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 www.paulbanks1974.wordpress.com

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: https://headguruteacher.com/2015/07/03/rsa-occupy-the-curriculum/ )
  • 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.

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: https://paulbanks1974.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/what-to-aim-for-as-a-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.

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.

What’s the easiest way to a secondary Ofsted Outstanding?

Eating Elephants

Secondary school leaders would like to think that they are judged on the difference they make and not on the pure outcomes of their school irrespective of context.  The whole language of the most recent framework is about progress made, taking into account pupils and schools various starting points.  While there has to be regard to national average attainments, there is a general sense that Ofsted inspectors try to take into account starting points when judging a school.

But are they succeeding?  For example, do those schools which have low prior-attainment intakes have that taken into account properly?  Do those with very able intakes get the appropriate challenge from Ofsted?  

View original post 1,247 more words

An Inspector Calls. Or not, as the case may soon be…..

An Inspector Calls. Or not, as the case may soon be…….

This is going to be a short post about the situation relating to OFSTED and the issue of inspections and whether schools are going to be given notice of an inspection or not following the recent ‘Trojan Horse’ saga. It also will allow me to get off my chest my current disdain for the way schools have, once again, been treated by HMCI, the Secretary of State for Education and the media.

It has been very unedifying to watch the behaviour of OFSTED, HMCI and Mr Gove in the last few days, all trying to flex their muscles to prove that they can be the toughest on schools. @mikercameron tweeted on the jostling for ‘one upmanship’ between Mr Gove and Mr Wilshaw in a tweet recently: ‘ It’s like a watching a rather messy divorce being played out in public. Unedifying and damaging for the children.’ The media promised ‘dawn raids on schools’ earlier in the week, suggesting that there was something criminal or illegal happening in schools up and down the country. The right wing press went into apoplectic overdrive. And it wasn’t just them. Many other elements of the media took this as an opportunity to once again put the boot into schools and the teaching profession. The unspoken message-we need this combative approach because all our schools aren’t good enough and, in cases, dangerous places for children-is one that I resent.

And it is all so unnecessary.

No approach from Mr Gove or Mr Wilshaw about how (whether proven or not) the Trojan Horse situation is being played out in a tiny, tiny minority of our schools. No mention that OFSTED can already institute a ‘no notice inspection’ on any school where serious concerns have been raised about safeguarding or safety. No mention of any of that. That wouldn’t be newsworthy. No-two of the most influential and senior figures in education in Britain today have taken the Phil and Grant Mitchell approach of dealing with things to this situation (apologies for the analogy-it’s late and all I could think of)!

For the record:

I do not care if inspections are unannounced. We don’t get much notice anyway. My ‘phone call’ last year came just before 1pm with the Lead Inspector. By the time we had finished and I had checked my notes for all the things he wanted in place by the next day, it was close to 2pm. We finish just after 3pm. How anyone thinks that schools can some how change or hide what we do in the space of 60 minutes before the students leave is beyond me. By the time I had called my SLT together and arranged a staff briefing, the school day had finished.

For those of you who have never ‘taken the call’ there is a huge amount of information requested by the LI. Meetings have to be arranged, personnel for the meetings agreed, a huge amount of documentation is requested and a general discussion takes place. All of this so that, when the inspection team arrive the next morning, they can get straight into the prime focus-inspecting the school. You take that notice time away and all that will happen in a no notice inspection is the first 3 hours will be based around inspectors shuffling around for information. What you then would do if a HT is out or the senior staff at the school are interviewing, for example, is something we will wait with baited breath for.

As I have said, I do not care whether or not an inspector calls or not. To me that is not the issue. The real issue is that the whole inspection process is deeply flawed and unreliable. The system is failing and has little credibility. The framework is all wrong. There are too many incompetent inspectors. Don’t get me wrong, there are many excellent inspectors but there are too many inspectors who do not understand data or recognise high quality teaching and effective leadership. Many of them never understood it as teachers and that is why they are now ‘consultants’ working freelance for private companies carrying out inspections. If you get a good inspection team you are ‘lucky’. It is unacceptable that the fate of schools, teachers and students can fall to whether you are ‘lucky’ or not to get a team that knows what they are doing.

If Mr Gove and. Mr Wilshaw are going to take the ‘Mitchell Brothers’ approach to things then let them start with the inspection framework and the quality of inspectors. Let them sort that out rather than putting the boot into the overwhelming majority of schools who get it right for their kids day in day out.

If anything, these last few days have shown me that whatever credibility OFSTED may have had in the eyes of the teaching profession has just disintegrated completely. This was perfectly summed up by a tweet from @oldandrewuk who said: ‘Well one thing to come out of Trojan Horse is that any danger of OFSTED regaining any credibility has now passed’.

I also think that there should be an apology issued to the thousands of school leaders and teachers up and down the country for the insinuation that has been bouncing around in the last few days that in the face of an OFSTED inspection, we behave in an unprofessional and fraudulent manner. That is completely unacceptable.

The rhetoric of ‘dawn raids’ and ‘snap inspections’ doesn’t bother me. It saddens me that it has come to this. It saddens me that those in power should view us with such contempt that they feel that they should always try and catch us out.

I know what we are doing in my school is making a difference and no amount of macho posturing from OFSTED or the government is going to make me change the way we do things at my school. And if OFSTED don’t like that then I guess I’ll see them at 7.30am sometime soon.