What are we doing to our teachers?

As with any colleagues, once in a while you meet a young person, their eyes sparkling as they tell you ‘I want to be a teacher; can you help me?’

This still happens, it is great to see people you have helped develop themselves as fine professionals. Unfortunately it now seems frequently common that such fairy tales are not ending in the idealism they were initiated by…

Louisa is one such person, 30, has taught abroad but returned with her partner to continue her career on English soil (and to start a family). Her experience is wide and varied across cultures, when you mention her name, people smile, as do the parents of pupils in her class…(even Ofsted liked her!) she used to be a fabulous artist in her spare time, but now laughs at the thought of a hobby.

Last week she handed in her notice, ‘ I can’t see myself doing this the rest of my life, it is all consuming, I don’t have a life...;’She said that quitting felt liberating, ‘like the world being lifted off my shoulders…’ Louisa doesn’t intend to even work supply. Another teacher, lost… this seems to be an all too familiar story. These are the people destined, surely to be the future of the profession. You would rightly expect the odd one or two to fall by the wayside, but the fact that teachers are leaving in such numbers, really does need to be looked at. Something is wrong; could it be false martyrdom? Could it be the over expectations of our young? Or could it just be that the demands of the job are becoming simply ridiculous, especially if you intend to live life (in addition to having a job) have a family and work hard.

Two weeks ago we interviewed 5 people for a mini supply pool shared by 4 schools. We were blown away by the quality of applicants. Two were mums who felt they couldn’t be there for their own children, so had left full time education to be present more, for their families. All were passionate, interesting and eager to be valued. They have worked in school since and are doing a fabulous job. This feels like a loss for the overall school system…

50% of new recruits last less than five years, teachers and leaders are retiring at 55 in bigger numbers than ever. Louisa is not the only one who has had enough…. Ironically, although work-life balance appears to be a current theme in educational circles , there seems to be very little common sense advice. The generic directions offered quite often by people who live and breathe the job.

The conversations need to be real, with real people who have to pay mortgages. Teachers should want to be there for their own children, as much as the children they teach. Simple answers are rare in education.


Requires Improvement…Lepper or Revelation?

The last time we were RI was 14 years ago, (Had every grade other than inadequate) our school has improved considerably since that point in time. ‘Why RI?’ People ask me; ‘Ofsted, linear, progress attainment,’ nope excuses are no use to anybody. I could point to our transient population, the fact that our population is 30-40% different by end of KS2. We are accountable for children that were with us for as long as 5 days. Apparently, it doesn’t work like that anymore… no point in moping about, you just have to move forward…

Experienced staff see it as a new set of rules/judgements, the ups and downs of an ever changing bean counting system. Younger staff personalise, blame themselves and some are more gutted than others. I have had quiet words with each and have told them how they are valued.

Nobody has died, but attitudes of people are saddened as the audited language of an Ofsted is not understood by a large percentage of its audience (especially in more deprived areas) The bland paragraphs that outline the best aspects of school leave a lot to the imagination. They are largely ignored as people naturally focus on the negative. People love the sensationalism, especially those that only seek the misery in life.

The good that that has come from our situation does however outstrip the negativity that an OFSTED brings. Numerous parents have knocked on the door offering to help, we now have a new set of volunteers and some new governors!

Heart felt anecdotes of how we have helped children have cheered up both myself and others. Many parents have made it clear that they simply wanted to express their support for school and the staff that work within. I am sure this is not what the lead inspector saw as an outcome, but it is good to hear positive things for a change, when usually our work tends to deal with the more negative aspects of people’s lives.

Goodwill is hard to achieve in a media obsessed society, the expressions of support; from people stepping forward and volunteering to be new governors to our fantastic parents consulting with MPs, collecting petitions and organising supportive events, is inspiring.

For myself, as an educationalist this means far more than and an accountability system that sometimes loses the human factor. Kids are not linear outputs of a spreadsheet and neither are parents.

Children leave our school numerate and literate, (even the stats say that) they are able to easily access the key stage three curriculum. Our most able do as well as any child in the country.

When you take time to account for what you truly achieve you realise that schools do an amazing job….we do an amazing job. Unfortunately as a school system we tend to value what we measure, we most definitely don’t measure what we value!

In the meantime we will move on, alter what we do in response to the current focus, the good bit is that we know that significant people (parents and pupils) like what we do.

When the chips are down, good people come out of the woodwork. They are better than the keyboard warriors of social media, because they are physically there. All I can say is ‘Thanks for the metaphorical hug’.

