Author Archives: marcthomas66

It’s not them, it’s me.

Dear reader (I assume there is just the one, if that). If you have been reading from the start, you will notice that I have moaned at great deal and repetitively about how schools have taken me on as supply which then turned long-term with promises of my NQT being completed. Last time, I finished such a lament saying that “I want to get back to day-to-day supply”. It didn’t happen. The supply agency I work for said that they had a long-term gig that they thought I should go for that would last up until the summer with ,yes, a promise of my NQT. I wasn’t keen but thought I should go for the interview (yes, they wanted to interview me). I was in the sister school for a couple of days beforehand which was, to be blunt, a zoo and had heard that the school I was interviewing for was worse and the class I was to teach the worst in that school. To make things worse, the night before the interview, I got stuck in a 5 and half hour jam on the motorway route that I would have to take every day. As I said to my wife upon returning, “Great, I am now going to get no f**king sleep and have to go and have a f**king interview for a f**king job that I don’t even f**king want”. I don’t react well to interviews or, rather, the observed lessons that go with them. A bit about that later though.

Anyhoo, next morning, I went to the interview and, first, was the dreaded observed lesson. The class were well behaved but, good grief, in playing safe, I made the lesson boring. The IWB had the sun shining on it which made it impossible to use as well. Before the interview, the head showed me around the school. I find that I really warmed to him and the school. It was a school in the middle of an inner city school whose kids predominately came from the massive council estate that the school was in. The head had been there a couple of years and was obviously brought in to turn it around and had said that he had brought a lot of new, young and, as he said, uncynical staff in. I worried about this as I am very old and very cynical as you may have noticed. He seemed to really care for the children and wanted the best for them, many of whom were in the most deprived circumstances. This seemed to strengthen his desire that they get the best. I also realised that the school, rather than the zoo I expected, was really calm. However, I did meet the teacher of the class I had just taught and she mentioned that they weren’t the class I would be teaching and the other class were much worse behaved. I also got the strong impression that the teacher I was replacing had been given the sack. Anyway, assured that the lesson had knocked me out of the contention for the job, I went to the interview and quite enjoyed it. As you may notice, I like talking about myself so I like interviews. I left feeling assured I would be back doing to day-to-day supply the next day. I got a call on the way home – thankfully jam free- to tell me that I had the job. Even managed to get a bit more money for it.

This is where I normally complain about the school and the head. However, for a change, I am not going to. It was a great school, the head was supportive as were the rest of the staff. There was a genuine caring atmosphere towards the children and desire to give them the best. While I was there, they had an Ofsted where the head told us that he just wanted us to carry on doing what we normally do as he trusted us. Sure enough, the school got a deserved “Good” rating. Yes, there were lots of issues and, indeed, my class was the worst behaved in the school but not, it has to be said, the worst I have taught. They didn’t even care a bit about displays. There were other things I disagreed with but, on balance, it was a great school – within the context of the current education system – that was doing brilliantly for the kids for the local area. This, in itself, was an issue, however.

It came to the last term and my NQT term – as was promised. This involved more teaching (I had been sharing teaching with an assistant head previously) and a weekly observation with feedback. Now, back to the observed lessons issue. I have not mentioned it before as I wasn’t sure that it was relevant but I have a mental issue. I have generalised anxiety disorder which, basically, means chronic, almost debilitating, often terrifying panic attacks. However, with daily medication, it is manageable but I do have to watch my stress levels. Also, I have ADHD symptoms – either as a symptom of my medication or something that I always had and was masked by the panic attacks. What this means is that, when stressed, I get confused and unfocussed. Not great for observed lessons which is why job application processes stoped after them.

