Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

This is an extraordinarily difficult day for me as a teacher in the South West and a member of the NUT.

It is our turn to take part in the rolling strike action.

Do I strike or do I not?

I am not, by nature, particularly militant or aggressive or easily riled. I’d rather read a book, to be honest

I have, however, seen and lamented and grieved over an economic climate in which teachers have been made compulsorily redundant. I have known teachers take early retirement because the profession has been twisted to become target and results driven. I have talked to teachers who have simply left the profession because the pressure from government is to hit targets rather than to educate. And training children to pass exams in not the same as educating them. At all.

A month ago, though, I may have taken the view that, whilst I fundamentally disagree with the way the Government and Gove operate and treat my profession, I might not have gone on strike.

I wasn’t comfortable that pay and pensions seemed to be being reported as the reason for the strike in the newspapers and media. I wouldn’t strike to get an additional few pounds a month! Especially not in an economic environment where getting a job at all is increasingly difficult and – according to today’s news – having a job is no guarantee of receiving a sufficient wage to live on!

Nor, being honest, did I think the strike likely to achieve its ends. Michael Gove is so entrenched in position that he is unlikely to be ousted. Ever. And the representatives of every union has – I believe – been in talks with him and pointed out the misunderstandings, errors and unfairness in all he has done and proposes to do. And he appears to have ignored every professional and expert opinion he has been given.

So, why then, am I at home today, currently feeding my baby?

Because, since September, the children I teach have had the rug ripped from under their feet. And the floorboards beneath the rug. And the on which the floor was built. Changes are made to core elements of their curriculum: Speaking and Listening just struck out of their English GCSE course; massive changes about early entry just announced without consultation or advice; timing of announcements and changes have been so suspicious that it seems to be deliberately undermining teachers’ ability to make considered decisions; continued changes to the wording of the early entry new rules snuck into the DfE’s website. The list goes on.

I have taken the decision – and it has been a really hard decision – to strike because our children are being deprived of great teachers; because the Government are changing the rules half way through a course and preventing children achieving; because the Government’s culture of targets, performance tables, accountability have created a situation where schools’ interests are divergent from children’s interests; because this government puts good results down to cheating and bad results down to poor teaching.

Whether I gain an extra £20 a month or not is, frankly, immaterial; whether I lose a day’s pay today is immaterial.

I am striking because I care about my students’ education.

And that’s it.

The NASUWT website puts it succinctly.

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What a great photo!

It looks like a police Wanted poster. Wanted for crimes against…

I am still reeling from Sunday’s announcement.

I still find myself in a quandary. Do I want to believe that this announcement made to coincide solely with Party Conference season and Michael Gove is utterly ignorant of the imminent deadline for entries? Alternatively, do I want to believe that he deliberately chose to make the announcement at a time when schools had no time to respond thoughtfully? Neither bodes well for the relationship between the profession and Government.

Maybe the impending NASUWT/NUT Industrial Action (17th October for us) had missed a trick. Perhaps… just perhaps a strike to oust Gove would have more support?

Anyway, I digress.

Unlike the teachers that Gove fears are fiddling the system, we selected students for whom we felt the November entry would help them. For some, that support will come from achieving the C now. For others, the focus and motivation that comes from taking an external examination as well as the practical skills of time management and meeting deadlines and the emotional support in feeling part of a group are huge, regardless of whether the November grade is a C or a D. The opportunity to call back exam scripts and actually scrutinise their own work is an enormous benefit.

Michael Gove’s announcement cannot change those benefits to the student. He has simply created a situation where the school’s interests are at risk if the child obtains a D in November followed by a C in May.

If this course of action benefits those students and if, as teachers, we genuinely believe that, my view is that we have a moral imperative to continue to enter in November. The school may – inevitable will – suffer a public hit in terms of league tables but that is immaterial if the students benefit.

So, if a school pursues that moral stance to its own detriment in league tables, what will happen?

Publicly available league tables will reflect a downturn in results.

But a school website can record the true “best” result; local newspapers can run stories containing the true results; literature can be produced declaring the true results.

And the performance tables will be revealed for what they are: shallow, inaccurate and irrelevant. The law of unintended consequences is a strange and untamed beast. Could the outcome of this announcement actually be the end to league tables in their current form? We can but hope!

Conversely, what will happen if schools take the ‘safe’ option? Last minute withdrawals from examinations, uncertainty, confusion, angry parents. All the hallmarks of a failed qualification system which, I fear, would play into Gove’s hands and we would return to the proposed scrapping of GCSEs we were facing twelve months ago.

Therefore, Mr Gove, my protest against your change will not be to spout vitriol, nor to make rash decisions in the remaining 24 hours before entry deadline, nor to pull in my antennae and batten down the performance-table-hatches. My protest is this.

