Time for a new beginning – why I resigned my post

I wrote recently about the workload problems faced by teachers and school leaders in small schools.  I also said that I had some soul-searching to do and some decisions to make.

As part of that process I spoke to ASCL (my union), I spoke to teachers (teaching and those who had left the classroom), I spoke to education consultants, and I spoke to my family and friends.  The outcome of my discussions was the realisation that something had to give, the realisation that no matter how much as I love my job that my health and wellbeing come first.  I also concluded that I was ready for a change, to take my career in a new (and yet undecided) direction.

Following the half-term break, I met my head and when it became clear that neither of us had a solution to the workload problem I handed in my notice to leave at the end of December.  I’ve been at my current school a long time, through ups and downs, through every grade on the current Ofsted framework and I leave knowing that I’ve done my very best for the learners I’ve worked with, but now is the time to look for new opportunities.

My current plan is to stop at Christmas and take stock, to reflect on what I want to do next and to start networking for the next opportunity. I’ve always thought of myself as a science teacher at heart and ultimately that is where my heart lies, but my experience as a school leader in a special school means I have wealth of knowledge and skills to share in the right setting or with the right audience.

I will continue to be a voice for the over-worked, for the teacher at the chalk-face (or should that be whiteboard face now?), an advocate for a better work-life balance as I find my niche in the current education system.

In the meantime I’ll be presenting at a number of ASE conferences, sharing some of my knowledge and strategies for working with SEN students so why not book a place and join me.

 

 

Why we went for Stonewall’s school champions – it’s about more than LGBT

We were recently awarded the Stonewall School Champions Silver award (only 8 schools achieved this recognition in the previous two years).  The award is relatively straightforward to apply for and doesn’t require much effort above and beyond what you should be doing already.

The award initially caught my attention working in a school in special measures, thinking it would benchmark the processes we had in place and help direct our efforts to improve. One of the core values of our multi-academy trust is inclusivity and we pride ourselves in encouraging our students to be as inclusive as possible.

To get the Bronze award the main focus was on policies and making sure that HBT bullying was addressed.  In addition, we had to make sure that LGBT awareness was incorporated into the curriculum and assembly programme.

The Silver award was a little more demanding and focussed on trans issues, and being prepared to treat trans students appropriately (e.g. asking how they would like to be addressed).  There was also a strong emphasis on gender neutrality – we have a gender-neutral uniform for staff and students, and gender-neutral toilets.

One of the most useful strands to come out of the School Champions scheme was the focus on gender equality.  Gender bias is embedded in so many aspects of our lives from the UK mainstream media through to Hollywood movies.  Stonewall encourages schools to treat all genders equally so that students who don’t identify with their birth gender don’t feel discriminated against or uncomfortable.

Stonewall aren’t the only ones considering how we can encourage gender equality.  The IoP has recently published helpful resources on inclusive teaching (inclusive of all genders) shown below, with detailed information for teachers on their website.

The BBC screened an excellent documentary called “No more boys or girls: Can our kids go gender free?”  which examined some of the ways we perpetuate gender stereotypes. Stories keep hitting the news related to gender such as Clarks shoes with their ‘Dolly Babe’ shoes for girls whilst boys got tough functional shoes with names like ‘Leader’

Thanks to a focus on gender through the School Champions scheme we no longer have boys throwing like girls and no longer is a woman’s work never done.  Instead, we have a level playing field where everyone is treated equally and have the same chances and opportunities.

We have the next generation of students in the palm of our hand. We influence them, nurture them and help to shape their ideas. I’d encourage more schools to sign up for Stonewall School Champions – in doing so you will be helping the next generation reach their potential regardless of gender or sexual identity.

 

The problem with workload in a small school

When I started my first teaching placement the leadership team was tiny, a teaching head and three (teaching) deputies. No extended leadership team and very few support staff. The exams officer was a teacher, the cover manager was a teacher, the pastoral team was made of teachers and the office was minimally staffed and yet the school functioned well.

Fast forward twenty years and the size of leadership teams has expanded well beyond this. A typical secondary school might have a head (possibly working with the CEO of a MAT), deputy heads, assistant heads, associate assistant heads and other leaders (with a variety of titles and job descriptions to match).

