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: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29427844 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: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/unions-hit-back-nicky-morgans-delusional-workload-suggestions

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: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/schools-could-face-cuts-8-over-five-years-institute-fiscal-studies

In a recent blog, Ross Morrison McGill (@Teacher Toolkit) spoke of the need to give teachers more time to plan and mark: http://teachertoolkit.me/2015/04/22/if-i-were-secretary-of-state-for-education-by-teachertoolkit/ 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 https://www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk/organisations/positive-workplace-survey  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.

 

 

 

 

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’.

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.

For those among you considering senior leadership

For those among you considering senior leadership:

As many of you may know, I will be embarking on my 2nd Headship in September this year following 5 really great years as HT in my current school. Whilst things are insanely busy at the moment, I have taken a little bit of time to reflect on my first headship and what I’ve learned about leadership in schools. This blog is not intended to be a ‘I think this is what you should do’ blog but a personal reflection on the things I have learned in the last few years as Headteacher and the things I think are really important for new school leaders in the current educational climate.

1: Lead your schools for your students and not OFSTED. Education is about the young people we teach day in, day out. They are with us 190 timetabled days a year (for either 5 or 7 years in the secondary sector) and many, many days and hours beyond this in extra curricular activities. You know them, know their parents and know what your school needs to do to ensure that they have the best possible opportunities when they leave your school. The job we do in schools is one of the most fundamentally important jobs in the whole of society. As school leaders, we have a duty to the children in our schools to ensure that our curriculum, our approach to teaching and learning and our whole culture and ethos ensures that they get the very best education possible. In the 5 years I have been a HT, OFSTED have been in my school for a total of 5 days. Just do the maths on the time our children are with us compared to OFSTED and you should quickly see who you should be focusing on.

2: Ensure your staff don’t worry about OFSTED. It is not the job of the teaching and support staff to worry about OFSTED. Make sure that you do everything to support your teachers to do the very best they can and, in my opinion, a big factor in this is to stop referring to OFSTED. If anyone needs to worry about OFSTED it is SLT. Oh, and never, ever do a ‘mocksted’-your self review processes should be robust enough to tell you everything you need to know about your school.

Point of note: This is not to say that I am dismissive of OFSTED-far from it. OFSTED are there to regulate and ensure that there are consistent standards of assessing the quality of schools in England. This is a very important role and a necessary one-somebody needs to ensure a consistency of standards. My point is that the current OFSTED set up is not fit for purpose so therefore we must set about creating an educational climate that supports our staff and students and look to ensure the highest standards of attainment without prescription from a centralised, regulatory body. OFSTED should inspect on standards, not instruct on how to attain these standards.

3: The behaviour of students is fundamental to the success of your school-and it is down to SLT to take the lead. Behaviour, behaviour, behaviour. 3 words that will lead to success (or failure if you ignore them). Have robust, consistent systems for ensuring good behaviour and make sure everyone follows them. Reward the hard working, polite, determined students. Reward those who try their very best regardless of ability. Reward those who make a contribution to your school. Even more importantly though, do not tolerate those who disrupt lessons. Do not tolerate those who abuse staff and students. Do not tolerate violence and do not tolerate bullying. Lead this from the front as a school leader. Make sure that your students know who is in charge in the school. Yes, staff need to support this by being consistent in following school systems and ensuring they are planning and delivering great lessons, but do not blame staff if a student chooses to disrupt a lesson. Support your staff and ensure that every child knows that every member of staff, and in particular the SLT, will not tolerate those students who disrupt lessons or behave poorly. Don’t worry about exclusion figures either-you do what you need to do to get a calm, productive environment within a school. I argued with OFSTED that the reason our behaviour in school was good was the fact that we challenged all aspects of poor, disruptive behaviour with sanctions that included exclusion. If you want good behaviour you have to have a system that punishes persistent disruption or poor behaviour severely (we were graded outstanding for behaviour by OFSTED last year).