I will continue to do what is right for my students.

I will campaign for the management and government of my school to take the public hit in performance tables in order to serve our children best.

I will hope that other schools possess the leadership to do the same.

And I will look forward to the day when there is a different Secretary of State for Education.

There are certain responsibilities which fall to you when you become a teacher.

Other people’s children’s welfare becomes your responsibility.

Agonising over the placement of the apostrophes and whether to write become or becomes in that previous sentence! As the welfare is singular, so should the verb be? But is welfare a noun that can be quantified at all in terms of number?

We also acquire a congenital dread of Ofsted, suspicion of Sir Michael Wilshaw and repugnance at the thought and image and voice of Michael Gove. Admittedly, the latter is symptomatic of being a fully evolved member of the human race rather than necessarily just being a teacher.

So when Ofsted came into our rural coastal school, I was already arming myself with vitriolic, bilious and defensive adjectives with which to blog this weekend. I was prepared to be grilled, interrogated and probed – although not in an alien abduction way, there are limits to what I’m prepared to do for an Outstanding!

I was poised to leap to the defence of my Department and to fight our corner against politically motivated judgmental bigots.

And instead I’m reaching towards vocabulary like personable, fair and constructive. What has happened to the world? Is the sky about to tumble about our ears?

Yes, clearly, there was a huge amount of nerves and stress and rather limited family life for the 48 hours of the inspection. But the actual process was…

Okay.

It seems anathema to say it but, I quite enjoyed the process. Enjoyed. That may not be the right word. Relished, perhaps. Rose to? Maybe.

I did ask for (well, I asked robustly. the word demanded has been bandied about somewhat unfairly. A gentleman never demands, he asks robustly) an hour’s one-to-one interview with the English Inspector.

I was asked if 15 minutes would do; I said no.

Robustly.

As a new Head of English, with massive plans for next year, I wanted to be judged against them rather than the outgoing Head of Department’s decisions.

Results, Data, Progress and Pupil Premium were obviously large parts of the Ofsted brief. What were our headline figures? What was our response to last year’s GCSE fiasco? Were we being pro-active or resigned to being at the vagaries of GCSE (politically motivated?) grade boundary variation. I, in fact, had a range of reasons behind our headline figures last year and an even wider range of responses to them in place in the short, middle and long terms.

The Inspectors were responsive to both structural changes (things like iGCSE, English and Language/Literature entries, early entry and exam board choices) and teaching and learning changes (see previous posts for my plans for a skills-led Programme of Study as well as changes to our feedback and assessment).

There was a big focus on Pupil Premium: those students who attract extra funding because they have been eligible for free school meals within six years. They are therefore deemed socio-economically vulnerable.

What I actually liked was that they obviously had the data and wanted me to know and understand it. Colour coded spreadsheets and transitional matrices are, at the end of a day, just another text and as open to interpretation as Of Mice and Men or Composed Upon Westminster Bridge! I like to think I’m competent to understand them. I guess, they wanted to be talked through the data to see that we weren’t simply collating a variety of spreadsheets in a folder entitled Ofsted but we were using them to drive forward strategic planning.

But what the inspectors really wanted was to see that I knew the stories behind the names and data. They wanted to see that there was a reason why Pupil A wasn’t achieving progress and intervention had been put in place to facilitate their making progress; that there were a host of reasons which genuinely did limit Pupil B despite all the interventions; that Pupil C had progressed to a point where she was able to access her next steps even if that didn’t equate to 3 levels of progress.

I liked that. I teach children, not data. I was very much relieved to see that the Inspectors shared that focus.

It is possible that this post is merely the result of a freakish combination of the only decent and humane inspectors available to Ofsted. And I suspect that other conversations may have been more prickly but I can only respond to the conversations I had.

Which were genuinely positive and constructive!

As the year looms or lumbers towards its end, our thoughts turn to next year.

Who will teach which set?

Who has the C/D borderline Intervention students?

Who has that one Year Group who never seem to have settled down?

Who will be looked at to obtain our A and A* grades?

I like this time of year. As a Head of Department, I have the power to allocate class to teacher!

Whilst I am a lovely and kind person and I have asked whether anyone has any preferences, I am also aware of the following:

  • As a manager, I want to allocate staff in a way which utilises and exploits their skills and strengths, whether that be in classroom management, inspiring the least able, challenging the most able, teaching boys, teaching AEN, teaching lower school or upper school;
  • As a manager, I personally like the idea of giving everyone one year group with whom they have no contact: a parents’ evening off, one cycle of reports that you don’t have to do, a fresh start with that year group if you pick them up in the following year;
  • As a leader, I want to place staff with sets that will complement their responsibilities:
  • there seems little point giving a teacher with responsibility for Key Stage 3 no Key Stage 3 teaching; it seems absurd not to put a teacher with responsibility for transition into Year 7; it would be perverse to not put a Head of Year teaching her year group;
  • And as a leader, I feel a responsibility to support the development of my staff.
  • Shall I put this teacher who has joined us from a middle school in Key Stage 4 so that her CV can reflect success at that level? Should I put that teacher who has never taught Literature under the new specifications into a Literature class? Have the classes given provided enough range to allow that NQT to develop his skills?

