Archive for the ‘Management’ Category

In the final throes of marking coursework for the iGCSE Unit 4 in preparation for the November exam, I felt the need for a break. Three days of a poorly baby and 2-4 am feeds have taken their toll! More on the beautiful Mrs P than me, but their toll has been taken!

So I thought I’d share the tracking spreadsheet I’ve come up with.

It’s pretty straightforward, to be honest.

I’m simply recording the score given for Speaking and Listening (out of 30) Reading (out of 10) and Writing (out of 40). There are an additional 50 marks up for grabs in the exam.

I’ve found last year’s grade thresholds. These are out of 125 whereas according to my maths the raw marks add up to 130 but it doesn’t take too much to convert the C threshold of 72 / 125 into 75 / 130; nor the A threshold of 93 / 125 into 97 / 130 raw marks.

If I get the computer to then subtract the total marks so far from the thresholds to indicate how many marks are needed from the exam to achieve either threshold. In order to build in a bit of leeway, I’ve also got the computer to generate a best and worst case scenario to create a target range for students. Best case scenario is 2013 grade threshold x 95%; worst case scenario is 2013 thresholds x 110%.

It’s working out that some of our C/D borderline kids only need between 11 and 13 marks out of 50 to achieve a C!

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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.

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:

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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”!

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!

I was asked on Thursday – whilst undergoing a very personal procedure – how I motivated a Department.

The answer might be this:

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Spending hours baking millionaires’ shortbread for them all!

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No soggy bottoms either!

The recipe can be found here if anyone wants it.

Look good enough to motivate us to the drudgery of KS4 moderation, new Programmes of Study and data entry?