22 Aug

Can Ed Tech save our schools?

Spoiler: no!

Hinds calls for Ed Tech Revolution  in Schools 

Education Technology is something of a hobby of mine. Trying new things in the classroom is something I enjoy and, as the head of a small school that is isolated, utilising technology to the best of our ability has definitely saved us time and money. It is with some cautious optimism then that I read Hinds latest proclamation. Technology in the classroom can provide genuine educational experiences that bring to life curriculum areas – it does support good assessment practice and it can be used to provide targeted support to those children who may need it.  Then I read a bit more of his ideas and I really want to remind him of some key points… 

Education Technology companies are not the best placed to ‘bring tech’ to schools. You never start with the tool and create the problem to fit it. If there is a problem you have – then fine – but do not ask  ‘ed tech companies’ to look at how they can solve problems in the classroom. This way lies lots of wasted money – interactive whiteboards are probably the best example of this. There are definitely some fab examples of interactive whiteboard use up and down the country, but many would be fine as just a projector.

Technology does not automatically save on workload.  In fact school leaders should be reminded that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This is the issue with electronic assessment systems, or online feedback ideas – often they work for one teacher who may need something, but for those teachers who had a system already they just add to the workload. Forcing all teachers or all schools to follow the same system will not save on time and will add to the very increasing list of training to do. In a school with problematic internet access then it will just slow down even more if a cloud based SIMS system is used. Schools that rush in with technology will suffer with teachers who are not confident and leaders who don’t have time to share their vision. 

New tech always cost money – regardless if the actual ‘product’ is super cheap or even free. Laptops need to be upgraded regularly – those desktops that still run on Windows XP need to be discarded safely – headphones disappear and get broken – licenses for anti virus need upgrading. Internet costs reviewing regularly and so on. You can never really on cheap IT solutions and schools do not have spare money sitting around to make these ‘solutions’ work. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve written about apps I’ve used in the class, I’m a fan of MOOCs and I regularly take part in online coaching, mentoring and training. There can be no doubt that edtech has made some real improvements to the availability and ease of use of education. But the Education Minister needs to be aware that his words will give sales reps up and down the country the freedom to push more yet unwanted rubbish onto schools. The answer to all of this of course is for the government to stop tinkering – to put their efforts into raising the funding schools receive at the base level rather than added extras and incentives. To allow those best placed to decide what to do with their resources and how to use technology. 

Of course, this whole announcement does not really come with any money, but it gives a message to tech companies that schools need something that do not. And it means that school leaders feel under pressure to be doing something with ‘edtech’.

 

27 Jul

Why every new Headteacher needs a mentor.

It’s that time of year again, July draws to a close and though we plan August, we inevitably start to think about September. We contemplate new positions and, as is only natural, we seek advice from those already in that position. I’ve been fortunate enough to have four years in my first headship position now and I always read those ‘new to headship’ advice columns with a wry smile. Of course get to know your school, yep, you need to build your team. Spend time in the classroom – every classroom -and naturally ask questions of your governors. And do all of this at a slow pace. No point at all in rushing. All of this seems to make sense.  One thing often overlooked is the importance of a mentor. 

I have always sought out mentors. And I’ve always asked, using that language, if someone will mentor me. I don’t always connect them with my current role but they are always people think differently to me – have a different outlook or a different attitude. To that end I think you should search out your own mentor as a new head. I don’t think using your own previous headteacher would work, as the chances are you have already learnt their mannerisms and know their advice automatically. They may also be super busy, and you need people who can commit to a regular time and don’t clock watch too much.

As a new head, ask your governors to shortlist people who may be able to help. Work out what your needs as a mentee are – do you want someone with precious experience in the role? Someone who can offer specific experience -e.g. financial aspect or local knowledge. Perhaps you know someone who you think would be perfect already? In which case ensure that it is a formal arrangement – it can’t just be a friendly chat. You need to feel safe, and feel that you are supported.

  • Set a regular time to meet
  • Discuss boundaries with phone calls (or ’emergencies’)
  • Make sure they have the time- this is often what goes wrong with full time Headteachers.
  • Make your expectations clear – have you identified an area of your role that you are not as confident with?
  • Protect the mentoring time – no matter how busy you are. You need at least half an hour, and it can be via the phone.