4: Be visible: you have to be out there. Start of the day, break, lunch and the end of the day. And during the school day as well! This goes hand in hand with point 3 (above) and really helps other staff on duty. Also develop a system that allows SLT and middle leaders to be visible during the timetabled day around the school. Go to the lessons where there is supply cover, go to the really challenging groups, pop your head in, stay for a while maybe, but just be visible. I spend 6 hours a week on ‘visibility’. These are in my diary and take priority. My SLT and I cover all 25 lessons a week on the timetable to ensure someone is ‘visible’. If we are out we cover it because we think it is so important to create a positive, calm, productive environment across the school site.

5: Do the right thing: sometimes the right thing to do is the most difficult and it would be easy to compromise and fudge a solution. Don’t! Always do the right thing, no matter how difficult this is. I have had to make some incredibly difficult decisions that I know will have a profound effect on those who are affected but I took them because they were the right thing to do for the school community. Stick to your principles. Ultimately there are a lot of pressures out there and they can present as easy fixes or solutions but remember that, as a leader, you have to look yourself in the eye and know that you have done the right thing for your students. I have a number of ‘red lines’ that I will not budge on as a leader because I know that, if I allow them to be crossed, I will not be able to reconcile them with myself and I would lose all credibility. This may sound really old fashioned but I think you have to stand up for what you believe in.

6: Collaborate and share with fellow leaders: It is easy to become isolated and think that everyone and everything is against you-the stakes are high and the levels of accountability and pressure immense. Talk with fellow leaders. Visit their schools and have them visit you. Talk to them about what they do and what works and share your experiences with them. I have found the majority of HT to be open, honest and very willing to share resources, time and experience if you are able to reciprocate.

7: Read, read, read: theory isn’t better than practice but, importantly, it does inform practice. Twitter has been fundamental in helping me expand reading around my job. There are a huge number of bloggers, blogs, books and articles that I have read that have made me a much more reflective, informed and, therefore, better leader. Sign up for Twitter now!

8: I want my school to be the best school ever: Not for me but for the students. If we are the best school ever then all our students will have the opportunity to experience life changing opportunities that will allow them to access education/jobs/careers beyond their life at school. I have always started with the line: ‘why can’t we be the greatest school ever?’ We may not be there or ever get there but why should we settle for 2nd best? Start with this in mind and then you will focus your thoughts.

9: Don’t worry about what ‘might’ happen: I should start by saying that I do not make this point lightly. I personally know 3 HT colleagues who have lost their jobs in the last 18 months as a result of OFSTED inspections or as a result of a process of ‘academisation’. I also know of others, through social media, who have suffered the same fate and all of these are good people who were doing a great job in challenging circumstances. They are victims of a perverse kind of system that unilaterally sees the removal of the HT as the solution to a problem in a school. To qualify, there are some poor HT and it is right that they are held to account but I am staggered at the sheer quantity of good HT who are losing their jobs recently-particularly when the data and information about their school suggests their performance is far from inadequate. Ultimately, I have come to accept that the job of a HT is a very vulnerable one and that I could lose my job at any point following a poor OFSTED/poor GCSE results etc. I cannot, however, afford to worry about that. It does terrify me, particularly as we have a young family, but I will not let it take over my thoughts. I will not change or compromise what I believe to be the best for my school community because I may lose my job somewhere down the line. If someone thinks that what I’m doing is not good enough then there is very little I can do about it, hence why I can’t worry about it. As HT I have a mandate to do what is best for the students in my school and I’ll keep going and doing the best for them and the school community as long as I am privileged to hold the position of Headteacher.

10: Don’t forget what really, really matters: Being a leader in a school is an amazing job with many great opportunities and many highlights as well as many demands. If you are like me, then you probably throw your heart and soul into your job to make it work. Don’t, however, forget what is the most important-your family and friends. They will be there to pick you up when you are down, to counsel you, to support you and to share in your successes. They are also the most important things in life and, whilst my job is so important to me, it is fundamentally a job and comes nowhere near the importance of my family and friends. School leaders and teachers should never lose sight of the importance of those we love the most and the need to spend as much quality time as possible with them.