After one of the early observed lessons, I got feedback – as I had before – that my behaviour management wasn’t good enough. I decided to mention about my condition. With previous schools, I had mentioned it at the start as I thought I owed it to them to be up front about it. However, as I suspected my previous abrupt exits could have been due to this, I decided to keep quiet this time. However, it seemed to be impacting upon my observed lessons hence ‘outing’ myself here. They were very supportive, not at all seeing it as an excuse. They gave me some strategies that they were going to help with. However, as the term went on, I found the stress of the NQT observations and the class was getting too much. I didn’t even think my teaching was good enough, I was getting more stressed and angry, shouting at the kids, not being objective enough. As someone who is critical of a lot about education, schools, heads, etc. I just knew I wasn’t good enough for these kids. Also, after a brief improvement, my observed lessons were getting worse until, after a particularly disastrous one where I pulled out my best maths lesson and failed, I said to the deputy head that, enough was enough, I wasn’t carrying on with my NQT. I could tell that I had saved her the trouble. She was again very supportive, much more positive about what I had done and overcome than I was. We decided I would do the remaining time – a couple of weeks – just as a supply teacher. Yes, I know a fortnight isn’t long but, when in the grips of mental issues, it seemed like a decade. I finished the term – still getting stressed and definitely not at a great level and that was it. Fulsome thanks from head, staff, kids and parents but I was off.

The problem this time is that this isn’t the badly run school run by a paranoid head panicking about their academy heads and an oncoming OFsted. This was a very good school with a calm happy environment amongst staff and supportive leaders. I realised that maybe it wasn’t the schools, it was me. If I couldn’t handle my NQT at this final school, can I anywhere. I have a year to go on my NQT before I have to either get a job where I can complete it or give up supply and, with it, teaching. There are a couple of other long shot options but that looks like the choice now. Part of me thinks that maybe teaching has to go. I went through my Education Studies degree not only developing a critical analytical attitude to education that has made me very cynical towards the culture that teachers work in nowadays but also ending up with a first. It was very hard work but I excelled at it but, as soon as I started my PGCE, I found it very difficult, stressful and frustrating. I don’t know whether it is my age, my cynicism, my desire for evidence for decisions made in education or a combination of all three. I just haven’t got that enthusiasm, energy and acceptance that young teachers just out of uni have. Sometimes, those motivational quotes on the walls just depress the hell out of me. I also have to say that I am not sure I have the temperament nor patience for dealing with kids either. I set myself high standards and kids need teachers who do that and achieve those standards and I am not sure I have the ability to do that. I am an excellent academic but, at best, a very average teacher and I think kids deserve better.

I am now back to, as many supply teachers are in September, waiting like a vulture for teachers to get ill, pregnant or nervous breakdowns. I am going to do day-to-day supply, forget the NQT for a bit and try and clear my head and see what path to take. I have a feeling that I am going to move back to the observation of the education system if I can – academia, research maybe even education journalism (not on the evidence of these blogs though) – rather than being in it. I think the kids deserve better and I do.

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This is how it ends…..

So, this is how it begins – a teacher goes off on long-term leave due to stress and they call me in. After a while, they are full of praise about how I am giving the kids some continuity and managing the kids well. This is usually around about the time when I realise what it is about the class, school or both that made the previous teacher so stressed. During this period, which I call the “eyelash-fluttering” phase, they are so grateful for you getting them out of the crap that they start asking if I can stay on longer after the holidays and, as a further bit of flirting, they say that I can finish my final term of my NQT. I agree. By this stage, I am well into the “Working 10 hours a day, taking work home three nights a week and working on Sunday” routine – all on the daily supply rate that should see me getting in at 8.15 and leaving at 4.15 and not thinking about school until I get into the next school the next day.

After the holidays – which I haven’t been paid for, naturally – there is stuff about ‘making the classroom your own’ which usually means putting up those all-important displays that appear to be educating the kids more than qualified teachers are. Then it starts, the nagging about assessment, displays, blah blah while I am actually worrying about getting getting proper provision for the SEN children who have been ignored with all the lack of continuity previous to you getting there. Quiet nagging at first but gradually, that working wall is “The Most Important Detail In The Children’s Education!” Then there is one, maybe two, maybe more observations – maybe 5 in a day. After this, there are “action points” followed by more observations and, finally, an observation by the head AND some suit from the academy and that is it, you are done for. This is how it ends.