Unfortunately working in a small school means that there are fewer people with whom to split the workload. You can’t promote the whole teaching staff to SLT but there aren’t enough people to spread the workload between. I sat down this weekend and tried to recreate my working week using my school calendar, my emails (400 in one week), my printing log, my timecard and other systems we have at school.

What this told me is that my role as deputy head is very wide.  This week has seen me doing everything from teaching through to writing an emergency recovery plan should disaster strike.  My NPQH was extremely poor preparation for the breadth of the role in a small school but time for effective CPD is limited by time and finances.

My role includes

  • Teaching science 2.5 days per week (including 3 new KS4 courses in two years which I’ve had to write and resource from scratch) and no science technician
  • Designated safeguarding lead for the academy
  • Exams officer for JCQ centres (fortunately I don’t do the bulk entries)
  • BTEC Quality nominee
  • BTEC Internal verifier
  • Aim Awards lead – overseeing qualifications, doing entries, tracking progress
  • Aim Awards approved internal verifier (we have direct claims status as a result of my experience in this role)
  • NCFE administrator and internal moderator
  • Managing day to day staffing (including dealing with supply agencies) and reporting absences to HR
  • Responsibility for assessment across academy – assessment system, targets, tracking data, reporting to governors and regular meetings with data lead for MAT
  • Stonewall school champion (we are now a silver school)
  • Designated person for looked after children (attending and minuting PEPs, writing provision maps, overseeing LAC pupil premium)
  • Fire marshall (we had a fire drill this week, I had to do staff, student and visitor headcount when we evacuated)
  • Showing prospective parents around the school
  • Attending governor meetings – full governors and portfolio groups
  • Updating school website with statutory requirements – policies, logos, updates, governor minutes
  • Public relations – updating school website and writing press releases
  • PSCHE lead for the school (write scheme of work overview and assemblies rota, British Values)
  • School SIMS expert – I’m the only one who has a functional knowledge of Nova T6 and cover manager, InTouch etc.
  • Other SLT roles – learning walks, link meetings, school improvement overview, speaking to parents etc

Writing this list makes me appreciate what a broad and extensive skillset I must have to be successful in my role.  Unfortunately, the number of roles that I am expected to cover means that I can’t dedicate much time as I would like to each one and I become a jack of all trades and a master of none.  After six years in this position, the time has come for me to make some important decisions about my future, in a job that I love but can’t do justice to.  What makes it even worse is that I’m not the only one in this position and there must be thousands of teachers and leaders in small schools grappling with the same decision.

 

Photo © Sarah https://flic.kr/p/cFmBrE

 

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?

Recruitment

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.

Data

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.

Ofsted

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).

Funding 

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.

Professionalism

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?

 

Book review: Specific Learning Difficulties – What Teachers Need to Know by Diana Hudson (2015)

I came across this book at an ASE event as it was part of their book sales. A quick flick through told me I needed to have a better look so I blew my Amazon Prime no-rush credits (if you have Amazon Prime you’ll know what these are!) and bought the Kindle edition.

I was very nearly put off the book as the first chapters talk about being right and left brained, and about VAK.  For those of you who don’t read around, these theories have been discredited and put out to pasture.  (This would be a good time to plug the excellent Naked Scientists podcast again who have an excellent piece on this myth here)

If you skim over the dodgy neuroscience in the first chapters you get the nuggets of gold that are useful to the mainstream classroom teacher. The book goes through a variety of specific learning difficulties and identifies the traits of each one, and strategies that the teacher can put into place.  Experienced teachers (especially those of us who work in the SEND sector) are likely to be familiar with most of the information in this book but it does serve as a useful refresher with the information in one place.

Should you buy this book?  It isn’t a science book and is useful for teachers of all subjects (although it has a stronger secondary bias than primary). If you want to know more about the specific learning difficulties covered in this book (e.g. dyslexia, ADHD, ASD) then it might be worth picking up a copy, similarly, if you want a handy reference guide (PGCE tutor) then this could be for you.

The book is £9.50 for a paperback copy for members from the ASE bookshop (I know a lot of my followers are members).  If you aren’t an ASE member then the book is currently £11.40 from Amazon (£8.96 on Kindle)

There’s also an interview with the author here.