On why we have stopped grading lesson observations (part 2)

On why we’ve stopped grading lesson observations (part 2)…

Following my blog earlier in the month and the conversations on this topic that have been taking place on Twitter, I thought it would be helpful to set out why we have taken the decision to stop grading lesson observations. I will say again that our decision was taken because we feel that this is right for our school at this point in time. It is part of a wider plan to make our school a truly ‘great’ school.

We considered the purpose of lesson observation. This is, in my opinion, the most important question for any school leader: Why are we observing lessons? If you believe the purpose of lesson observations is to take a ‘snapshot’ of a teacher’s performance in 30 minutes, compare this against OFSTED criteria and feedback the grade to the teacher then you should carry on grading lessons. We came to the conclusion that observations in this form were not productive. We believe that observation should be about developing practice, developing the expertise of teachers and working together to improve the quality of teaching and learning in our school. The point of observations should be to make the quality of teaching and learning better not to judge a member of staff against a set of questionable criteria.

I would urge all school leaders to ask themselves the question: ‘why are we observing lessons?’ When I asked myself this question I came up with the answer that, in the form we previously had, it was to demonstrate to OFSTED we were robust in our school self review. I now know that this is completely wrong. We were wasting a huge amount of time, energy and effort on observing staff against a criteria that, at its best is interpreted completely subjectively and, more importantly, didn’t really give an opportunity to help staff improve their practice. We had to move away from this.

Before this post progresses I should make it clear that I believe in accountability. I believe that schools should be held to account about their performance. In this light, I believe that the new proposals for accountability will be much better than the 5A*-C measure, as schools such as mine will be able to demonstrate the impact of the progress that students make from when they joined us. In holding performance to account you need an external body and we have OFSTED. There are many issues surrounding the reliability of OFSTED and this is probably another blog in itself. I need to make clear my position on OFSTED. For those of you that know me, you will know that I am not that fussed about OFSTED. That isn’t to say I don’t think that their judgements are important-they are-I just don’t run my school for OFSTED. Our school is run for our students, parents, local community and staff. That is what is important.I have always been confident that OFSTED would be happy with what we did but my school is not set up for OFSTED. When we were inspected in March this year (2013) we were very pleased that our judgements about the quality of our teaching matched theirs.

From next term all lesson observations will follow the same approach:

-All observations will be carried out by those staff who have previously undergone lesson observation training
The key to the whole process is feedback. We have worked hard to ensure that all feedback is formative and helpful to staff
-There will be no reference to OFSTED criteria ever in the feedback given to staff
Our feedback will be based on what went well and what we can improve
-We want staff to choose lessons where they may be having some issues for observations. We hope that the removal of judgements will allow staff to engage with observers to address issues that would never have previously been considered under lesson observations used for performance management.

I would like to clearly state that this approach is what we believe to be right for our school now. We are not trying to start a ‘movement’. We have moved from an underachieving school to a good school in the last 4 years and we really want to be a truly ‘great’ school. The decision to remove gradings from lesson observations is part of a wider programme of school improvement and this programme has been very successful. I have to give credit to my SLT and middle leaders who have worked tirelessly to get us to this position and would encourage all SLT to consider the move we have taken. In my last blog I stated:

“It became apparent to me that if we were to become a ‘great’ school then this would have very little to do with the structural aspects of the school. Improvements in the ‘structural’ aspects of the school helped us get to good. To become ‘great’ we actually had to encourage our staff to move away from the structures that had got us to be ‘good’ and give them the opportunity to develop and exercise their teaching skills in a supportive and collaborative environment. One in where all staff shared good practice, built on what was really good about their teaching and, if appropriate, be encouraged to take risks and try new things:

To be better we need to reflect on our practice in a non judgemental way. To improve our excellent teachers by getting them to reflect on issues that, in the past, would be hidden. Let’s work together to develop practice in areas we hid because if we looked at it during a lesson observation previously we would be graded inadequate. We need to move on from that.

