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5 things I never worried about when I taught in England

1: Wildlife
This winter we are told has been a perfect breeding ground for the processional caterpillar. With toxic hairs that easily take to the wind it is one of the most poisonous creatures locally. We go from caterpillar season into the summer when funnel web spiders and a variety of non-lethal but evil looking scorpions provide a playground distraction to any child armed with a stick.


Processional caterpillars

2: What’s for lunch?
Food is such an important part of Spanish culture and parents expect their children to eat all of their lunch. Lentils as a starter and fish as a main course provides a midday motivational challenge for any duty teacher. School dinners in the UK always felt like something functional, a midday fuel up to carry us through the afternoon. I’d be misleading if I suggested every day was equal. However, a day that starts with a chicken caesar salad, has a traditional Spanish rice dish such as “arroz al horno” for a main course and finishes with fresh oranges makes school dinner feel less like fuel and more like a dining experience.

Traditional Spanish rice dish

Arroz al horno – a rice dish made with pork ribs and blood sausage

3: Wind
A windy day in England meant that the children were a little more bubbly than usual. Teachers walked around with long faces muttering glib asides about animals and children “having the wind up them”.
The tiniest bit of wind in Spain puts us on tree watch. Mediterranean pines are notoriously fragile. Dry and top heavy, the slightest breeze can cause weighty branches to topple. In fact, there is a general preoccupation with weather. Rain, wind, cold and sun all bring their own concerns.

4: Food consumption
Spanish culture provides for five meals each day. A light breakfast in the morning, a mid-morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack and a dinner are considered essential pit stops in the working day. Ensuring all the children have been provided in the main meal of the day but also in the two snacks that take place in the school day is one of the most important responsibilities of the day.

5: Buses!
Each morning 15 coaches arrive at school. Each carries up to 58 children, many of whom will be clutching notes instructing which bus route they will be taking home. Maybe they are going to a grandparents house after school, or a family house in the mountains or by the beach. Other bus changes will be telephoned in to school during the day. The task of getting over 800 children on to the right transport is a complex nightmare that somehow seems to pull perfectly together in the last few minutes of every day.

And aside from all of the above we still manage to spend focusing on teaching and learning and making sure that each of the children gets a great deal from attending our school.

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Filed under Teaching in Spain

Workload – 5 facts about reducing workload

“Unnecessary and unproductive” teacher workload will be reduced. And yet, within hours of this news breaking the teaching profession are not showing the gratitude one might expect.
Here are the 5 most important pieces of information about teacher workload.

1: The average teacher works 50 hours per week. (Source: DfE).
This increases with responsibility. Promotions to middle and senior management bring with them additional hours. Any conversation about workload always sounds like sour grapes and there seems little public sympathy. Yes, the holidays are long but most private sector employees would categorically refuse to work fourteen hours per week of unpaid overtime. This is what the average teacher is doing every single week.

2: Teachers work long hours for two reasons.
Firstly, because they have a professional duty of care to do the very best that they can for their pupils. Much of the additional work is in preparing lessons and providing feedback just because teachers care.
The second reason is that many teachers work in a culture of fear. Fear of an inspection resulting in a category which could lead to losing their job. Fear of being overlooked for professional development opportunities or even a performance related pay increase because they have incurred the wrath of the senior management team. Fear of not having completed a particular form correctly or submitted it to the right body in the necessary time frame. Fear of delivering a ‘satisfactory’ lesson that now would be labelled “requires improvement”.
When the government announced a study into teacher workload it is the tasks that fit into this second category that teachers had hoped would be addressed.

3: What did teachers say was the most unnecessary and unproductive use of their time?
56% of the 44,000 teachers that responded to the government workload study said that recording, inputting, monitoring and analysing data was the most unnecessary and unproductive use of their time. Professional teachers like to be focussed on their pupils and learning. The next most cited workload issue (53% of respondents) was excessive detail and frequency being expected in marking. Neither of these two issues have been addressed by Nicky Morgan’s headline grabbing promises about reducing workload.

4: Teachers are leaving the profession because of the workload and stress
The number of teachers leaving the profession is at a 10 year high. The DfE is concerned about the number of UK trained teachers who do not get to five years of service. They are concerned about the numbers of UK trained teachers taking their talent overseas. Almost exclusively teachers leave because of workload and stress. Making workload more manageable would be the single most effective way the government could increase teacher retention. It would also help address the shortage of headteachers if workload changes also looked at what was being asked of middle and senior leaders in schools.

