomes for pupils.
  • Inspections of most schools will be more frequent but shorter.
  • Good schools will be visited once every 3 years and by 1 or 2 inspectors who will go in with the presumption that the school is still good.
  • There will be an independent ‘scrutiny committee’ which will rule on inspection complaints.
  • OFSTED hope to have 7 out of 10 inspectors will be serving practitioners.

There is still a significant amount of detail in the actual inspection framework that I intend to spend the next week or so digesting. These, on first look, seem like very positive changes.

A brief glance at the framework, however, and looking comments on social media still leave me with the following issues:

  • Despite Sir Michael’s comments over the last couple of years, at a school level OFSTED hasn’t changed. I’ve no doubt people like Sir Michael and Sean Harford do want change but at an operational level on inspections OFSTED haven’t changed.
  • The inspections will still be carried out, in the main, by those people who carried out inspections previously. Far too many Additional Inspectors (AIs) have no experience of leading schools, leading departments and have been out the classroom for a significant amount of time. They have no concept of what effective teaching, behaviour management or data scrutiny looks like so how can they judge it? Whilst I applaud the desire to have 7 out of every 10 inspectors as serving professionals, this will take a long time to take effect into the system and so we are back to the start again-little trust in those carrying out the inspections.
  • There isn’t an independent complaints procedure. This isn’t going to fill the profession with hope-after all surely only an independent review body can ensure that all complaints are investigated properly, openly and fairly.

I guess we will have to wait and see how these changes map out over the coming days and weeks but I am not sure that this new OFSTED approach and framework does provide us with ‘A New Hope’.

I have blogged previously about my approach to OFSTED as a Headteacher and on that front, nothing changes. We have to lead the schools for the children and families we serve and we must relentlessly strive to do everything we can to give them the best opportunities possible. School leaders need to focus on that and nothing else.

I’ll finish this brief post by quoting from two people who sum up my thoughts on this matter perfectly. Firstly, a tweet from Mike Cameron (@mikercameron):

‘It’s helpful to remember that the OFSTED Inspection Handbook is a guide as to how to inspect a school, not a guide to how to run a school.’

Finally, a tweet from Chris Moyse (@ChrisMoyse):

‘I am still of the opinion that if you do the right things right, you’ll find inspection fine’

School leaders everywhere should focus on their schools and getting it right for their students and not spend too much time worrying if this new inception of OFSTED is the ‘new hope’.

A short blog on school performance tables

A short blog on school performance tables

This is my 6th year as a Headteacher and, following publication of the school performance tables this week, I have to say I am completely despondent about the whole matter.

I have always said that, as a HT, I would always lead a school did the best that it could for our students. Last year we had our highest ever percentage of students achieving 5A*-C including English and Maths (68%). We didn’t buckle when Mr Gove changed the rules relating to performance tables in 2013 and, because we thought it was the best for our students, we entered everyone for their GCSE English and Maths in the November of Year 11. The argument was that, if we thought it was educationally sound for our kids before Gove’s announcement, surely it was still educationally sound after his announcement. In short, we put the achievement of our students before our place in the performance tables.

Can I just say that I agreed with Mr Gove completely when he complained about students entering multiple exams with multiple exam boards to get the best result possible. He was right-these schools were ‘gaming’. Schools who entered a student in the November of their Year 11 and the again in the summer term with the same exam board were definitely not gaming however.

In putting the achievement of our students ahead of our place in the performance tables we knew our place in the tables would drop. We didn’t worry because our argument was that our policy of early entry in English and Maths significantly benefited our students and, for us, this was far, far more important than our place in the performance tables.

The dilemma for me, and I guess many other HTs up and down the country, is how we continue to do what is best for our students in the face of a system of accountability (league tables) that is completely inaccurate.

