Tag Archives: primary education

My 2015 education manifesto

With the 2015 election looming the news is beginning to fill up with the policies that will form the manifestos of the main parties. I’ve responded here with my own education manifesto for 2015 and invite anybody else to do the same and publish in the comments section below.

First of all a look at the main parties and their big decisions. (Information available at http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-29642613)

Protect the school budget for under 16s but not increase with inflation. Convert an additional 3,500 schools that currently ‘require improvement’ into academies. Declare “war on illiteracy and innumeracy” by forcing schools that repeatedly miss floor targets for 6 year olds to convert to academy status.

Increase budget in England by at least the rate of inflation but not protect per pupil spending so much of the increase will be swallowed up by per pupil numbers. Compulsory sex and relationship education in all schools. Remove business rate tax relief from independent schools unless they have a “meaningful impact” on state schools by for example, lending their teachers. Double the number of Sure Start childcare places. Tighten up rules on primary class sizes to ensure that children are taught in classes of 30 or less.

Lib Dems
Protect the education budget from cuts. No promise to increase to match pupil number increases. Guarantee qualified teachers and a core curriculum set by independent experts. Compulsory sex education in all state schools including academies and free schools. More money for disadvantaged children and free childcare for all two year olds.

The first aspect of every main party policy on education is a carefully worded statement on budget. The current options are:
Conservatives: Fail as many schools as possible so we can convert them into academies as a name change will bring about higher standards.
Labour: Pour money into a scheme (Sure Start) that independent auditors have demonstrated made no measurable difference. Price parents out of independent schools and into state schools but not increase funding for these thousands of students.
Lib Dems: Change the curriculum, again, but this time with ‘independent’ experts on the case. Provide child care places for all two year olds thereby creating an influx of new organisations needing monitoring and inspecting.

Not much of a choice really and so I offer up my own 5 point manifesto for UK education.

1: Return to a degree only route into teaching
Teaching standards have been diluted by offering too many alternative routes into teaching many of which fail to provide the basic grounding needed in order to do the job well. Teaching should require a degree and a vocational element. This means a BA or BSC plus a PGCE or a BEd. People with a genuine passion for coming into teaching will be prepared to spend four years preparing for the position.

2: Reform OFSTED with a role to support schools in raising standards
Ever since Mr Woodhead headed off to “weed out” the 15,000 incompetent teachers he calculated were working in schools OFSTED has become a destructive force that is controlled entirely by the political party of power. The Office for Standards in Education should have a non-political role and should exist to advise on school development plans and support schools in improvement. A team of industry experts coming to observe how a teacher works should be a positive experience and an opportunity to learn from their experience. I would make OFSTED inspections about identifying priorities for school improvement but then following inspection would have the lead inspector work together with the head teacher to devise the school development plan, the effectiveness of which could be evaluated at the subsequent inspection. This would have the effect of making the teams smaller, the organisation cheaper and therefore it would be possible to have more regular inspections.
This new positive form of evaluating schools and leading improvement would still be able to deal with inadequacies. Where significant inadequacies were observed the inspector would have the authority to step into the school alongside the headteacher and work with the school to bring about sustainable improvement. After all, who better to lead school improvement in our weakest schools than our strongest heads in whom we have trusted the responsibility of evaluating school effectiveness?

3: Simplify and clarify the curriculum requirements
Let’s take a look at some of the current National Curriculum expectations.
“Pupils should be taught to understand both the books that they can already read accurately and fluently and those that they listen to by checking that the text makes sense to them as they read and correcting inaccurate reading”.
“Pupils should be taught to maintain positive attitudes to reading and understanding of what they read by recommending books they have read to their peers…”
The problems with these statements is that there is no rigour to what is expected and they are open to interpretation. The first statement is a part of the current National Curriculum orders for Year 1 and Year 2 pupils. The second statement is an expectation of pupils in Year 5 and Year 6. But at what level should the child be reading? This is left without definition and yet is surely the most important aspect of reading level. If a child reads “My first picture book” and recommends it to his friend is he already succeeding against the expectations for 11 year olds?
The curriculum needs to be a core minimum of information that we expect of children and organised by age.
Forget experts designing a new curriculum or politicians flying around the world to analyse the leading cities in the completely corrupt PISA rankings. Let’s just cut to the chase and decide what level of books children of each age should be able to read and what language structures they should be able to use correctly in spoken and written English at each age.

