Monday, 6 July 2015

Time to put a cap on workload

As a profession, teachers are expected to work for too many hours. Not formally expected - in line with the mythical 1256 (directed) hours - but informally coerced, by pressures from high-stakes accountability down.
A key difficulty is that we only officially work for 39 weeks a year - which doesn't elicit a lot of sympathy from the general public and media. A year's work - maybe more! - is squeezed into 3/4 of the time; as a consequence, in those weeks, the hours worked are often unsustainable.
Not for everyone, of course. Some people live to work (& to tweet), family pressures are less for many, whilst experience can lend a hand to more efficient working and management of time. 
But what of the recruitment and retention crisis, our inability to hold on to teachers for more than the first few years, as well as the tens of thousands of experienced staff who are a drained, disillusioned, no longer enjoy many aspects of their job?

I was moved to raise the subject of time and workload by a number of related factors. The ongoing discussion in staff rooms and on Twitter regarding marking (as part of feedback) was one: What does good marking look like? What 'works'? How much time is spent on it?
Image result for school carparkThe number of cars in the car park after 6pm when I was leaving my interim RI school earlier this year was quite alarming. In spite of my attempts to encourage staff home earlier, people felt more pressured by the external expectation of marking, etc than my attempts to persuade them otherwise. It is not unusual for staff across the country to be in school into the evening and I was speaking very recently to a Deputy in the pub who had come from school after 8pm (not an unusual occurrence for him). 
And, of course, it's always been the case that teachers will work vast numbers of hours at home, whether they leave the school site early or late. To do the best for children, be 'professional' and have high expectations carries with it a moral stick to beat ourselves with and work endless hours.

Government and OFSTED will neither officially change the number of hours formally worked (and paid) to teachers, nor informally discuss a reasonable guideline to protect the well-being of  the profession. It isn't in their interests to suggest that people work less: surely that would be lowering standards?
Those Heads who are, on balance, more concerned with OFSTED than staff well-being are complicit too. Rather than setting a work-life balance expectation - even producing a policy for it - many seem 'happy' (or unaware) to set not only high, but unrealistic, expectations and have people work all hours to try and fulfil them.

The result: an overwhelming sense of failure in the profession, waning love and enthusiasm for the job, swathes of disenchanted teachers leaving the profession after only a few years in it.

Some principles and possible pointers for a workload policy:
  • Schools are, of course, all about children - but they are about adults too. The lives, education and development of adults working in schools need to be considered alongside that of children.
  • We do children no favours by 'growing' teachers who are too tired, stressed, disillusioned, dis-empowered, unhappy and lacking enthusiasm to give of their best. (In fact, how many good teachers are no longer teaching, on their way out or put off from even applying?)
  • We should be able to do a good - or better - job (by any reasonable definition) in working hours that allow a rewarding home-life, including interests beyond school.
  • As a broad guide, teachers should (as a maximum) be working between 8am and 6pm from Monday to Friday: 10 hours per day, 50 hours per week during term time.
This is subject to certain caveats:
-Teachers may choose to work earlier or later - and occasionally at weekends - as other pressures, responsibilities and interests allow.
-In some weeks, and at some times of the year, hours may vary - longer or shorter but, overall, in balance.

    Image result for pile of marking
  • Schools should seek effective ways of managing high-workload tasks (ie. report writing, exam/essay marking), including outsourcing and increased not-contact time.
  • Schools will need to better audit the use of time by teachers to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of tasks performed, particularly those which are most time intensive. 
  • If teachers are working beyond the guideline hours, we should ask: what's taking their time? is it useful & effective? could they be guided to carry out useful tasks more efficiently?
  • Teachers and schools will need to take seriously the professional responsibility of determining which priorities and tasks should take precedence within the working hours guideline.  (As an example, marking will need to be both manageable and effective, in light of contact time and the other work that is necessary).
  • To do an effective job - and feel fulfilled in doing so - teachers need to prepare well during 'non-contact weeks'. Of the 13 weeks of  'holiday', it is suggested that teachers spend up to 3 weeks  (15 days) planning and preparing, although this is for individuals to determine.

Other related questions:
  • Where does (Primary) subject leadership fit in with a teacher's priorities and use of time? Are they 'responsible' or 'accountable' for (standards in) the subject? Does this depend on pay?
  • Should those with more responsibilities/accountabilities work more hours? Is 50 hours a week a more than reasonable amount whether you are HT, SLT, TLR, NQT?
  • HTs (& SLT) enjoy the greatest flexibility to manage their time and tasks. Are they sometimes guilty of creating additional tasks for others where the time involved to carry them out may outweigh the benefit?

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

How do we know (if) we're getting better?

I'm not a great runner. I guess I'm better than the average man in the street - or lying on his sofa - and I'm maybe better than the 'average runner'? I come in the top 50 of over 500 runners at Chelmsford Parkrun, I'm in the top ten in my (old) age category.