Private schools simply do not give a toss about performance tables. Both Eton and Harrow scored 0% 5A*-C including English and Maths in the tables this year because they continue to use the IGCSE. Do they worry about their position?-no. Do they worry about being taken over by an academy chain because of poor performance?-no. Do their kids achieve success and move onto universities and higher education?-yes.

So, if this formula works for our private schools, why are we in the state sector terrified to stand up to the dogma of league table performance for state schools?

The answer, in short, is around isolation. I do not really care about the tables. I know that our students achieved significantly above the national average despite what the tables said. I also know that many local schools are in the same position as me, yet we say nothing because the tables make us ‘scared’. We are scared of OFSTED and the threat of ‘academisation’ if our place in the tables drops.

How good would it be if every single state secondary school in the country refused to acknowledge the performance tables? How good would it be if every one of us stood up and said to the DfE ‘We refuse to play your games and we will do what is right for our students’?’ How good would it be if every secondary school in the country did what was right for their kids, free from the worry of forced academisation or a Grade 3/4 from an already discredited OFSTED?

Individual schools can’t do this. We can’t (and won’t) do it because the repercussions for our students and staff are too severe.

Imagine though, if every single state secondary school decided to act together and do what was right for the kids and not the performance tables. Imagine that.  Imagine if we all refused to be dictated to by our place on the performance tables and all stood together to decry them as nonsense.

Imagine that and how powerful a message this would be.

Time that we all got together and made a stand.

OFSTED-just not fit for purpose

OFSTED-just not fit for purpose.

Before I get into the main part of this blog, I would like to state that as a Headteacher of a large (1750 students) 11-18 secondary school in Essex, I firmly support the concept of holding schools to account. I fully subscribe to the idea that there needs to be independent scrutiny of every school in the country. I do, however, believe, that the current OFSTED framework for inspecting schools is not fit for purpose and, more controversially, that the majority of inspectors carrying out inspections are not up to the task in hand.

OFSTED has almost admitted that the quality of inspectors carrying out inspections is inadequate. That is why they are stopping the ‘outsourcing’ of training to providers such as Tribal or Serco. My concern is that, unless I am reading this wrong and there is a vast new quantity of available inspectors out there, the inspectors employed by OFSTED will be those whose wildly inaccurate judgements so undermined the current system in the first place. Put simply, until there is confidence in the quality and consistency of those carrying out the inspections, then we go back to the start.

People who have not taught in a school in the last 15 years are not suitable inspectors. People who left teaching because they couldn’t actually teach and are now independent ‘consultants’ offering advice to schools in difficulty are not suitable inspectors. People who have not held any position of leadership in a school are not suitable inspectors. People who could not actually meet any of the teaching standards are not suitable inspectors.

OFSTED need to guarantee the quality of inspectors-until this happens any judgements are completely wasted. You can have the most comprehensive framework in the history of accountability but unless you have 100% confidence in those interpreting the framework then it is wasted.

I should say that I welcome the input of senior OFSTED officials. I have listened to Sean Harford @HarfordSean speak on a couple of occasions and was really impressed by the way he approached issues. Similarly colleagues have spoken about the way in which Mike Cladingbowl @mcladingbowl engages everyone in the debate to improve schools. The move to engage with professionals is welcomed, however, until OFSTED deals with the issue of the quality of inspectors carrying out inspections, good people like Sean and Mike are wasting their breath.

As A HT, I genuinely have no interest in OFSTED in its current form.

I say this as a HT of 6 years and leader of 2 secondary schools.

To really improve the outcomes for the kids in my school then I need to do what I think is right. I made it clear publicly that I absolutely have no interest in OFSTED to my staff and parents and this was quite liberating. I came to the conclusion a few years ago that the body that is charged with ensuring the quality of standards in our schools is completely unfit for purpose. I find it absurd that the majority of people passing judgement on inspections are unfit for purpose. I find it absurd that OFSTED continue to believe that, in their current format, they are fit for purpose. As long as these inadequacies continue then I will continue to run my school by what I think is right-not by what OFSTED dictates what is right.