All work you have done with the kids, building up relationships and managing behaviour, all the fire-fighting and fixing stuff that had slid away during the previous teacher’s journey to stress means nothing. Warm words from parents, sometimes in the form of emails to the head mean nothing. The suit from the academy has said things need to be changed and, as a supply teacher, you are expendable, no contracts to worry about or anything. They can start again with another teacher who will have to build up all the knowledge that you have gained over the previous couple of terms.

There are differences, of course. This last school have genuinely been very supportive – it’s not been all observations and multiple action points – but, equally, this last school has just done it to me and my partner Y3 teacher meaning that they have to find two teachers to settle in for two weeks time and two classes that will have multiple teachers in the year. Of course, this being the third time it has happened to me, I have to ask “Am I a crap teacher?”. I could be. Certainly, as a long-term teacher as I am a pretty good supply teacher who is fully employed all year around. Also, after the first time it happened, I then did two NQT terms at a school who were very happy with me. Maybe that was the key, they gave me the two terms I needed to get up to speed.

All I know is that, after two long-term gigs since March last year, I want to get back to day-to-day supply. My NQT needs to be completed by next July but I will worry about that at a later date. What I don’t want is more long-term supply work where you are a godsend to the schools for the first term and, somehow, a shit teacher in the second.

 

Groundhog term.

Well, again, I am writing after a long break. However, there are two reasons for this. Firstly, from September 2015 to March this year, I was doing supply and – aside from a funny little fortnight where I went from being considered for a fixed contract to, erm, not – it was lovely, refreshing, fun pure teaching enjoyment and, when it wasn’t, I didn’t have to go back the next. So, you know, you don’t tend to blog about happy you are. Pisses people off. Secondly, from March, I walked into a job which was supposed to be one day and finally crashed and burned just before this last half term.