On Saturday, I nearly gave up - even on a short 5k - it was that painful, and I didn't feel I'd run a good time. However, I had, in fact, done quite well and better than expected - by some measures.
With running you can gauge your success, even progress, with times. For 5k, this wasn't my PB but it was my best 'WAVA' time - it takes age and gender into account: 71.4% falls into 'Regional Class' I'll have you know! (60+% Local Class, 80-89% National Class, 90%+ World Class)

So, not my PB but making progress on my age-related time?! Statistics/data can even be hard to interpret and understand for running: this is without factoring the weather, the course and other conditions, the curry and the alcohol the night before!

There are clearly echoes here with the problems that schools encounter, even some of the labels. How well are they doing? compared to other schools? compared to other schools in a similar context?

Most recently, I've encountered the question of: are we getting better? how do we know we're getting better? how much better?

As an interim Head in an RI school (with a great staff team), we were faced with a review meeting each half term at which, quite reasonably, we were expected to report on how we were doing. We are ultimately judged, of course, by how well children do and how much better they get (improvement). I personally think that tests are the least worst way of gauging this, especially as children reach Junior age and beyond.
Of course, testing has flaws and, thereby, the data arising from it. Lesson observations are, rightly, only part of the picture, a small part to those who have seen the light. Work scrutiny - and associated marking (and response to it) - has, consequently, grown to be an even more significant means of judging how well a school (and teacher) is doing.

I have to say that judging how well you are doing - and progressing - is fraught with difficulties. Manufacturing and churning out data half termly only has the point of trying to satisfy external scrutiny (including Governors). What tests/assessments you can use this frequently that equate to new, age-related standards is a huge question in itself. I also think that ongoing teacher assessment - with the intention of producing data - is so time-consuming and unreliable as to be pointless.

However, we all want to know if what we're doing is 'working' and helping the school to get 'better'.

This was brought into focus recently when I was sent an OFSTED report of a now RI school - and prospective future assignment. I include an excerpt below and invite colleagues to provide practical examples of how to answer the point made.

It is not good because:
Plans for the future do not include measures by which leaders can check on the progress of their actions. This hinders leaders’ ability to review during the year how successful the plans are.

What does the school need to do to improve further?

Improve leadership and management by: 
  • ensuring that the school’s plans to improve teaching and achievement have clear interim measures by which leaders can check if their actions have been successful 


  • How do we check that our actions have been successful?
  • How do we do this in the short to medium term (even half termly), as RI and SM schools have to do?
  • How do we know that we're heading on the right track, 'getting better'? 
  • How can we tell whether individual and groups of pupils are getting better in these timescales?
  • What are the 'clear interim measures'?

I welcome any thoughts and practical, concrete examples from colleagues, maybe from your own action plans.

And find out where your local Parkrun is: they're very inclusive! 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The cult of 'outstanding'

What is 'outstanding'? Are all OFSTED outstanding schools really that?
Are Heads of OFSTED outstanding schools 'outstanding Headteachers'?

I guess that all depends on your definition of 'outstanding' and, of course, those that set the definition at OFSTED would argue that schools get the labels that they deserve. My own view is that some schools with the top rating do not meet my own simple definition of outstanding and, indeed, OFSTED have themselves sought to address the fact that there were perceived to be too many outstanding schools.

My own most recent school - at which I was Head for six years - held (and holds) the outstanding label.
Did I judge us to be an 'outstanding' school?
Was I an 'outstanding' Head?
No to both (by my definition).

Overall effectiveness: the quality of education provided in the school         (School Inspection Handbook: April 2014)
Teaching is outstanding and, together with a rich and relevant curriculum, contributes to outstanding learning and achievement, significant growth in students’ knowledge, and excellent attitudes to learning. Exceptionally, achievement may be good and rapidly improving.
Pupils, and particular groups of pupils, have excellent educational experiences at school and these ensure that they are very well equipped for the next stage of their education, training or employment.
There is excellent practice which ensures that all pupils have high levels of literacy appropriate to their age.
The school’s practice consistently reflects the highest expectations of staff and the highest aspirations for pupils, including disabled pupils and those with special educational needs.
Best practice is spread effectively in a drive for continuous improvement.
Other principal aspects of the school’s work are good or outstanding.
The school’s thoughtful and wide-ranging promotion of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and their physical well-being enables them to thrive in a supportive, highly cohesive learning community.

There is little to disagree with in this as an aspiration (from my perspective) although, as is constantly debated on Twitter, there is much that is open to interpretation, including definitions of 'learning' and the quality of teaching. For this reason, among others, data often leads the 'outstanding' grade and doesn't always require "excellent educational experiences" to prevail nor "excellent practice" to be "spread effectively in a drive for continual improvement."

My own interpretation of 'outstanding' does not so much disagree with the OFSTED definition; rather, it is something that I believe should supplement, if not headline and lead, it.

A simple definition/questions
Some other words/definitions for outstanding
Does this school stand out from others? How does it?
Does it do things that others could learn from (& possibly apply in their own context)?
Standing out among others of its kind;
Prominent, remarkable;
Superior to others of its kind;
Distinguished, excellent

Whilst there will be many examples of schools that can positively answer the questions above and (therefore?) meet the OFSTED definition also, there are inevitably schools - maybe a very small number? - who benefit from excellent data and receive the grading without doing much that others could learn from.