It is a little bit like playing a game of tetris: certain staff have large amounts of time allocated elsewhere for SLT, Year Head, other curriculum areas; some of the concerns and focuses I have are conflicting; and sometimes the numbers simply don’t fit!

The tool I use to perform this task is this:

setting

 

There is a list of classes on the left with various boxes to reflect the restrictions of banding, populations etc within the school; and beside each class are spaces to fill in the initials of the teacher. The number of spaces reflects the number of lessons available per fortnight or per week. There is a list of teachers and their available lessons on the right.

As you fill teachers’ initials into the classes on the right, it automatically starts to count down the remaining available lessons; and simultaneously adds up the number of classes for which each teacher has responsibility.

I find it useful here hereby put it out into the aether to see if anyone else could use or adapt or improve it to the requirements of their own school!

The document itself (with the relevant formulae) is here:

(Anonymised) Proposed Setting Arrangements

 

We have less than a week with Year 11 left in our school!

For some, that is a cause for celebration; others of emotional goodbyes; for yet others, it is a moment of terror asking themselves “Have we completed the course yet?!”

And with the OCR deadline for CAT marks looming on Wednesday, this is the weekend when finally and completely it is possible to say to all our students:

This is where you stand. These marks are safe and banked (subject to external moderation).

And it is – broadly – possible to take the next step and say (with all the caveats and warnings about Ofqual, Michael Gove and grade boundaries after the GCSE fiasco last year)

These are the marks you need to get this grade overall.

marks left to grade boundaries

I am basing the maths here on the June 2012 OCR Grade Boundaries for raw scores which can be found here. I ummed and ahhed about perhaps adding a couple of marks to the boundaries to insulate us against the vagaries of Ofqual… but I decided that there was little to be gained from trying to second guess what appears to be a particularly volatile set of politics so left it as it was.

With the additional tweak (a particularly geeky and SLT-friendly tweak!) of colour coding on a scale of 0-80 in English and Language and 0-40 in Literature, we have a nice visual record of who is more and less likely to obtain the A and C grades. Thanks to Excel, the deeper the shade of green, the closer the student is to the boundary; the deeper the shade of red, the further away they are.

We also put our students doing Literature in to take the Prose from Other Cultures examination in January. so the final two columns simply compare the scores required to get a C or an A with what they obtained in January. Again, it is colour coded: green shows that they need less than they obtained in January; red shows that they need to raise their game. The deeper the shades of colour reflect how far from their January achievement they are: a nice deep green suggests that they need actually far less than they obtained in January to reach that threshold; a deep red suggests they need to up-their-game a lot!

If this would be useful to anyone out there, the (appropriately anonymised) document is linked here with the OCR grade boundaries.

(Anonymised) Marks required in exams to obtain a C

Students at this point respond very well to conversations that go along the lines of:

“Look, you only need 38 marks for a C”

“You need less to get C than you got in your last exam”

“You only need 27 for a C. But you could get higher!”

Those conversations seem more positive than “Well, I suppose it is mathematically possible”!

KS4 template

It’s that time of the year again… when I revisit the Departmental Database and wonder how it could be developed and improved.

And this year, in addition, how to include the iGCSE into the growing range of qualification that we are offering.

So, last year, I was using a fairly basic =IF formula to compare the scores given by teachers into indicative grades. It was a little clunky and a little ‘Heath Robinson’ but it did the job.

This year, I am intending to use =VLOOKUP formulae to look the score given up in the table of grade boundaries on a separate sheet. It has taken a bit of time just inputting the grade boundaries (each possible score in each element of each qualification needs a grade allocated to it.

vlookup

 

Once done, however, the hope is that it will be straightforward enough to simply fiddle with and amend the grades accordingly. Obviously, the =VLOOKUP will amend itself according to the data entered on the lookup sheet. And alterations in grade boundaries can be applied and grades amended according to the changes in data that we have.

In terms of staff inputting, all I need will be the score for each Controlled Assessment or mock exam. With judicious use of protected cells and suspicious passwords, that should in fact be all that the staff can do.

Their “dashboard”, if you like, will look like this:

database template

 

Obviously there will be a range of data to be inputted for each child to track vulnerable groups, pupil premiums, intervention groups, withdrawal groups and accelerated groups – we have a tendency to generate five or six overlapping lists of students which no-one has any real overview of! – which can be done in anticipation of the start of term.