We took the decision to remove grading from our lesson observations to make us better teachers. To remove the fear of being judged inadequate. To encourage our teachers to take risks. To encourage our teachers to be the best they can be and deliver lessons that they may not normally do. To encourage our staff to be truly great. To be great we cannot be worried about failing, indeed to be great we actually have to experience failure to get to this level. Great teaching exists where our best teachers exert their professionalism to ensure that our students succeed. We believe that this approach will improve the outcomes for our students. We believe that this will make us better teachers.”

At the end of the day we need to take a decision. We can decide to lead our schools in the way in which we believe to be right for our students or we can run our schools and try and match OFSTED criteria. In my opinion we owe it to our students and parents to run our schools in a way that will give our students the greatest opportunities and if this sits outside OFSTED model then so be it. Effective leadership in a school is not about shaping the establishment to fit OFSTED criteria.

In our school our results have improved considerably. I am convinced that our grades will continue to increase as a direct result of our focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning. In terms of OFSTED, this can only be a good thing. I have discussed this with some colleagues who have said that our decision is ‘brave’. I disagree, I believe it is right. I spoke about this with an OFSTED inspector who was concerned about ‘accountability’. I actually think that this model increases accountability. By sharing our practices, by working together to improve those lessons that we struggle with and by looking at those groups we find challenging actually increases accountability. It is brave to try and improve the outcomes for our students and accountability lies on what we get for our students. I think our approach will definitely improve the outcomes for our students.

I will finish with what I stated in my last blog:

“I am not saying that this approach will work for all schools. It may not. We are on a particular part of our journey and we feel it is right for us. We look forward to making our school a truly ‘great’ school and feel that this approach will help us.”

That is why we have stopped grading our lesson observations.

On why we’ve stopped grading lesson observations..

On why we’ve stopped grading lesson observations….

This term, after a round of lesson observations, I found myself reflecting on where we were as a school. I am coming to the end of my 4th year as HT in the school and was thinking how we could become a ‘great’ school. Our school has had its challenges in the past. We got a ‘Satisfactory’ in early 2010 shortly after I had taken charge and we have worked incredibly hard to improve what we were doing. In March this year we got a ‘Good’ from OFSTED and we were delighted that we had an external validation of what we had known for a while.

For those of you that know me, you will know that I am not that fussed about OFSTED. That isn’t to say I don’t think that their judgements are important-they are-I just don’t run my school for OFSTED. Our school is run for our students, parents, local community and staff. That is what is important.I have always been confident that OFSTED would be happy with what we did but my school is not set up for OFSTED.

Back to my reflections!

It became apparent to me that if we were to become a ‘great’ school then this would have very little to do with the structural aspects of the school. Improvements in the ‘structural’ aspects of the school helped us get to good. To become ‘great’ we actually had to encourage our staff to move away from the structures that had got us to be ‘good’ and give them the opportunity to develop and exercise their teaching skills in a supportive and collaborative environment. One in where all staff shared good practice, built on what was really good about their teaching and, if appropriate, be encouraged to take risks and try new things.

It became apparent to me that the main reason for grading lesson observations was down to providing OFSTED with information. We spoke about it at SLT and decided that our current structure was not going to make us a great school. To be great we need staff to engage about what they are finding difficult and ask for support. This would never happen if we graded observations. Staff (quite rightly) would choose groups/sets that would give them a good/outstanding judgements in previous lesson observations. They would never pick groups that they found challenging because of the levels of accountability based on the lesson judgement.

To be better we need to reflect on our practice in a non judgemental way. To improve our excellent teachers by getting them to reflect on issues that, in the past, would be hidden. Let’s work together to develop practice in areas we hid because if we looked at it during a lesson obs previously we would be graded inadequate. We need to move on from that.

We took the decision to remove grading from our lesson observations to make us better teachers. To remove the fear of being judged inadequate. To encourage our teachers to take risks. To encourage our teachers to be the best they can be and deliver lessons that they may not normally do. To encourage our staff to be truly great. To be great we cannot be worried about failing, indeed to be great we actually have to experience failure to get to this level. Great teaching exists where our best teachers exert their professionalism to ensure that our students succeed. We believe that this approach will improve the outcomes for our students. We believe that this will make us better teachers.