4: Insist on entry exams for all foreign teachers wishing to have their teaching qualification recognised by the United Kingdom
The current system is expensive and broken. All teachers with a teaching qualification from abroad can write to the DfE and have their qualification recognised. QTS is issued almost by return of post. I have interviewed teachers from Eastern Europe who cannot speak English but are fully qualified UK primary teachers with QTS in place and a DfE number as though they had completed their probationary year and met all the objectives expected of teachers in the UK.
I propose two examinations and a compulsory probationary year for any teacher wishing to be awarded QTS on the basis of their qualification from abroad. The first examination would be a high level English examination. The second would be a pedagogical examination similar to those used at the end of Initial Teacher Training. On successfully passing both examinations the teacher would be eligible to complete a probationary year in a UK school and only then earn their QTS status.
All of the above would be financed by the teacher applying in the same way as students from the UK are expected to finance their way through higher education.

5: Demand a broad primary curriculum with specialist teaching where required
Where necessary subject specialists should be used from an early age. Music teachers who teach instruments to pupils, art and PE specialists. The hidden curriculum needs to become a relic of the past. We should provide all students with high quality tuition in every subject and expecting the literacy and numeracy specialist to then deliver a jaw dropping tennis coaching session followed by a lesson in how to play a tuned musical instrument is expecting too much. From the earliest years of education children deserve some subject specialist teaching to improve the experience they receive in subjects that too often are marginalised in favour of ‘core’ subjects.

And so I step down from my soap box and invite discussion or even your own five point manifesto for education to be published in the comments box below.

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10 most effective ways to impact education

I get frustrated when teacher conversations and politician headlines about education ignore research.

Today Mr Hunt stole the front pages with a promise that under a new labour government infant class sizes would be capped at 30 pupils. I think for the electorate this may sound like a big deal. We have a sensation that smaller class sizes mean more attention for our own child which must surely be a good thing. But how much more attention. Let’s take a look at what that shift from 31-30 pupils actually means. With class time spent between whole class teaching and individual or group work, it is only the latter that is affected by a smaller group. Let’s assume that this accounts for about 60% of the working week and that a week in school is approximately 25 hours of teaching.
60% of 25 teaching hours = 15 hours
15 hours = 900 minutes
900 minutes shared between 30 pupils = 30 minutes per pupil
900 minutes shared between 31 pupils = 29 minutes per pupil

So, today’s headlines equate to some children winning nearly a minute of additional teacher time per week. Will that really change the face of British educational achievement?

It may surprise some people to know that lowering group size actually had less of an impact on pupil attainment than teacher subject knowledge! (Ability grouping and differentiation actually score even lower than reducing group size.)

Here are the 10 more effective ways of positively impacting a child’s education according to Hattie’s meta-study.
Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning

1: Student expectation
2: Feedback on performance
3: Metacognition
4: Sharing learning outcomes
5: Reciprocal teaching
6: Concept mapping
7: Teaching learning strategies
8: Self verbalisation and self questioning
9: Direct instruction
10: Peer influence.

And so we have ten strategies proven to be more effective at improving pupil outcomes than reducing group size. I guess though that a politician needing hollow sound bites to win headlines wouldn’t have so much success by promising to improve feedback on pupil performance. Until we actually stop the headline grabbing and focus on what is proven to make a difference then politicians are going to struggle to improve the British education system.

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Teaching posts and all the info. you need about teaching abroad

Teaching posts in Spain and the links that give you the information you need, all in one place.
If you have any other questions about living or teaching in Spain then please do post them in the comments box and I will reply.

Primary teaching post
Secondary English (plus humanities) post
Secondary Maths (plus science) post

As of 10th March 2015 the teaching posts above are now filled. If you are interested in applying for a teaching position in Spain please send your Curriculum Vitae together with a covering letter to: recruitment@ukteacherinspain.com

5 things NQTs should know about working abroad

5 things to know about renting in Spain

5 tips for your interview with an international school

Relocating to Spain with a family – a guide

Teaching in a British School in Spain – a FAQ

A comparison between teaching in Spain and teaching in the UK

Applying to teach in Spain – which school should you choose?