On a more personal note, my mentor sadly passed away this year. It caused me to reflect both professionally and personally on the gains from this relationship and just how fortunate I was to find such a brilliant influence on, not just my career, but my life as a Headteacher. An exceptionally calm and stabilising influence – able to condense experience into optimistic advice which made sense, not just soundbites and platitudes. Not necessarily someone who everyone agreed with, but principled and with a long view who could bring things into perspective when needed.

I identified that my need would be more about my own reaction to adversity – I needed a calm and experienced voice who would help me to realise that what I was tackling was, usually, nothing out of the ordinary. I didn’t need someone to remind me to check data; to ensure the website was Ofsted compliant or that progress was good. I was doing all that to myself already. Looking back at my first couple of years as a Headteacher I realise just how important that calm voice was. Our regular meetings (no matter what else I was dealing with) were incredibly supportive and, importantly, made me realise that I had to look after myself.  

It is hard in our profession to make space and time to reflect, especially with another, just as dedicated, professional, but it is a habit worth forming. 

10 Apr

Why I’m not sure about a women-only NPQH.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. I’m worried this will be a step backwards for equality and understanding – a short term gain that will only fuel the misunderstandings and lack of empathy.

There have been excellent articles written (see links below) which outline some of the key reasons. The need for role models and mentors is something I constantly struggle with, although I have had excellent role models from both genders during my career. I understand how tough it can be for women who never get that ‘tap on the shoulder’ – for women who are ignored. A need for a meeting of sympathetic mothers who are struggling with the same issues; like-minded discussions around childcare and empathy at work. Or, how a female only NPQH will develop confidence, will cover the same content but will offer more female role models.

I worry we are shooting ourselves in the foot. After all female leaders will be managing men, and prospective male leaders will be managing women. Issues such as childcare and managing time need to be discussed with both genders, preferably at the same time, so reactions and experiences can be shared. Conscious and unconscious bias need to be a part of leadership discussions for both genders – again in a surrounding where dialogue can be shared, can be monitored, ensured that both genders are heard. Prospective leaders need to know the impact of decisions and need to understand these issues – these are issues that need to be in the NPQH full stop, and it is here that efforts should be maintained. We risk the view that these issues become female issues – or that women won’t discuss them with male leaders and male staff. Leadership training, much like good PSHE provision in school, should offer space for these areas. Not close them off. If this pattern is followed would the result be single-gender cohorts for all?

Of course I’m not saying that mixed gender NPQH misses out these things – it may do, of course, which is an issue in itself. More than that however there may become a perception that a female only NPQH will do ‘more’ of these issues. We will create a female-only space that is discussing things that directly affect the men we lead and the boys we teach. Women will then be forced to choose – a course which seemingly supports and challenges these, or one which doesn’t?  The offering of female role models is also problematic to me – as experiences differ vastly from one person to the next – looking for a role model which reflects to closely your own experience is, I feel, a mistake. Inspiration is needed from everywhere and we all need to recognise the challenges; not just gender, but class, geography, family etc etc that we all experience. If you narrow your world view, you narrow how far you can go in it. My most empathetic and challenging mentor was male and I credit that ‘tap in the shoulder’ that nudged me forwards to a brilliant female Head Teacher. Likewise I have seen leaders of both genders belittle and devalue their staff.

Headteachers need the confidence to speak up, in front of anyone regardless of gender, this is true. It is also true that situations occur where women feel their opinion is not valued, where we have to support one another, echo others’ thoughts and generally ‘keep an eye out’ for one another. Whilst the WomenEd 10% braver mantra goes some way to developing this, developing leaders need to meet others who handle difficult conversations differently, regardless of gender. Learn from the experience of others. Leaders will always have to tackle difficulties and leadership training should help with this. For all candidates. It may be the case that male candidates need support with this or need support to recognise any unconscious bias they may themselves be displaying. It may that we need generic bias training for all leaders – including volunteers such as governors – but I don’t think a female only NPQH will help with these broader issues. It may indeed hinder the experience of those who only draw on female voices, missing the issues that men experience as they go through the process.

I am open to convincing though – and would love to hear others’ thoughts. I don’t think we can say that men can’t have an opinion, though I haven’t seen many. We need to build a professional qualification that is fit for the future rather than echoing current mistakes. Calling out those leadership course that don’t offer a range of empathetic voices.