I have discussed this with some colleagues who have said that our decision is ‘brave’. I disagree, I believe it is right. I spoke about this with an OFSTED inspector who was concerned about ‘accountability’. I actually think that this model increases accountability. By sharing our practices, by working together to improve those lessons that we struggle with and by looking at those groups we find challenging actually increases accountability. It is brave to try and improve the outcomes for our students and accountability lies on what we get for our students. I think our approach will definitely improve the outcomes for our students.

We are professionals. We know what works. We know what we need to do to make our practice better. We must make these improvements away from the fear of being labelled to be failing. One of my sporting heroes is the basketball player Michael Jordan. As a mad basketball fan I admired his technical ability, his unbelievable court presence and his seemingly amazing ability to make the winning shot. It was only after listening to him about what made him a truly great player that I tripped over this:

‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’

To be better we have to learn from our mistakes. But we can only learn from our mistakes when we are free from the risk of failure. Failure makes us better. But we can only be better if ‘failure’ is acceptable. If we have a system where ‘failure’ is discouraged then we will always have professionals who suffer from fear of failure. If we remove the gradings from observations then we encourage staff to take risks, we encourage staff to ‘fail’ whilst taking those risks and, ultimately, we create better teachers.

I am not saying that this approach will work for all schools. It may not. We are on a particular part of our journey and we feel it is right for us. We look forward to making our school a truly ‘great’ school and feel that this approach will help us.

That is why we have stopped grading our lesson observations.

What to aim for as a SLT

What a good SLT should try to aim for…..

After many months of deliberation, I have finally decided to have a go at blogging. To start with, I’m going to have a go at trying to add to the debate that has been going around Twitter recently about SLTs in school. I should start by saying that I am a Headteacher in a large secondary school. I do not for one minute claim to have all the answers, nor am I claiming that everything is perfect with my leadership in my school-far from it. The next few paragraphs are about what I think an effective SLT should represent in a school and one in which my SLT try to aim for every day.

If you haven’t already read it, you really should read the excellent blog from @oldandrew entitled ‘ How to be bad SMT’ (http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/how-to-be-bad-smt/).
I think there are many elements to this that we have, at time to time, experienced in our careers as teachers. I sent the link to my SLT and asked them to read it, if only to use as a checklist as to some key things we need to avoid in our day to day practice. This blog looks at, in my opinion, the things that those of us who are in senior positions in school should be striving for every day:

1: Be visible: in my opinion the Number 1 priority of any SLT. Yes there are many things that we could be getting on with and many demands on our time but we have to be out and about. This also includes the start of the day, break, lunch and the end of the day. We have a system in our school (taken from a presentation I heard last year from Ani Magill, HT at St John the Baptist School in Woking) where a member of SLT is on a ‘visibility’ tour every lesson of the day. It is not about patrolling corridors or making judgements on teachers but about supporting colleagues. Wandering round the school dropping into lessons, speaking with staff and speaking with students, is a fantastic way to be visible without being intrusive. You can also assist any member of staff who may be experiencing a challenge with a particular class. We also ask Heads of Faculty to identify particular ‘hot spots’ in the timetable-times where they feel additional support could be helpful-and we make sure we visit these lessons first. Same with the start of the day and the end of the day. We are on every gate welcoming kids into school, checking uniform and talking with parents. At the end of the day we also walk around the streets/shops near the school to make sure that the kids leave quickly and safely. The same goes for break and lunch-SLT are always on duty along with other staff. Being visible and being out and about is a fundamental part of an effective member of SLT.

2: It’s all about people, Part 1: The greatest asset I have at my school are the staff. They work so hard and give up so much time (both in and out of school) to ensure the students get the very best deal that SLT are duty bound to support and develop their professional status. For example, we have kept contact periods for teaching staff without additional responsibilities to 21 out of 25 periods per week. We trimmed our meetings to an absolute minimum. We ensure that the directed time calendar falls well below the 1265 hours required because we must recognise that most staff work well beyond this in an academic year. We try to be empathetic with staff. If someone asks for the afternoon to go and watch their child’s play or Sports Day we will always try and let them go. When we look to change practice or bring in a new policy, our first question should always be ‘what will the effect of this be on those teachers who teach 21 out of 25 lessons a week’? If the answer is that it will increase their workload then it doesn’t go ahead. We also try and recognise achievements and the immense work most staff put in. It is the job of SLT to try and cut away the stuff that impedes teachers in their jobs and, to help do that, we must support our staff at all times.