How to stand out from the crowd - and do things that others could learn from

This section is closely linked to my previous (and first) post on developing a school vision; the overview there contains a summary of what could make a school truly 'outstanding'. However, this can't happen at all or have longevity, lasting beyond the tenure of any particular leadership team, without the creation of a culture.

This culture is based upon a belief that the whole school team is fundamental to success; any leader (and football manager for that matter) is only as good as their team; 'outstanding' teachers who become Heads need to recognise that it doesn't always come as easy to others and/or that people have a range of personal commitments and attitudes to work. In developing this approach, it is those latter points that are hardest to overcome.

The ingredients
The ideas summarised here arise, as all our ideas do, from a number of sources. Those that I've directly learnt from are the amazing Jim 'Taming Tigers*' Lawless (@jim_lawless), an inspiring speaker at the NCTL 'Seizing Success' 2013 conference, and Matthew Syed's 'Bounce'.

  • Together Everyone Achieves More - value, maximise talents, enable, empower, support, challenge
  • A ‘Growth Mindset’: adults and pupils who want to be the best that they can be (reach their potential), who want to continuously improve, aim to master their craft and do not feel limited by ideas of fixed ability or talent.
  • A shared belief in continual improvement in which staff enjoy the professional responsibility of collaborating to (action) research & develop the most effective practice. (Contrasts with a top-down approach in which staff grudgingly carry out - or not - what they are told to do).
  • A bold, ambitious goal* to be the best that we can be (individually and collectively).
  • Question all that you do*: Rip up your rule-book.  A willingness to look critically at all that we do in the context of what we are trying to achieve. (Is the education that we provide fit for purpose?)

With this culture in place, we will be more likely to ensure that we will not only do the ‘conventional’ excellently ….but that we will….

Always be innovative to seek greater effectiveness, excellence & enjoyment (beyond the conventional).

Regarding innovation, Michael Cladingbowl, OFSTED's National Director of Schools, commented:
"I (also) worry that some schools are far too cautious about innovating to raise standards because of the imminent arrival of Ofsted. As long as they do the basic (conventional) things right, we need more schools to innovate not fewer; innovation is often, if not always, a feature of outstanding schools and school systems. Look at the way mathematics is taught in Shanghai – different and very successful."

The Guardian: Teacher Network             Friday 7 March 2014

It is by adopting this approach that I believe that we can truly 'stand out'; the data and other outcomes will follow and, without chasing the status, the OFSTED label will too...

...but nobody said it was easy!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Towards a school vision

This is my first (and possibly last) attempt at sharing a post with others. Is there anything I have to share or contribute that others will find interesting or useful?? I usually tend to think not.

School blog

Previously, I've set up and pretty much managed a Primary school blog in the school (of my first Headship) that I left at Easter. That was pretty successful, with about 220k visits in 5 terms (from Sept 2012 to March 2014), around 3k a week. We were linked via Twitter and I 'pushed' to Facebook: we had around 170 followers/Likes on each. 

I posted something on most days there: lots of pics of kids in school, on trips, playing sport; other info for parents and things I wanted to push or promote, such as writing and 100wc.

Here is the blog: anything post-March isn't 'mine'. I may be able to help if anyone wants to set one up.
Prior to 2012, I never really knew what a blog was and wasn't on Twitter. I remember being at a conference with Tom Sherrington - also my son's Head up until now - who was at a similar stage to me - and look what's happened to @headguruteacher!

Having left St Mary's, I'm now going into interim roles - for the time being at least - and am starting (proper) as HT at Guildford in September (until around Feb half term or Easter).

People's ideas of 'vision' can be very different. I tend to think that they can be very nebulous, 'airy-fairy' constructs with very little that's concrete, although, to some degree, elements of that approach is necessary. The reason being is that other vision statements can be too concrete and/or people get caught up in too much detail (and dictats from above) and lose sight of the 'higher level', strategic purposes of education.

This vision document has elements of the two and might be something that some people find helpful to work from and amend to their own circumstances; perhaps, a starting point for discussion with their staff: 

What do we want to achieve here? 
What does that look like? 
How will we do it?

The afore-mentioned Mr Sherrington has also written excellently on the subject of vision, as well as many more things of great worth: 

Underpinning and necessarily supporting 'my' vision and approach is the creation of a culture around a desire to be the best that we can be and having all involved and responsible for finding the 'best', most effective ways. I may blog about that on another occasion.

You will notice in the doc that I make reference to 'standing out', as opposed to 'outstanding'. The OFSTED label for some such schools is not necessarily deserved, if you ask yourself: 
'(How) does this school 'stand out' and do things that others could usefully take away and learn from?'

The document
The structure - and some content - of this overview is based on the QCA 'Big Picture of the Curriculum'.
'Key Aspects of Teaching' is a headline overview which comes from a Focus Education approach.

The sections, 'What we want our children (and staff) to be' in the first section and 'Distinctive Content' in the second are both very similar and reflect some personal ideas for my previous school. I believe that these areas, in particular, may be different for schools, according to their circumstances.

If anyone has problems viewing or editing, let me know.