5: What has Nicky Morgan delivered in her workload promises?
The announcement that attracted so much attention in the news this week gave three promises.
– OFSTED will no longer change their handbook or framework during the school year, unless necessary.
– There will be no changes to qualifications during the academic year, unless urgent.
– There will be a bi-annual “large scale, robust survey” of teachers workload starting in 2016.
So, the first of the two promises carry the caveat “unless necessary” and “unless urgent”. The third of the promises is likely to involve teachers and managers in additional work as they administer the governments large scale survey into teacher workload. What will this survey discover that the current investigation with over 44,000 respondents did not? I suspect very little, although it may well involve a few million tax payer pounds that could be spent on pupil learning being diverted into the pockets of out of school office jobs.

Really, there is no workload reduction in any of the key areas identified by teachers. There is no effort to reduce stress caused by threats and distrust.

The good news for me and my colleagues in international schools is that it looks as though for the foreseeable future there should be a steady supply of excellent teachers looking to practice their profession overseas.

Click here to see the adverts we currently have running and apply now for a real change to your workload.

dog ate teachers lesson plan  Funny Mug by CafePress

Dog ate teachers lesson plan Funny Mug by CafePress

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Filed under Leadership in education

If I call a Ford Fiesta a Lamborghini Gallardo does it then go faster?

If I am disappointed with the speed my car moves will it go faster if I call it a Lamborghini Gallardo? Perhaps if I get it a shiny new badge that covers the old badge and maybe even give it a re-spray?

Over six hundred failing primaries in England are to be converted to academy status. That will be six hundred schools with the same children to educate, on the same sites, with often the same staff, teaching the same curriculum. Or will it? One academy in Bristol managed to dramatically increase the standards despite having the same site, staff and one would think the same pupils. However, a little scratching of the service reveals an admissions policy taking 80% of pupils from a more affluent neighbouring post code. The result I suspect is that those children who used to attend before the academy nameplate was nailed up are now being pushed out into LEA maintained schools and are disproportionately reducing the LEA results. Clearly then, academies work because in this area of Bristol the academy is considerably out performing the nearby LEA schools. Except, of course, nothing has changed. Taken as a big picture the standards in this area of Bristol have most likely not changed at all. Children are in different schools. Children working against social disadvantage aren’t affecting the statistics of the flagship academies, but they are still there, hiding below the surface, missing out on education because the real cause of low attainment was ignored in favour of a headline winning national strategy that now publishes the improvement that the local community wanted, even if that community are now prohibited from attending their local school.

Schools need to be allowed to focus on their core purpose, teaching and learning. Rebranding, even if it comes with a new letterhead, school badge, uniform or multi-million pound privately financed building can’t improve standards, at least not without a little behind-the-scenes manipulation, such as an admissions policy. Focussing on teaching and learning is what will improve standards.

It is refreshing to be able to sit back and watch developments in UK education with a critical eye before adopting them into school. Certainly I oversee the National Curriculum being taught in the schools that I lead but with the facility to dictate the ‘how’ from a basis of sound teaching and learning as opposed to needing to respond immediately to non-educators stipulating ‘how’ the education should happen.

Most effective strategies for school improvement focus on the process of learning and move away from the product. Why then is the UK determined to try and find a just method of measuring affectiveness of schools based on product. We can talk about value added, contextual value added, mix in some poverty factors, employ teams of mathematical graduates to crunch the numbers and convert the raw statistics into pie charts for the tabloids, but the real measure of schools comes from an evaluation of the teaching and learning. For that, the inspecting body needs to turn the focus away from judging teachers and look more closely at the learning taking place in school. I can make a judgement on the standards within a classroom fairly accurately and fairly quickly by talking with the pupils about their learning. I don’t need an analysis of how many are claiming free school meals, how many are diagnosed with a behaviour problem or what proportion of those pupils appear to move two percentile points when I look at the teacher assessment data. The teachers are responsible and must be held to account for the quality of their teaching but to improve schools we need to focus on the aspects of teaching and learning that have the most impact and not be pushed into manipulating statistics to attempt to demonstrate improvements.

It will be interesting to watch in a generation’s time and see whether or not the millions poured into the rebadging of ‘community primary schools’ as ‘academies’ has made a real difference to the educational attainment of the nation. We won’t be able to see that until a generation of pupils has been through their education and then we will discover the truth not by looking at the output of the academies in comparison to the remaining maintained schools, but by looking at all pupils and comparing to the previous generation.

In the meantime, I am happy to sit outside the direct influence of state controlled schools and lead learning that makes a real difference. Positions available in September for anybody needing to get back to real teaching. In the meantime, I am off to paint my car and rebadge it, just in case despite my cynicism, it can make a difference.


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Filed under Leadership in education