The database should also add up and / or average out scores for individual tasks to create the final figure to be entered into the OMR at the end of Year 11.

It should also be able to identify students whose Controlled Assessments pull down their raw ability; students who underperform in exams; students who might benefit most from specific forms of intervention.

One other item from the PiXL Club main conference that I liked was what I have dubbed micro-tracking.

This database is a broad-brush, specification wide tracking system. I intend to supplement it with a range of micro-tracking databases that track students’ success in individual exam questions to track their ability to perform certain skills rather than overall. A revision session on summarising skills for a select group of individuals persistently falling down on that skill will be more effective than a revision session on the OCR Information and Ideas Examination or the iGCSE Paper 1 or 2 which only touches on summarising. The same goes for directed writing skill, analysis skills, language skills, presentational devices responses or imaginative writing.

Additional sheets can be added at any time which could record mock exams on a question-by-question basis and a formula can easily add those up and record them in the main database.

Obviously, getting antiquated and somewhat Luddite staff to actually complete the database is another matter!

Yesterday was the PiXL Main Conference.

PiXL – for those who don’t know which included me until recently – stands for Performance in Excellence and is variable described as a club or a family by those who are fully engaged! Broadly, in its own words

The PiXL Club is a collaboration of school leaders, headed by Sir John Rowling, this is a club that some have said to be “the best thing they have seen in education”.

The PiXL Club is about sharing new ideas with school leaders; it is a partnership of focused, determined and dedicated professional practitioners. It is a not for profit organisation that focuses on supporting and developing the GCSE results of thousands of students in many schools across London, the South East, West and the North.

Their own website is here and no doubt describes them better than me.

Up until yesterday, my only real knowledge of PiXL was that the plan to dual enter Year 11 into UK GCSE and iGCSE had derived from them. A plan that I actually disagreed with vigorously for the majority of my students: the iGCSE is only valid with a Literature grade, and, for historic reasons, we have a large cohort of C/D students not taking Literature.

So I was a bit of a cynic.

For a national club starting a conference in London at 0930 “prompt” also militated against them: I had to get up at 5am to get there! And still couldn’t physically be on time.

The conference location was spectacular: disembarking at Waterloo, I ambled past The London Eye, wove between tourists over Westminster Bridge, jogged past the Houses of Parliament and veered right by Westminster Abbey to reach Westminster Hall. The sun was shining, birds tweeting, Big Ben chiming, traffic grumbling (mainly at me as I’d abandoned the pavements to tourists and was scuttling along in the road itself).
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Being a tad late, the conference had begun and I was bereft of the customary small talk with strangers (not a huge loss) and coffee (a keenly felt loss!). And the hall atmosphere was… Odd. The closest analogy was to a Billy Graham rally I went to as an impressionable youngster… a rapt audience applauding loudly, a passionate speaker with a clear zeal, a very definite message about the right way to do things.

Inspirational for many I’m sure; over-zealous, pushing towards evangelical for me.

And being a mite perverse, I balked a little. The temptation was to sit there, arms folded, cynical sneer on the face…

However, there was a good deal of sense being delivered – yes, delivered, not discussed – there was no time for discussion points or questions: it was very preachy.

But some excellent practical advice in there: it’s still not too late to do additional Speaking and Listening; manage the exam day sensitively and carefully; provide spare equipment, water and cereal bars rather than relying on teenagers to bring their own; continue to focus on intervention.

There really was a strong ‘can do‘ attitude.

Although the ‘you can do staying at school until 8 in the evening‘ attitude did not chime well with me!

Lots of acronyms were thrown around DTT and D3 and L5 which I think I got a handle on eventually – good example for the effect of jargon in a future language lesson? – and there really was a sense of a homogenised and perhaps formulaic PiXL way of doing things. And an implicit suggestion that you were missing something if you did it differently. There are only so many times you can listen to “why reinvent the wheel” before you start hearing “thou shalt”.

However, overall, despite some concerns over philosophy and language, there was much said that was sound and despite my natural cynicism and the 5 am start it was somewhat energising.

I’m now also able to access the cloud-based resource sharing on a platform named Huddle too – again somewhat put off by the name that brings to mind repressed memories of rugby games and sweaty male bodies…

I do have one gripe though. And I know it will come across as extraordinarily petty and small minded…. but then I never pretended to be otherwise. Food. Beef cobbler. Hot food. On a plate. With nowhere to sit, perch or lean on. I ended up with a plate in one hand and a glass in the other – because I didn’t trust the flimsy wobbly glass holder clipped to the side of the plate! – and nowhere to eat it! And the beef was really gristly!