As for the school system: ‘Just tell us what you want and we’ll get on with it . Please however reflect on the fact that children aren’t widgets and the national vision for education is questionable…’

Lost Teachers

What started as a great idea ended up with both myself and colleagues questioning what is happening to some of our best teachers?

Having talked to numerous supply teachers that include ex headteacher colleagues who have lost their jobs, we decided to advertise and make our own bank of supply teachers. (Our current pool either got jobs or moved onto other things).

So we advertised. shortlisted down to 5 or so possibles and interviewed. Usually when you interview teachers there are always some that are most definitely not what they appear to be on paper. I was shocked at the quality and passion that all five hit me with. There are many reasons for not being in mainstream, but all five of our candidates were chiefly down to lifestyle choices.

One was an artist who had travelled the world was passionate about art, storytelling, music, drama, he exuded a passion for learning and was most definitely really interesting; but had chosen not to work on Tuesdays because on that day he did charity work helping homeless people.

Two mums who felt that they could not commit to full-time work because they wanted to be there for their own young children. They also oozed a love of teaching but were putting their own families first for at least a while.

The last two had been leaders, had worked in tough areas, loved working with children but had made a definitive lifestyle choice to go back to grass roots. They elaborated on ideas for projects that pupils would most definitely love.

Sometimes you just know that somebody is going to be fab in a classroom. Engagement, knowledge and passion is at the heart of being a good teacher.

We will use these people and they will be great. It does make me wonder however about the talent that is out there who seem to feel they do not belong in a modern day school. Pupils benefit from meeting interesting staff who have plenty to share.

A little bit of flexibility goes a long way and can benefit both people and schools.

Billy the Fish

Returning from the meeting with our new local authority leadership team, I was met with several staff busily mopping water. Little Billy, eight years old had once again flooded the toilets. Having locked himself in, he had removed clothes and expertly fed the toilet bowl, assuring maximum blockage (minus his Thomas the tank engine pants) This is progress and far better than hurting peers…. my deputy, distraught having had to cancel lessons for year six, stood frustrated at moving from education to childcare for a child who was basically repeating a constant and detrimental desire for control and attention.

Rewind my day 60 minutes and I was stood with colleagues comparing stories of school disruption particularly in younger years. We mused on the sudden increase in pupils who would have (10 years ago) been identified with issues well before starting school. Is this all new? Portage used to appear shortly before any SEND child entered Early Years,this rarely happens nowadays. Labyrinths of paperwork and a compulsory £6k bill for any extra funding await those that dare to seek support. The money has gone, pupils who would once have had specialist provision are now cast adrift in larger classes where teachers in ever increasingly moods of despair are doing their upmost to help all children (I remember that awful feeling of guilt 30 years ago with similar funding issues, in my class of 40….).

Funding (in the real world of schools) has regressed to what it was 30 years ago. With limited resources I am not sure what the future entails for Billy. Nowhere to go, only the tolerance of staff keeping him in school. Perhaps one day he might end up being a plumber? Hopefully he will offer a discount for then aged staff who have developed more grey hair whilst trying to help him amidst thumps and kicks to shins. What about the other 33 pupils in his class? Inclusion is a wonderful concept, but not when it damages the learning of others.

High needs funding is all but gone nationally (which is a disgrace), it would help though if our political leaders were honest about it, as opposed to the perpetual release of meaningless stats that have no relevance to the real world of schools…it is monumentally insulting to be commonly told ‘you never had it so good’ when all around us provision is decaying…

Apparently there are more teachers leaving the profession than entering, and of those that start, 50% leave within five years. Something is most definitely not right, but you only see the issues if you look for them.

Well Done Clem…..

I watched with interest as @clemcoady appeared on Cumbrian News carefully salting the paths of his school and fixing doors. As part of @Nahtnews media campaign Clem and his Cumbrian colleagues are championing an awareness campaign to make parents/ voters understand the fact that schools and leaders are at their wits ends trying to make budgets balance meet and still provide a quality education for children in our care. I smiled, as in that same week numerous colleagues had reported undertaking similar activities (including myself). A caretaking role is one of a number of jobs Headteachers and staff end up doing in order to save those extra bits of cash that we then spend on children.

