Twenty years of teaching…

I saw this advert today and it made me think of how things have changed in over twenty years of teaching (it’s 22 years since I completed my PGCSE but who’s counting?)  When I entered teaching there was little accountability and consequently teachers didn’t deal with data at all, no predictions, no targets, and no four levels of progress.

So what else has changed in twenty-two years of teaching?


I was fortunate to get a ‘golden hello’ for training to teach balanced science (which paid for me to buy a PC to play Doom on!)  There was strong competition for science teaching posts, quite the opposite of what we see now, although even then the biologists outnumbered the physicists and chemists.

Teaching styles.

When I entered teaching expectations of both teachers and learners were significantly different to those we have now.  I remember a lesson I taught during my PGCE where one of my mentors praised some notes that my students copied off the board.  Fast forward over twenty years and teaching methods have moved on to the point that copying notes has been left firmly in the past.  Instead, there is an expectation that students work as independently as possible with ALL students making progress.  There is far more attention paid to how students learn and to the sharing of strategies and new ideas.


The National Curriculum tests were the worry of every year 9 teacher, would you get the right students to level 5 (and would they go on to get a C!)  When I started teaching we gave predicted grades at A-level but GCSEs were prediction free.  Students didn’t have targets and they, and not the school or teachers, were held accountable for success/failure.  I’m sure many students didn’t reach their potential but at the same time schools weren’t judged or compared based on their GCSE success.


I remember my first inspection in 2001.  We had six weeks notice so were able to plan for the inspection (my lesson plans were written weeks before the inspection) and inspectors were in school for the whole week. Many more lessons were observed and the system was far less streamlined than now (the reports were extremely lengthy and reported on individual subjects as well as the school).


School funding has been through numerous cycles of boom and bust.  When we had a Labour government there was plenty of cash but much was spent on the National Strategies with questionable impact. Conservative governments always seem to cut fundings and salary increases have always been kept to a minimum.  Salaries haven’t increased an awful lot whilst teachers pension contributions continued to increase whilst the pay freeze was in effect.


I remember teaching a student nearly twenty years ago who kept forgetting his swimming kit. Threats were ineffective so a girl’s swimming costume was found for him to wear instead.  Unfortunately, it didn’t have the desired effect (he loved the attention) but attitudes have changed for the better in the meantime.  We are now more inclusive and equality a feature of most schools but the existence of schemes like Stonewall School Champions would suggest they have a way to go.


There have been so many changes – social media, the rise and fall of the GTC, and several iterations of the National Curriculum.  Teaching may have been more fun years ago, but I prefer the professionalism that we have now.

What changes do you remember over the last 20 years?


The frustration that comes with the wrong assessment method

I’ve mentioned before that I train with a dog group.  The class is divided into classes from one to four, with dogs moving up a class when they are proficient and pass a test.

My dog has special needs and is extremely nervous around strangers, to the point she runs away from people she doesn’t know.  She’s reached the point where she is comfortable training with the people in my class but there are still a lot of strangers at training in the other classes.

Jasmine has demonstrated mastery of all the skills required to move to the next class and this has been observed by several of the trainers. Unfortunately, the club rules state she has to take a practical test which is observed by a trainer from the club.  Jasmine has what can only be described as a phobia of the lead trainer and so has panic attacks and runs away from him.

I’ve complained about the assessment method but the compromise put in place was only a minor change with the instructor stood a few feet further away.  Consequently, Jasmine is destined to fail each and every test that she takes.

So why am I writing about it here?  The feelings of frustration at being forced into an assessment method that doesn’t suit.  The feelings of failure when you can jump through what seem like impossible hoops. The feeling of experiencing an examination system that sets you up to fail. These are the feelings that my students have every day and after my experiences today I have a little more empathy with them.

Fortunately, I’m in a position where I can walk away from the training club (that’s my intention), but my students aren’t so lucky.  Spare a thought to your students with special needs and consider their needs and feelings at this time of year as they enter into a process from which they will come out emotionally battered and bruised, feeling like a failure.

The latest from Ofqual on 1-9


Whilst a bulletin was sent out to interested parties this week, there were no answers for teachers struggling to get to grips with what to tell their year 11 students (anecdotally I’ve seen less emphasis on predicted grades and more emphasis on what to do to improve their answers in schools).

