Saturday, 10 December 2016

Working at the Chalk Face

Five o'clock in the mornin'
I'm already up and gone
Lord, I'm so tired
How long can this go on?

The lyrics above are taken from Lee Dorsey's 1966 hit "Working in a Coal Mine."  I regularly and proudly inform work colleagues that I am the first male member of my family not to work in a coal mine.  For many years my dad, grandad and great grandad worked long hours for little pay; only towards the twilight of King Coal’s tenure did salaries and conditions improve to an acceptable level.  

Improving Teachers’ pay is dictated by central Government funding and School Leaders and Governors are making difficult choices as real term funding continues to decline. While budgets are declining the area where we can make a difference is the improvement of working conditions for staff in our schools.

The motivation for writing my first education blog was influenced by a sobering message I received from @thatboycan teach this morning. I wrongly assumed that most of my colleague Headteachers are serious about reducing teacher workload. I received the reply below:

"I wish I knew the exact percentage of school leaders who are serious about workload. Seems that teachers see it differently!" - Tweet from @thatboycan teach  10th December 2016

If schools are to improve, the simple truth is that school leaders have to look after their staff, and Governors have to look after their School Leaders. In the last decade, I have led two schools through rapid change and experience has taught me that schools improve if you have a stable and committed workforce all pulling in the same direction. I see other schools where retention is low, typically characterised by annual staff churn,  school improvement strategies failing to embed, and pupil outcomes with a high degree of variance.  There is also see a worrying trend of Headteachers and teachers, many years from retirement age,  suffering from burnout and leaving the profession. The pressures of the new curriculum, diminishing budgets and the debacle of the primary assessment arrangements have left many Teachers and Headteachers asking the same question as Lee Dorsey- "How long can this go on?"

Don’t Give Up!
I do believe that there is hope and the times they are a-changin.
The excellent communications from Ofsted's National Director, Sean Harford, dispels myths associated with school inspection. Dame Alison Peacock's #LearningFirst community is challenging burdensome assessment driven models for teaching and learning, and there are encouraging signs that Russell Hobby and his team at the NAHT are collaborating with the new Secretary of State and the DFE to build an assessment system that works for children and teachers. Even Sir Michael Wilshaw has  backtracked on his dismissive comments about teachers 'not knowing what stress is.'

In the paragraphs below I want to outline how at our successful school, Hartford Manor Primary, we have adopted supportive practices that are addressing the challenges of workload.

Family Comes First

Fifteen years ago when I was working as a Deputy Headteacher in a busy challenging school, a close member of my family experienced a serious health problem and was timetabled for an operation in the last week of the autumn term. I had arranged to be available for the day of the surgery and had organised my diary so that I could teach all week. Out of the blue, the Headteacher and a part-time colleague asked to speak to me. My colleague volunteered to teach my class all week, and the Headteacher agreed to cover the other class, this was an act of kindness that I remember clearly today.  There are times when the family has to come first, and it is the duty of School Leaders to encourage dedicated staff to put their needs before the schools in times of need.

What we do
·         During times of family crisis, staff can take a set amount of time off on paid leave. This practice has never been abused, and the goodwill generated benefits our children in the long term.

·        Staff can also request time off for their own children's life events: nativities, sports days, graduation, etc.

Flexible working
·        Teachers can take their PPA time working from home.

·        Teachers have requested reductions in hours to help achieve a greater work-life balance. Many of our teachers work four days a week.

After School Clubs
·        There is no expectation that staff will lead clubs throughout the year. We employ a range of coaches to enhance our extracurricular offer; this gives staff time to plan together. 

Planning and the Curriculum
·        As a two form entry teachers share the workload of planning.
·        Inspired by a  visit to the excellent @PennWoodPrimary, in Slough,  we are adopting detailed unit plans using Promethean Interactive Resources. Our aim is that all year groups plans will be recycled and refined each year.
·        The SLT do not monitor planning unless a teacher needs additional support.

Performance Targets
·        We have moved away from quantitative pupil progress and attainment targets during appraisal. Progress is judged throughout the year with regular learning walks, book scrutinies and talking to the children about their work.

Assessment, Marking and Feedback
·        Over the last four years, detailed written feedback in our school has been valued by school leaders and praised by Ofsted Inspectors. We were wrong!

In October this year, we reviewed  our expectations for feedback and marking see below:

Hartford Manor Five Principles of Effective Feedback

1.  The focus of feedback should be to further all children’s learning.

2.   Feedback delivered closest to the point of action is most effective.

3. Feedback is provided both to teachers and pupils as part of the assessment process and takes many forms including written comments, marking codes and verbal feedback.
4. All pupil’s work should be reviewed by teachers at the earliest appropriate opportunity so that it will impact on future learning. 

5. When work receives written feedback, it should be acknowledged by the recipient.

Instead of
The teacher
The student
Writing two stars  and a wish in mathematics

Uses next step feedback at least once a week. i.e., test base extension questions.
Responds in blue pen.
Writing written feedback for short burst writing and daily maths tasks.
Separates books using the codes:
 F- fix S- stretch and records  B for “Balance” where the assessed piece is recorded on an iPad.
Works in a guided group or whole class to secure the understanding.
KS1 Highlighting in green and pink at the end of the day.
The teacher T/A highlights “non-negotiable” errors in green during the lesson.
Responds by correcting a mistake.
Writing well done you have …..
Puts a double tick next to best parts of the students work.
Writes reasons for the double ticks in blue.
Writing the same explanation on every piece when the same or similar mistakes have been made.
Goes over the common misconceptions in class.
Pupil correct errors in blue.
Writing annotations and formative written feedback.
Uses annotations only.
Child writes the next step.

Workload surveys report that Primary Teachers spend on work average 60 hours each week, which is higher than the average weekly hours of the last coal face workers. School Leaders and Governors need to take action now if we are to avoid a recruitment crisis hitting our schools.

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