5 things I never worried about when I taught in England

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What Russian tennis tells us about talent

Is talent innate, a birthright awarded to the lucky few, or is it something that we all have if it is developed correctly? Given the right experience and opportunities can we all excel?

I remember, when training as a teacher, hearing a lecturer tell us that in our class every child was gifted. Our task was to discover in what field they were gifted and to provide the learning opportunities to develop in this area. Maybe this is true but perhaps talent works in different ways.

Spartak tennis club in Moscow has attracted attention as a result of success. Perhaps it is an example of growth mindset in action. Carol Dweck’s Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential explores why mindset is important to success and Spartak certainly relies upon the correct mindset. Let’s take a look at some facts about Spartak tennis club.

Indoors facilities at Spartak tennis club

Spartak tennis club, Moscow

– It is located on the outskirts of Moscow and has only one indoor court. For many months of the year the outside temperatures mean the only facility available is this one court.
– Three of the top six female Russian tennis players (four if you include the now retired Anna Kournikova) were trained at Spartak.
– Between 2004 and 2007 Spartak achieved eight players in the women’s year end top 20 rankings. In the same time the whole of the USA achieved only seven.
– Spartak has produced more top 20 players on the WTA than the whole of the USA. It has produced more top 20 players on the WTA than the whole of Europe.

But why? What happens to make such a small tennis club stand out. Two things took place here that cemented the celebrated position it now holds in tennis history. Firstly, the lady responsible for coaching took what was, at the time, a unique approach. Secondly, in terms of believing something is possible, success breeds success.

Larisa Preobrazhenskaya

Larisa Preobrazhenskaya – the mother of Russian tennis

The coaching strategy
The coach responsible for the success of Spartak was Larisa Preobrazhenskaya. She developed a system of coaching perhaps in part as a result of her limited resources. Where the USA and Europe were training tennis players by getting them into tournaments from a young age, Larisa was training their muscles. Working in a way that is now common in sports science she realised that a movement could become hard wired (or myelinated) into the brain if it was practised repeatedly. Her coaching strategy was to have her students practise the correct movement for playing different tennis strokes. The students practised in slow motion, with no ball and no game being played. They repeated for hours and with time increased the speed. Only when the students presented with sufficient skill to handle a range of strokes correctly did Larisa use tournament play in the training regime.
In effect, Larisa took the old adage “practice makes perfect” and honed it into “targeted practice makes perfect”. Why spend hours playing a game that might bring only a small amount of opportunity to play a backhand stroke down the line when you can practise that stroke a hundred times in a couple of hours? Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown explores this notion that with the right training talent can be developed. So, is talent simply a matter of the right training or is there something else needed?

Belief breeds success
The importance of self-belief is vital for success in any field. If you don’t believe you can excel then how can you dedicate the time and energy needed. By the way, if you’re still not sure how much time, 10,000 hours. Malcolm Gladwell identified that in any given field to become an expert takes 10,000 hours of practice. That is usually around ten years of dedication. (Outliers: The Story of Success).
Spartak suddenly burst onto the scene with the success of Anna Kournikova. In 2001 Russia had one player in the WTA top 30. In 2007 half of the WTA top 10 were Russian women. In fact, in 2004 the French open final between Myskina and Dementieva showcased an all Spartak final. (A tournament event that became quite common.)
This isn’t unique and talent pools develop elsewhere in the world when an exemplar succeeds and demonstrates what is possible. In 1998 Se Ri Pak from South Korea sank a birdie putt to win the US Women’s Open. This made her the youngest to win, the only South Korean to win, indeed, the only Asian to ever win the tournament. The result, within ten years South Korea jumped from having one player in the top fifty to having more in the top fifty than the whole of the USA. Ten years on and Se Ri Pak was still playing but now although still in the top fifty she was only the 14th highest placed golfer from South Korea. Her success gave belief to South Korean golf and that was the catalyst to a practical take over of the golfing world.

What does this mean for teachers
As teachers, this is important. It is science and it is proven but does it have a place in the classroom? I believe so and I believe there are two key points to take away.

1: Training needs to be targetted – don’t waste time on things that don’t matter
Do pupils have individual learning targets? Are they developing towards an achievable target that moves them forward? Do they understand what they need to do to improve and is it an objective that they can self monitor or, to put it another way, will they know when they have achieved success?