I started there as a supply teacher in March and ended up teaching a Year 3 class until the summer holidays as the full-time teacher had been signed off with a long-term stress-related sickness (ha, should have been a clue). At the end of the summer term, the school asked if I would teach this year’s Year 4 class as maternity cover until March next year. I accepted and started handover sessions with my new class. Two weeks before the end of term, I was informed that, so that the school or, rather, the academy chain (yes, one of those) didn’t have to pay off my supply contract with my agency, I would have to apply for the job I had already been offered and accepted. This I did and was offered the job officially. It was mentioned that the contract may be extended until next summer. As I have completed two of my three NQT terms, it was agreed that I would finish my third NQT term at Christmas which was one of the prime motivations for me applying for and accepting the job.
When I came back after the summer, I did not have a laptop for the first day, a Sims account nor email address until midway through the first week and never received a photo ID for the school. Also, the name of my class was also changed to the names of the two teachers who are sharing the job from March. Although these seem like petty issues, the former three delayed my preparation for the new term and the latter two had been picked up by the children that I was not their ‘proper teacher’. In the second week, after receiving a payment from my supply agency, it transpired that I wasn’t actually on a contract at all and was still employed by my supply agency. When I mentioned this to the school, I was told that they couldn’t actually offer me a contract until mid-November when they wouldn’t have to pay my supply agency any money. This was not made clear to me when I was offered the job initially. However, I hadn’t been sent a letter of offer nor a contract but I put this down to the office staff being busy at the start of the year.
Probably because of this, I had observations every week for the first 4 weeks – two by my line manager, one by the assistant principal and one by the principal, vice principal and a director from the academy chain. While the latter was an observation that happened in all of years 3 and 4, I was the only person that had the weekly observations in the first three weeks. When I asked about this, I was told that it was happening because there was particular attention being paid to years 3 and 4. However, I was the only teacher that had been subject to this level of scrutiny. This despite there being another – less experienced – NQT in Year 3. While I found the first three observations by my line manager and assistant principle broadly positive, being under such scrutiny didn’t help my self confidence and the feedback sessions took up a lot of time which, at that time, was very much needed for the marking and planning that I was still getting to grips with – especially as there was a new marking policy in school and a new reading focus. It should be said that I did not have my initial NQT meeting until three weeks into the new term and after my initial three observations.
The day after the last observation, instead of receiving my feedback from my line manager, I was visited by the principal who advised me on some changes in my behaviour management. Instead of leaving me to try these out for some time, she said I should implement them straight away and she would return 2 hours later and see how they were working. This she did and she spoke to the class about their behaviour and the presentation of their books (taking pens off children and insisting they return to using pencils). She then said to them that she would return in an hour to see how they were behaving. When she returned, during a guided reading session, she interrupted the lesson in a manner that I felt was undermining to me. I was then told, during lunch, by my line manager that he had been asked by the principal to join her in observing me after lunch. He had not known that I had had three visits by the principal in the morning until I mentioned it to him. He observed me with the principal after lunch and independently later on that day. After school, I expressed to him my discomfort at the treatment I was getting. He was sympathetic but his
The Tuesday afterwards, I was called into a meeting with the principal and my line manager. I was told by the principal that they had an improvement report with six action points on. One of the points was regarding the displays in my classroom which has been a constant theme in all the observation feedback sessions or discussions with the principal. Indeed, when I had spoken to my contact at the supply agency – when I initially found out that I was still employed by them as a supply teacher rather than under contract to the school – she said that she was phoning because the school were concerned that I had ‘slipped back over the summer’, that I wasn’t ‘making the classroom my own’ and that I ‘wasn’t investing in the school’. This was despite the fact that I was then and still am doing 10 hour days at the school as well as bringing work home. I pointed this out to the principal and said that I was now doing these hours as a supply teacher. I also pointed out the frequency of observations and the delay in my NQT meeting. There was discussion of issues with my planning where I was offered guidance from line manager in PPA time. In all sessions after, he has been absent for part or whole of the time. The other issue is that, as the school still hadn’t employed adequate PPA teachers and the NQTs have been told that they aren’t allowed to have the extra PPA required. I had been able to get some extra PPA time by getting teaching assistants to cover some classes. The action points were to be checked weekly and ongoing by my line manager.
Last Friday, three days after my improvement meeting, I was told by my principal that they had found out that none of my time so far could contribute to my NQT time. I was given a choice of carrying on as a regular supply teacher or carrying on as a supply teacher and keeping on with NQT training opportunities until they could offer me a contract in mid-November. My initial thoughts were that I would like to carry on as a supply teacher with the NQT training as, firstly, I did’t want to have wasted the experience that I had so far gained, secondly, I didn’t want to have to wait and find another NQT job elsewhere where would I have to start again and, thirdly, I felt like I had turned a corner in my work and wouldn’t want to start afresh at another school. Additionally and more importantly, as the children would be getting their job-sharing teachers back in March, I don’t want them to have to have effectively 4 teachers in a year if I leave. Due to a third of the children being in my class from last year, this would mean that they have two disrupted years.
It appeared that I was the only one with this concern for continuity for the children. The Wednesday before half-term, after two weeks when I had hardly seen the head and certainly hadn’t had any more observations, we got a email saying we were getting a maths walk which was ‘nothing to worry about’. As it goes, I didn’t because we wanted the maths SLTS to see that the new format of the lesson wasn’t quite working and, also, I was starting to get a lot of my confidence back and feeling much less stressed. They came in, had a look, spoke to the kids and went out. That evening, I got called in by the head and deputy. Considering the previous conversations, I was wondering what else they could take from me. Of course, it was my job. The head said that the maths SLTs said that they could not work out what was going on in the maths lesson they saw. Perhaps, I had overdone it in showing that the new format didn’t work but, in all seriousness, it seemed an OK lesson (mind you I have said that before) if a difficult concept to get across with a lesson I hadn’t planned. Anyway, according to this head, this was the last straw and I was out that night and paid just for the next day. I wasn’t even able to say goodbye to the kids (who were great) nor the staff (who were also great). The staff were told in the staff meeting I had been pulled out of to be given the elbow. The kids, I don’t know. I decided to fight back this time in the meeting. I pointed out the terrible handling of my appointment and contract. I pointed out that ‘support’ – that she was telling my I had received – does not consist of endless observations and multi-point action plans (which she didn’t refer to oddly, perhaps because I had actually carried out a lot of the points). I pointed out that they had completely wasted time when I could have applied for a job where I was going to actually get my NQT (or, more probably, receive a supply teacher’s pay for just doing 8 hour days and not worrying about school and the kids when I woke up for a pee at night). I pointed out the 10 hours days and working at home on a supply teaching rate was taking the piss. When she said that I only worked long days after being told to buck up my ideas, I pointed out that I had done it since day one of this year and, indeed, for a month running up to the summer holidays to get used to it. As I pointed out – quite forcibly, it has to be said – “From day one, 10 hour days. From day one!” she decided to end the conversations.
I was glad as I walked out. My half-term had suddenly got freed up. I was back to supply (indeed, the day I spent after at a pupil referral unit with a handful of swearing teenagers was bliss in comparison). I was away from those bloody observations. More to the point, I knew that, in this case, I had given it all and it wasn’t my problem. I didn’t blame the kids – obviously, I didn’t blame the rest of the staff, I didn’t blame my line manager. Indeed, in some ways, I don’t blame the head. It’s her issue. She is suffering from that “OFSTED very overdue” paranoia that turns heads and some teachers absolutely mental.
The final upshot is that I went to the NUT with the above details and, as they rightly said, without a contract or offer letter, I was stuck without someone else proving that I had been verbally offered the job. Of course, the head wouldn’t which left my line manager who was also there. I have decided not to ask him to do this. To do this would put him in a very difficult position as to whether to go against his employers or let me down (which is probably what he would do). He is under pressure as the management job has just been put on him as well as whole load of extra work, not least because it appears he will be covering my class for a couple of weeks after half term.
Anyway, the lesson we have learnt today is never EVER start a job until you have a written contract or offer letter. Oh, and, guess what, after one sweet footloose and fancy free day of supply, I am now on another longterm supply. Of course, they are happy and smiley but schools are always like that at the start but you know they are going to stab you in the back at the end. They have also said that I will probably be there until Christmas and beyond and, hey, they may be able to do something about my NQT. I just smiled and decided to assume I am there until the end of the work or they find me out whichever is the longer.