3:It’s all about people, Part 2: The other great asset we have at the school are our students. They are, in the main, hard working, polite and well behaved. To get to this point, however, takes a lot of work. I was reading some tweets today from the superb Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) regarding the issue of behaviour in school and how it was one of the 2 main issues affecting teachers today (the other being workload) and I couldn’t agree more. Behaviour is everyone’s responsibility but the biggest responsibility for having good behaviour in a school sits with SLT. For the first 2 years of my Headship fixed term exclusions shot up. We set a bar very high regarding expectations about behaviour and we expect all students to ‘come up to the bar’. I have 3 main rules for every student (Try your very best at all times, be polite and courteous to everyone, be proud of yourself and your achievements) and I expect everyone to follow them. If you don’t there are consequences. For example, if you use foul language towards, or in response to, a member of staff you will be excluded. If you are removed from a lesson following a ‘SLT Call out’ (part of a structured, consistent whole school approach to behaviour) you will be isolated for the rest of the day and will have a Friday detention (90 minutes at the end of school on Friday). The main reason we do this is because it isn’t actually about those students who are misbehaving (in the first instance). It’s actually about the 99% of students who aren’t misbehaving and the staff trying to teach them. This may sound a bit trite but we refer to disruptive students as ‘time thieves’-stealing time from other students and teachers because they cannot behave properly. The job of SLT is to support, at all times, staff in making sure students behave appropriately. Interestingly, our FTE fell last year and have fallen dramatically this year. We have not lowered the bar to allow this to happen, I just think the message has got through.

4: Trust and develop teachers: we are all professionals and should be allowed to exercise our professional expertise in the classroom. SLTs should always start with this in mind. Yes, there are sometimes staff who cannot be trusted because they are not up to the job but, in my experience this is very rare. Support and encourage teachers at all times because the overwhelming majority are dedicated professionals who want to make a difference to the lives of the kids they teach. We have just taken the decision to stop graded lesson observations from now on. I just can’t see the point anymore. If the point of observation is to improve professional practice then using a graded judgement system will not do that. Our next observation round will see observations without any criteria sheets, any grades, any judgement statements. There will be one side of A4 that says two things: ‘What went well’ and ‘Areas for consideration’. We are asking staff to choose lessons that they traditionally would not have chosen for observations so that we can improve professional practice. I should say all staff, including me, are observed for 1 x 30 minute slot a term currently and this will continue next term, just without any judgements. It’s not about OFSTED, it’s about having great teachers.

5: Accept that mistakes will happen: one of the things I say to parents is that as a school we always try to get it right for your child but, from time to time, we will get it wrong. We won’t get it wrong deliberately or out of spite, but we will get it wrong. There are 1200 students and 150 staff on site so, from time to time, things will go wrong and mistakes will happen. As a member of SLT you can do 2 things when you come across a situation where a member of staff has got it wrong. You can either help them get it right next time or you can blame them and berate them. Sir Alex Ferguson always stated that he learned more about his team from a defeat than from victory. When something goes wrong or not as well as we would like, review the situation, support and take action and make sure that we improve our school as a result of what we do. Blaming helps no-one.

I would like to point out that this is what I think we should be aiming for. My school isn’t perfect nor is my leadership. Like everyone, I make mistakes and sometimes get things wrong. There have been times in the past when I have been guilty of some of the things listed in the ‘how to be bad SMT’ blog. I do, however, reflect on my practice and, as a result, now try to ensure that I and my SLT, follow the 5 principles above. I am just finishing my 4th year of being a HT (I started in January 2010). We don’t get it right every time but if we hold these points above as reference points for how we act as an SLT, then I think we will be on the right path.