2: Belief breeds success
Using the correct feedback, praising effort as opposed to the child or the attainment, we can develop a belief. Call this what you like, Mindset, confidence or self-belief but without it there is no motivation to invest time and energy into working to improve. Teachers have a duty to make pupils believe in their own capacity to improve and this means removing labels and including individual pupils in an evaluation of their learning. If you know where you are and can see where you are going then you can buy into the possibility that you might succeed. Nothing drives motivation like the likelihood of success.

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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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NQTs abroad – 5 things all NQTs should know

With grateful thanks to @MissNQT for prompting this article. Here are 5 things NQTs should know if they are going to spend their first year teaching abroad. (All based on my own experience of working in an international school in Spain.)

Hello my name is the NQT

1: How long do I have to complete my induction year?
After completing the teaching course and gaining Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) you have to complete an induction year. Currently there is no time limit on when this has to be completed. If you are not in a permanent post though you can only do short term supply (posts of less than one term) for up to five years.
Point 1: Your induction year is completely without time limit. No matter how long you spend teaching abroad you can complete your induction year when/if you return to the UK.

2: Can I complete my induction year in an international school?
Technically “yes” due to a change that came in during 2014. If the school you work in has had a British Schools Overseas (BSO) inspection then they can choose to offer NQT induction. Because this is managed by a teaching school in the UK the cost to the international school is quite significant and therefore even schools that have opted for a BSO inspection may choose not to oversee your induction year. The BSO inspection only came in recently though and therefore most overseas school are not BSO inspected.
Point 2: Technically you can complete your induction year in a small but growing number of international schools. However, this option is unlikely to be available to you.

Get Ready to Teach: A Guide for the Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT)

3: So, what happens if I haven’t done my induction year but have spent some time abroad?
Teaching at an independent school can’t count as an induction year but local authorities can reduce your induction time to as little as one term if they recognise the experience you have gained in an independent school. It is possible that they may apply this to your time spent teaching abroad. If not, returning to the UK would mean beginning you induction year.
Point 3: When you return to the UK you may be asked to do your induction year but you may also be able to negotiate it to as little as one term.

Not Quite a Teacher: Target Practice for Beginning Teachers

4: What about my pay and conditions?
Pay in Spain does not follow the teacher pay spine as used in the UK. All teachers start on the same salary of 22,500€ per year. This makes the salary in Spain, even with current exchange rates, quite comparable to that paid to NQTs in the UK. Planning and preparation time will often be far in excess of that given in the UK. We don’t give our NQTs more time than other teachers but all teaching staff in our primary department have five hours of preparation time per week. In addition there is a full hour for lunch and an additional fifty minutes of break time each day. With less workload caused by unnecessary paperwork NQTS working in our schools are better off in terms of planning and preparation time than they would be in the UK.
Point 4: Pay in Spain for an NQT is 22,500€ per year. Factor in the lower cost of living and lower taxes and as an NQT you are financially better off in Spain. Planning and preparation time is generous and in excess of that given to you in the UK.

How to survive your first year in teaching
by Sue Cowley

5: Be the best you can be.
It sounds like basic advice but make sure that these first years of teaching are the springboard to a long and happy career. Don’t treat your time abroad as downtime before returning to work in the UK. Apply yourself to the job and seek advice when needed. Be the best you can be. By acting professionally you are developing your skill and writing a reference that makes you far more attractive to UK schools. Your time spent teaching the British curriculum abroad will make your applications stand out. New skills such as working with a high proportion of EAL pupils or even learning a foreign language yourself will all help to make you an interesting candidate for a future career move, whether that be to the UK or anywhere else in the world.
Point 5: Be the best you can be.

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Seven big myths (and one truth) about top performing school systems

Andreas Schleicher, OECD director of education and skills, wrote an article for the BBC website claiming PISA answers seven big myths about education in the world. Andreas, apart from having an impressive job title, is the man in charge of PISA tests and therefore may not have a completely unbiased opinion. Here is my response to each of his myth busting claims.