Previously on Primary School Confidential!

You last read me a massive 9 months ago having been given the elbow from a school that I had been working three days a week at. This left me with a 2 day a week gig and the rest of the week doing supply leaving me loads of time and space to do other stuff while getting back to loving teaching. What happened to the blog then?

Quite simply, at Christmas, the Year 1 teacher in the school I was doing 2 days a week at jumped/was pushed. The school advertised for a replacement that was very specifically not an NQT. No-one applied which led them to asking me to take the class full-time on a 6 month contract until September. “Why not, let’s give it a go” I said. Quite rightfully, they said “No, think about. Talk to your wife. Sleep on it.” I did that and came back and said “Why not, let’s give it a go” so I only have myself to blame.

The leaving teacher tried her best to hand over all the details to me but, as this was, invariably, in breaks, it was understandably short and cursory. To be honest, during these sort of hand-over talks, I do have a tendency to just hear “blah, blah, blah”,like the noise the teacher in Peanuts makes, after the first couple of hundred of the acronyms that are so popular in education. I did pick up, however, that the teacher was absolutely ground down. By teaching, the school, the class, I didn’t know. I knew that there were a fair few personal issues but she had had enough. I later heard that she had had four years where the results had been terrible and, during the first three months of this year, just turned up often not having planned anything and getting the children to do drawing instead. The school was a much gossipier and bitchier place than I thought while doing supply and part-time so I was never quite sure how much of this was true. I do know that some of the books seemed a touch sparser than they should have been. Not quite as sparse as the last couple of weeks I have just completed but, still…

I entered the new calendar year with the zest and vigour of the zealot. I had pinpointed a couple of issues – one child whose behaviour was off the wall bad, some of the curriculum not being covered and a negative feeling around the LSAs. The first issue I sorted out straight away (or so I thought). I cracked on with relentlessly driving through the curriculum and what was, due to the school being a Catholic school with masses of RE (of more later), a pretty packed timetable. The third issue was alleviated somewhat due to me liking to bring good humour into the teaching but also in my relations with the LSAs. I had to secure the latter as one LSA in particular looked after much of the reading with children and had done so for the previous 5 years (when the deputy head had been the Y1 teacher). Her experience was vital and I couldn’t have achieved anything without her. She was a feisty character and I am sure my disorganised approach to, well, everything more than pissed her off on occasion but we got on well.