Whilst watching Clem expertly deliver salt (I need to get hold of one of those machines!) it occurred to me that the number of jobs that have ended up at the doorstep of your local school is alarming. Many are due to funding cuts in other support services. In the past couple of years, both myself and staff have had to take on many new roles, none of which would be obvious to an outsider to education. Why should it be? After all we are all at home for four pm and have half the year on holiday…

At my own school, over the last year we have provided, (to the best of our abilities) Counselling for; domestic abuse, alcoholism, gambling, housing, unexpected deaths, young carers, marriage counselling, mental health of both children and adults..we have also taken on the role of: holiday inspectors,attendance officer, joiner, plumber, cleaner, arboriculture, social worker, bus driver… who knows what tomorrow will bring?

The fact is many of these services either don’t exist anymore, or are crumbling due to funding cuts. It is also a fact that people are desperate in many cases and every penny spent on inflated services or consultants is money unavailable for children and families. Do we really have a choice?

People need to say; ‘well done Clem, we really appreciate your contributions to a) keeping your school going and holding it together even though you shouldn’t have to b) Well done Clem for being there for children and families when support services are fading, if they are there at all….’.

Top Ten Tips for Keeping your Sanity

Top 10 tips for keeping your sanity

1 Dwell on positives rather than negatives.

Life happens. It how we respond to challenges that define us, if you focus on negatives they gain energy and become who you are.

Event x Reaction= Outcome

If we can learn to control our reactions we feel, we can influence the Outcome.

2 Appreciate who you are as a person.

Most people are really conscious of how others might perceive them. In fact the number of people who assume powers of mindreading is startling!

Why not get to know and feel good about yourself rather than compare yourself to the sometimes impossible comparative images our mind sets up!

3 Let go of the past you can’t change it.

People dwell too much on the past, you cannot change what has already happened, we also spend a lot of time wasting energy on future problems that might never happen! We worry too much about things we imagine or that which we cannot control. This becomes baggage ….like metaphorically filling a rucksack full of life’s baggage, it gets heavier and heavier until we can bare it no longer. Don’t worry about those things you can’t control.

4 Don’t become a part of someone else’s story.

People own their view of the world, it is so easy to get drawn into the worries and problems of others. By all means sympathise but when you empathise you take on board the angst of others and  become part of their story (emotions that did not even belong to you!) sharing problems is good, but learn not to own them.

5 Do not say yes when you mean no.

Have a vocab to say ‘no’, be honest with yourself.

6 Enjoy, laugh and smile!

We become our emotions. Our bodies are chemical factories that respond to external stimuli. By physically smiling more and/or laughing you release the following chemicals: Dopamine, oxytocin and endorphin levels in the human body (some people pay a lot for these drugs!)

7 Seek and hold onto friends

Whether you like the idea or not, people need people. Interaction with friends has been proven to aid longevity; find good friends and hold onto them.

8 Be present in the now.

Find a passion; think what defines you and makes you interesting to yourself, learn something new and take time to be in the ‘Now’ even if you are simply walking your dog…

Make sure you see the good things as well as the self-critical. (The lessons of Mindfulness are worth taking notice of.)

9 Recognise that:

85% of peoples’ perceptions come from how we look and present ourselves, only 15% of what we communicate is through what we say, learn to act, dress the part, play the part… as Shakespeare once stated ‘The world is a stage and we are all merely actors…. Very true… enjoy!

10 Be conscious of the language we use and seek to explore the impact of its varied use….

The words (and patterns of words) we use, control our thoughts and feelings.  By using the correct language we can influence both ourselves and others. Sales people use such techniques to hook you in…..(pattern of three).

And finally remember:

Retention and Recruitment

When the HMI informed the surrounding headteachers that OFSTED had been given the task of investigating teacher retention and issues with recruitment, she didn’t smile and apparently failed to see the irony of the announcement. Nobody said anything due mainly the possibility of reprisals.

I have worked with many teachers, my favourites are those that see their job as both a passion and vocation. As a parent, these are the type of people I want my own children to encounter and be enthused by. There is however an incompatibility with the modern system and my worry is that genuine teachers will either be driven out of the profession, or become so emotionally upset that they have to quit. Why do they get upset? Well the reason is that they care too much.

When we value what we measure rather than measure what we value, beliefs and passions are relegated to the scrap heap. The question is: Can you teach something when you know it is of little value to the pupil? If it is worthless and feels pointless, can you pursue someone else’s aspirations when you don’t believe in what you have been asked to do? I would argue that if you are a child centred educator the process would be like chewing tin foil.

‘Bean counting’ is one thing, but when it dominates every thing we do,say and deliver it becomes too much for many teachers or leaders to take.

We are haemorrhaging staff because the atmosphere of apparent accountability is toxic and sour to taste. People have never minded being judged, but it helps to be involved in the conversation. Dialogue only works if it is a two way process.