Links:

TES Article

Hopeful Headteacher Blog

Julie Hunter – Why a Women Only NPQH

 

11 Feb

The Farce of KS2 Writing Moderation….

I have moderated writing assessments at Key Stage 2 for at least 7 years – I’ve always jumped at the chance because:

a) it’s great for your school to be certain

b) it makes sense to keep up with the changes and expectations

c) I always enjoy the chance to support other schools.

And it does feel like you’re supporting schools, across the four different Local Authorities I have worked it is clear that no one wants to catch others out and no one wants to put teachers in an awkward situations.

Through the years I have seen it all; the obsession with semi colons; the specific genre types; the ‘work in other books’ phase; endless conversations about independence. When moderating there can be a kind of defeatist, ‘us against them’ atmosphere, but we are usually aiming high, usually looking to get the best from our pupils. It’s never felt quite as pointless as it does now. It’s never felt as if we are just trying to get as many children to pass a line that keeps moving. And it is pointless, and really, kind ofembarrassing.

We are now at the point where ‘independent’ has gone out of the window. Spellings from a set list (so get them up in your classroom folks!) – handwriting can be evidenced elsewhere (so let’s do some special writing in your handwriting book…). Dictionaries encouraged and no specific guidance on number of pieces or type needed. So no writing in science…

Add to this the ‘particular weakness’ – presumably designed for specific SEN – but will now be used by any SLT under pressure to get results up. We are now at peak pointless moderators.

Let’s face it – writing results are only going to go up under this system and moderators are looking complicit. A system of teacher assessments moderating by teachers?! What could go wrong?

Let’s be clear that is going wrong.

Results will go up. Children will be writing more and more using a tick list that stressed out teachers are giving them: lists of words, different characters, the odd passive phrasing, punctuation all in place. Use a dictionary, ask a friend. edit work with an adult next to you and so on. All of it makes a mockery of reaching the expected standard. It’s not even the pupils who suffer – it is our professionalism which is confined to the bin next to ‘independent work’ and ‘author style’. Oh, and secondary schools of course, who will receive a set of identikit writers who have all reached a set ‘standard’, but have a particular weakness (with handwriting gets my money) need a dictionary to spell anything and fully expect the teacher to edit all punctuation errors.

21 Jan

Why I’m a Chartered College mentor.

I thought I would write this post whilst the launch day of the Chartered Teacher scheme was still fresh on my mind.

For those who don’t know, the Chartered College of Teaching was launched last year – with  the aim of giving teachers support, development and a voice. This has,obviously, not been without controversy -isn’t everything controversial these days? Regardless they have started down the path to that aim. Local hubs, conferences and of course their journal ‘Impact‘ – all of which create a space for teachers to read, share and then critique for themselves peer reviewed reports and other, hopefully evidence based, practice. Of course it is early days, and one thing we can agree on is that we are still all learning about what we want from our College.

Becoming a Chartered Teacher

The Chartered Teacher qualification then is about expert teachers in the classroom. It’s about recognising continuing professional development and giving teachers the chance to take ownership of their own expertise. On their site it says that they want to raise the profile of teachers and to support them to acquire the expertise necessary to maintain excellence in teaching.

This appeals to me. Fact is we don’t, as a profession, reward those who stay in the classroom. Continuing professional development is too often about leadership. Looking for excellence in classroom practice; exploring the impact and why it works is vital work. It is already done by those schools who know, but schools are not always the best at supporting teachers. And schools, especially in rural areas, become isolated. Workload is an issue; retention is an issue; we are still being kicked around the political landscape whilst government never really address our position. It makes sense then for us to do something ourselves. Something that supports classroom teachers – gives us pride and professionalism – and supports the development of excellent practice in the classroom.

But…

Of course there will be issues. It is a pilot. At the training day in London on Saturday, 20th Jan, this was discussed. We don’t want the first cohort to feel like guinea pigs, or to feel like their year ‘doesn’t really count’ – hence the amount of work that has gone in to the preparation for what the course contains. They talk about an element of subject, or stage, specialism and assessed pieces of work; the need for training for mentors. And the training indeed, part of being a mentor has meant that we have taken part in a series of four webinars and online discussion connected to these. Webinars with excellent speakers and vital discussion around such subjects as what we can bring to already experienced colleagues, how we as mentors can continue our professional developement and how (or if?) challenge can improve teacher practice. We also had sessions at the launch discussing expectations and aims. It has all felt very rigorous, thoroughly planned and exciting.