Very quickly, I realised that I had bitten off more than I could chew. The strategy I worked out for the badly behaved child – basically seating him on a table away from the carpet where the rest of the children where could still see what was being taught but couldn’t distract the class initially worked out a treat. He was still in class, still learning and wasn’t being sent to the head’s office as much. However, this child was bright enough to work out alternative ways of disrupting the class. This wasn’t just normal chatting away acting silly disruption either. This was “attract the attention of the whole class away from the teacher thus making him look like a prat” disruption that you see in secondary school and, on occasion, year 6 of primary school. Amongst 6 year old year 1s, no so much. His parents were unsupportive of the school while appearing ostensibly supportive. They were both professionals who had all the cultural capital that scares the life out of a head so their child gets a free pass out of a lot of incidents where he is impacting on other children’s education and, occasionally, safety. Having said that, I am somewhat pleased that he wasn’t excluded this year even though it was subtly threatened to the parents. There is an issue when children are excluded in Key Stage 1 that, I don’t think, lies with the children. It lies with the parents, the school or both.

In this incidence, there was blame to be laid at the feet of the school and it was some other issues that arose that led me to believe this. In Year 1, children are making the transfer from the almost nursery-like structure of Reception to the more formal structure of the rest of their school life. In Year 1, you still have children asking “When are we going to play?”, “When can we go home?” going to the toilet halfway through a lesson and not being able to change for PE on their own. You also have children who just can’t sit still on the carpet for even a couple of minutes. To be fair, I don’t blame them. I have no idea why we insist on children sitting on the carpet. It must be bloody uncomfortable. As an aside, I was at a school where all children sat on the carpet up until Year 6. The amount of ankles I almost snapped with my clumsy big clown’s feet.

Anyway, I digress, we had a fair few – mostly boys – who could sit still on the carpet, found it hard to engage with the teaching and found it hard to concentrate on small group or individual tasks. A couple of boys had terribly delayed speaking as well. This was very noticeable as we had a about a fifth of the class who were Polish-speaking and were more fluent than these two boys. One of these boys did have a French speaking mother but, teaching French later on, he was less proficient in French than others as well. I mentioned both of these to the SENco (special educational needs co-ordinator) and got an answer that alerted me that the issues with this class may lie with how the school were treating these children. She said that we would never get funding for any support for them due to their behaviour issues. I pointed out that it wasn’t just behaviour issues, these two both have special educational needs. One boy never slept and seemed to have a sensory issue that meant that he couldn’t sit still at all as it looked like his clothes, the carpet, everything was, quite literally, getting on his nerves. Also, though he could often grab a concept, he couldn’t keep hold of it in the long-term (long-term often meaning “the next day” here). The other boy had an issue with his eyes that, once he had an operation, everyone thought would sorted as far as his education was concerned. Needless to say, this didn’t happen.

The SENco’s answer was a good pointer of how she worked. She never ever observed children with SEN. She actually said when asked “Oh, I never observe children”. This wasn’t a class teacher with SEN responsibilities, this was a full-time SENco. So what did she do? Well, she certainly sorted out all the paperwork that needed to be done once a teacher finally convinced her that a child needed to be checked for any SEN – paperwork which the teachers then had to fill in. She also organised meetings with parents, education psychologists, behaviour support workers. However, she never attended them. The teachers did, the head did, sometimes the LSAs concerned did but she never did. So what did she actually do? Well, she worked with the gifted and talented kids in Maths. Oh, sorry, not the Key stage 1 ones, only the Key stage 2 ones. She saw so little of the SEN kids that I would often get paperwork confusing the names of the children on my class or, in conversation, she would often forget the names of the children I was referring to or which SEN children were actually in my class.