The information did serve a purpose, and that was to remind me how my special school students have been let down by the system.  In the email we are reminded “New GCSE content will be more challenging” which is depressing for students who were struggling, because of their learning difficulties, to cope with the content of the old GCSE exams.

We are also reminded that the boundaries have changed, supposedly “The new grades are being brought in to signal that GCSEs have been reformed and to better differentiate between students of different abilities.”  What that means on the ground is that most of my students will fall within a two grade range rather than three. That’s hardly better differentiating between students of different abilities.

When you add these factors to the press (and government) talking about a grade 5 being a good GCSE pass and you can see why my students don’t want to take the exams.  They are made to feel that their achievements are worthless and that anything below a 5 doesn’t matter.

A government talking about expanding grammar schools has little interest in those students at the bottom of the ability spectrum, but for my students, the GCSEs are becoming less and less accessible with more exams for less recognition and lower grades.

(If you want to receive the 1-9 bulletins too you can sign up here)

Should I be feeling guilty about the amount of work I’ve done over the holidays?

I read a blog post earlier today by Debra Kidd about teacher workload and the impact it is having on teacher retention.  For those of you that haven’t read the blog post you can find it here.  I’ve found that as a teacher of 20+ years I’ve weathered the turbulent changes that have blighted education, but even my mindset has changed to one of “if I leave education” to “when I leave education”.  I tend to put in ten hour days at work (on top of my 50 minute commute) and have to work on evenings and weekends to keep up.  This isn’t unusual for teachers and it isn’t a moan – just a statement of fact.

guiltWhen I left school for half-term I packed up work to bring home (fortunately as my books were marked up to date this consisted mostly of exam coursework that needed marking).  I finished the marking by bed time yesterday which just left the mountain of tasks (policy reviews, emails to reply to, exam board risk assessments etc) and the minor job of planning my lessons for the next week (or even better the next two weeks).  At that point I started to feel guilty because I felt that I should have spent more of my holiday catching up so I didn’t have to spend the last day of my time off working (and I might even have returned to work with an empty inbox!)

I tweeted to my followers asking if there were other similar professions where you feel guilty for not working in the holidays.

I have to admit to being pretty surprised at the response I received.  The replies ranged from teachers in the same boat feeling the same, to those saying that holidays should be for resting rather than working.  At the time of writing this blog post over 100 people have retweeted the post and well over 200 have liked it.

I like to think that I’m an organised person (ruthlessly organised in fact) and that being a school leader I have more flexibility over how I organise my time.  I’ve never stopped before to question the culture of teacher workload as I’ve just regarded it as part of the job.  Unfortunately nothing will change until the day that we agree that long hours and excessive workload shouldn’t be just part of the job and that is going to take more than teachers retweeting my feelings of guilt to bring about a change.

I don’t have any answers but I can’t help but worry that the 30% of teachers leaving the profession within five years will rise as budgets (financial and time) become even more stretched…

Why I always say no thanks to Sainsburys’s Active Kids Schools vouchers


Whenever I fill up my car or interact with a human at Sainsbury’s I’m asked if I’m collecting the schools vouchers.  In years gone by I used to religiously collect them and vouchers from other supermarkets as well.

Now I see the scheme for what it is – a shameless ploy by a supermarket to drive traffic into stores and get positive publicity for doing so.  Schools all over my area have their banners out proudly declaring that they are collecting the vouchers and students are reminded to bring in their vouchers.  Some even have leaderboards to encourage parents to spend more.

The sad truth is that parents and carers have to spend an absolute fortune in store to qualify for anything worth having.  Of course small schools are automatically at a disadvantage, as are schools where much of the catchment can’t afford to shop in Sainsbury’s and prefer to shop at a cheaper alternative.

If Sainsbury’s were serious about getting the nation fit they would target the money they spend at schools in problem areas, with high levels of inactivity or that have poor diets.  I bet Sainsbury’s could even identify these areas from their Nectar card data.

Of course we all know that the vouchers aren’t really about getting children engaged in sport but are a shameless loyalty grab with some free publicity.  For that reason I always refuse the school vouchers when offered (and for the same reason my school are NOT collecting the vouchers).

Only by refusing them when you pay for your shopping will Sainsbury’s ever change their approach.  How do you feel about the vouchers?  Are you prepared to join me in refusing them?