1: Disadvantaged pupils are doomed to do badly in school
Andreas busts this myth by referring to Shanghai. He says “the 10% most disadvantaged 15-year-olds in Shanghai have better maths skills than the 10% most privileged students in the United States and several European countries”.
But, China still cheat the education system by entering their two most affluent cities instead of their country. Looking at population, this is probably equivalent to the UK entering Eton and Harrow into PISA! Time magazine ran this article explaining how China is cheating the PISA ranking system. 24% of Chinese students go to college but 84% of students from Shanghai.
One final point that even the BBC acknowledge is that Shanghai doesn’t enter all of its pupils. In fact, only about a third of school age pupils can afford to attend education in Shanghai. With an estimated 300,000 15 year olds eligible for the test, only 100,000 were included. Doing the maths (84% of a third) that means that around 27% of Shanghai students go on to college.
Myth busting busted: Even just looking at Shanghai, it is one of the lower attainers in the PISA ranking.

2: Immigrants lower results
Andreas tells us that there is “no relationship between the share of students with an immigrant background in a country and the overall performance of student in that country”. We would all love this to be true but unless the country concerned has 100% school attendance then Andreas’ statistics tell us nothing. Statistically if there is a cost for attending school then children of recent immigrants are likely not to be in school.
Myth busting busted: PISA data is too incomplete to answer this question.

3: It’s all about money
Andreas says “Success in education systems  is no longer about how much money is spent, but about how money is spent.” He uses South Korea as an example South Korea did well in the PISA rankings but is not one of the biggest spenders on education. But, there is a cultural difference here that is not being included. Much of Asia see school as only a small part of the education a child receives. Children leave school and go immediately into expensive private classes. Often in small groups or individually children are tutored from school leaving time (around 4pm) for up to an additional six hours. This is a cultural difference. Most parents in the UK or America for example expect school to educate their child.
Myth busting busted: What we are actually measuring is not the total spent on education but in fact in the case of many countries we are seeing only about half of their educational spend. The other half is being made by parents after school.

4: Smaller class sizes raise standards.
Andreas finds that smaller class sizes do not, according to PISA, raise standards. Andreas, stop ony looking at PISA. Hattie has already discovered this by taking into account results from much more than just one study. (Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning).
Mythbusted…but not by PISA: This myth that Andreas busted is correct but the proof is found with Hattie and later Alistair Smith (High Performers: The Secrets of Successful Schools) and PISA alone is insufficient to draw this conclusion.

5: Comprehensive systems for fairness, academic selection for higher results
The same logic that has countered some of Andreas’ mythbusting skills in earlier points applies here. PISA does not have complete information. Shanghai appears to be a non-selective education system and yet two thirds of its 15 year old pupils are invisible to PISA.
Myth busting busted: Unless PISA includes all pupils from all schools and takes into account the pupils not in school then PISA does not have sufficient evidence to discuss whether selective or non-selective education is more effective.

6: The digital world needs new subjects and a wider curriculum
At the risk of repeating myself, PISA does not have the data to answer this myth. Because the PISA data is woefully incomplete it just shouldn’t be seen as useful for making generalisations about curriculum.
Myth busting busted: Innsufficient evidence again!

7: Success is about being born talented
Andreas wheels out his only gun here and uses PISA to bust this myth. Again, PISA doesn’t have sufficient evidence to comment on this but others do.
Myth busting busted: Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers: The Story of Success) suggested there is no such thing as ‘Talent’ and that to be an expert at anything took 10,000 hours of practice. Carol Dweck has used research to say something very similar in her work on Mindset. (Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential).

And now time for the one truth…

Truth: PISA is riding high on the fact we love an international competition and is making claims that it just cannot back up by statistics. Until PISA collects data from all students in a country and compares like with like (country with country) then many of the claims that are being made from its data will be easily debunked.

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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.

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Shareday Friday – A primary school display policy

Friday is my day for gifting something back to the online community. Today, a primary display policy.

Display policy

This policy is the culmination of a number of meetings and discussions that have taken place in school around the subject of display. There are some great resources to support display, for example, Belair On Display – The Essential Guide to Primary Display.
However, we were looking for a display policy that reflected our own school values.

The discussions that went into creating the policy were really interesting. Here are 5 things I learned from our time together discussing display.

Example literacy display

Example literacy display

1: Why display?
First impressions are important in life. Display and classroom environment can be used to communicate our expectations of behaviour, our expectations of work standards and most importantly, the learning that has been taking place in our classrooms.

2: Framed, draped or plain?
Why do we frame work? Do we need to mount and double mount everything? Mounting work to frame it helps the standard of presentation especially when work is going to be displayed in a high traffic area of school. However, it isn’t necessary to mount everything and a working wall is less likely to be updated regularly if teachers are constrained by the need to frame every piece of work.