So, why am I mentor?

I firmly believe that we have to be the change we want to see.

I’ve spent many years bemoaning the lack of professionalism afforded to us by government, despairing when senior leaders demanded seemingly repetitive and beaurocratic tasks because it was demanded of them. As a class teacher I constantly looked for ways to improve my practice; disappointed by the disjointed training or the constantly political messages from union training. As a head teacher I despair at the messages w dare given from numerous sources and the way this adds to workload – how our teachers are not trusted and how a government change-of-mind can ruin my holiday and destroy my workload.

I’ve learnt that teachers need support, that we as a profession need to provide that support and that nothing improves your own practice than working with and mentoring colleagues!

We know this might not be perfect, but then it is never perfect and if we don’t just get started with it then it will be the next generation of school teachers (and our pupils) who suffer.

Find out more. 

13 Jan

Why we ALL need to improve recruitment and retention.

A new education secretary era begins – and the advent of a new education secretary alllows us to take stock of where we are and, more importantly, where we want to be.

Recruitment and retention is a huge issue right now.

One that impacts on education at all levels, and crucially, one that threatens to get worse as we won’t feel the full lack of trainees for a couple of years. Many open letters have been written, conversations had and suggestions put forward – pay raises, less holiday, workload ‘promises’.

We now need to take some of the responsibility for this crisis –  Local Authorities and MATs and the culture that we have all created – whilst the argument that it is (or was) OFSTED driven still hangs around there is much that schools can do now to help turn the tide. We need to act braver, take responsibility for our own work choices and trust each other. As professionals.

Perpetuating Our Own Myths

Ofsted released their own ‘myths‘ documents and subsequent updates a couple of years ago now. They are attempting to ensure that they are not unduly adding to workload, or to the stress on teachers. This has seen some effectiveness – leadership teams in schools seem to be taking this on – rumbles throughout the system suggest that marking expectations, for example, are being reduced. ‘Wellbeing’ – possibly a fair bit of hype with this, but at least a conversation is taking place.

Trust is the key concept here.

For schools to effectively tackle workload leaders of all types need to stop double and triple checking everything done and intervene only when there is need. Schools where planning is handed in before teaching and in some places after once it is evaluated. Schools where marking is checked weekly, where book scrutiny demand a minimum amount of writing each week, where assessment data is decimalised and expected every half term.

Don’t get me wrong – we need standards and we need to strive for our pupils but we also need realism. We need to encourage open conversation so that teachers feel they can query school systems, can make suggestions and, most importantly, ask for help. This kind of culture comes from the top. Cutting staff meetings, reducing marking expectations, demanding data less frequently are all side effects of this culture, but they don’t necessarily create it. To create this culture you need to announce it – you need to actually tell teachers they are trusted. Book scrutiny, lesson observations, pupil interviews – whatever forms part of your strategic calendar all need to take place in an open manner – with teaching staff involved, not just closed door senior teams. Teachers need to be part of the system, not just be recipients of judgments.

What can change tomorrow:

– your next ‘judgement forming’ action needs to be open and shared with staff. Why are you doing it? What do you want to see? What are the criteria.. etc. Etc.

– senior staff: try just taking the class for a lesson or series of lessons, best way to learn about standards, expectations, behaviour routines etc.

– if there is an issue, and you are looking to rapidly improve standards give staff mentors that they can talk to. Don’t just give a list of things to improve and then a ‘we’ll be back in two weeks’. Give the reasons why changes will impact standards.

– regularly review policies such as your marking and teaching and learning with teaching staff. Try to get honest impact assessments – what does it mean for pupils? What does it mean for staff time? Etc. Etc. Does consistency mean consistency or does it  mean a couple of staff members working all hours and some staf members only  doing what they know will be looked at? Be honest!

– not use performance management to set data targets for class teachers. Data is, after all, a school wide product.

– don’t demand assessment data half termly. No need at all.

Again, all of these things rely on trust – and until we as a profession can honestly, and openly, talk about colleagues with a sense of professional trust rather than bickering and distrust.