3: Should all displayed work be of a high standard?
What do we mean by a ‘high standard’? If we mean should all displayed work show learning that has taken place then “yes”. If we mean should displayed work only be from pupils with perfect handwriting who work in the top group in the class, then “no”. The standard of the work is defined by the standard of learning that took place.

4: Consistency
A walk around our school demonstrates a range of ideas for display. It has been possible however to arrive at a nucleus of points upon which we all agree. Agreeing the “All our dislays feature…” and “Every classroom has…” sections of our display policy was where the majority of discussion took place.

5: Teamwork
Not everybody has the same natural eye for laying out a display. There are some great websites offering advice about primary display, some of which are linked to in our display policy above. Hopefully though we are generating a climate where teachers feel comfortable asking colleagues for ideas or assistance. ‘Magpieing’ ideas from colleagues is a compliment and does not constitute theft.

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Baseline assessment – 5 things I know

The government are introducing approved providers of Reception baseline assessments. From their own webpage announcement it sounds a little confusing. With this in mind I have been scratching the surface of baseline assessment and have learnt five things.

Pupil taking test

1: They are relatively cheap…for a reason
I have read websites, downloaded catalogues and even telephoned the companies in a search for prices. Most companies already have a price structure in place. By the usual standards of pricing educational products these are cheap but they are cheap for a reason.
One is 85 pounds per school plus 3 per pupil. Another, 80 pounds per school plus 3 something per pupil. Another 220 pounds per school per year. Another 4.95 pounds per pupil. All fairly cheap but what do you get for your money?
One gives you some tick sheets and a guide advising teacher on how to use their own judgement to complete the sheets. Another gives an online test that should last 20 minutes and is completed independently…by a five year old! Another requires two tablets, one for the pupil and one for the teacher. I’m certain pupils with little exposure to the tablet will suffer. Another has a testimonial that confirms that the children enjoyed it because there were animations between the questions!

2: They don’t provide meaningful information
I had a great telephone conversation with the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM). I asked what I saw at the end of the assessment. The answer was I would receive a detailed report indicating the percentage probability of pupils receiving a L4 or above at the end of Y6. Pause for a moment and let that sink in. From 2016 onwards there are no levels but this test will tell me the probability of these Reception children achieving an L4 at the end of their Year 6 in 2022! Well, I’m no mathematician but I can confirm the likelihood of this is precisely zero!

3: The selection of companies makes no sense and I suspect cronyism
One company I spoke to today have not yet completed the trial of their tests. They are in the process of trialling their test with 1000 pupils. Quite apart from the fact that this feels like a fairly small sample size and it is impossible to forward project what those students will achieve, they haven’t actually trialled the product. Is the CEO a close personal friend of Mrs. Morgan? I think we should be told. They have a multi-million pound public money contract on the basis of an assessment tool that doesn’t exist and hasn’t completed a trial!

4: The different tests are so different as to be incomparable and therefore can’t be used to compare school performance
When should the test be completed? Start of Reception, end of Reception, when a child has settled in to Reception! The answer changes dependent on which provider you speak to. They test reading, they are computer tests, they are teacher evaluations they are…
The differences are so vast and numerous as to completely negate any comparison. Will schools selecting the most difficult test be able to show the greatest progress? I suspect some game playing could take place here.

5: They don’t fit my school…or I suspect many others
My school is a British school in Spain. Most children begin school with no English. At the end of Reception results are below the average in the United Kingdom but many children have only had one or two years of exposure to English. By the end of KS1 pupils attain broadly in line with UK expectations. By the end of KS2 they far surpass the UK expectations. A large number of L5 and a growing number of L6 pupils who when they left Reception would have come out with a low baseline assessment. A low baseline assessment that on some of these systems would have been reported as a low probability of attaining a Level 4 or above. In other words, the output from the test would label the child and provide a low expectation throughout their school career.

And for these reasons, the baseline assessments as they stand are of little value and will fail to improve learning and pupil outcomes. Surely public money assigned to education should only be used on projects that improve learning and pupil outcomes and therefore these assessments look like a misappropriation of public funds.

To read another opinion on these baseline assessment tools visit Sue Cowley’s fascinating blog article – And if you tolerate this…

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