Why didn’t I complain about her? After all, her lack of attention to the SEN children was potentially – and, in truth, actually – letting down children and possibly – again, in truth, actually – had been since they had joined the school 18 months before. The truth is that, in discussing her with other teachers, it turned out that she was feared by everyone – senior teachers, the deputy head and the head. All who either said that they knew or couldn’t possibly not have known. In the end, a fellow teacher who helped me out in my class went to the local School Improvement Partner who was responsible for the school. She said that even she had been trying to get something down about the SENco but she couldn’t do anything about because the SENco was great friends of the head of Governors. The Head of Governors was, as is usual with Catholic schools, the local priest. So, due to the idiosyncrasies of faith schools, this woman was untouchable. There are many observations that I made about Catholic schools while I was at the school but, due to space and time, I am going to have to address this on a different post. However, it certainly meant that children were being let down at a school due to the friendship between a teacher and a priest.

Many experienced teachers told me that this class was the worst behaved that they had ever seen. Even with the three boys outlined above, it was still a difficult class. Along with the pressures of it being an NQT year, I was finding it incredibly stressful dealing with this class not least as I had taken them over halfway through the year and not had a summer to prepare and, to be blunt, felt out of my depth and didn’t know half of what I was doing. I did receive some support about behaviour management but, firstly, I think that the children had gone too far in their behaviour to be dragged back on track. Secondly, the teachers giving me the support ever sat in the class to observe for any great time. I concentrated on getting the previously well behaved children onto a more even keel as they had obviously started to think “I am behaving well and not getting the attention of the badly behaved. I may was well chat and piss around”. This worked somewhat but I did find myself raising my voice and shouting too much at them and not being able to get a positive attitude. At one point, my LSA reported me to the head as she thought I had picked up a child by the arms in order to get him away from another child that he was about to lamp. I hadn’t, I had picked him up by the armpits but the head sent me on a behaviour management course which, actually, was welcome. The LSA was mortified that she had had to shop me, as it were, but I assured her that I thought it was exactly what she should have done. Her responsibility was to the safety and welfare of the kids not to me and she did exactly the right thing reporting it even if it wasn’t quite what she saw. Having said that, she was obviously worried about how stressed and bad-tempered I was getting.

Events came to a head as I almost reached the oasis that was the Easter holdays. Just before these, I had had a lesson observation and NQT* assessment meeting. The head told me that, although there were historical and ongoing issues with the class, I should have been doing better and implied heavily that she felt that my passing off my NQT may be at risk. I went home shell-shocked and, after a day or two, wrote a lengthy email reminding her that I had been asked to do this job that wasn’t initially seen as for a NQT, there had been issues with the class while they were with their previous teachers with a great deal of experience and I hadn’t received the support that I had been promised – basically one class LSA with no 1-1 support for the three boys mentioned.

Well, that seemed to have done something. I have a feeling that I had inadvertently used the same sort of cultural capital that the aforementioned parents had scared the life out of the head with. Suddenly, I had support for the much less able children to work in smaller groups with more LSAs and a more individual curriculum. Also, at great expense, the three least able worked with a qualified teacher for Maths and Literacy.

It wasn’t a cure-all and for all the other lessons, I had the whole class to teach (aside from the last 5 weeks where the other teacher was used to support the most badly behaved boy on an almost constant 1-1 basis). However, after the time at Easter to catch up (not least with sleep) and the extra support, I started to feel that I was pro-active, not fighting fires and able to actually teach properly. It was, by no means, perfect but I felt like I was going to get them all to the end of the year. In the end, not only did I – and the team around me – do this but we gained some pretty good results and I feel confident in saying that not only did all the children attain much of their potential if not all but I think they were in a better position than they were before Christmas. Even though the head still made a couple of negative and demotivating comments (I always thought that she got nervous when having to be critical of teachers and ended up saying completely the wrong thing), the praise from other teachers and parents at the end of the year gave me a much better outlook on what I had done. Interestingly, the two boys who were initially seen as not being able to get 1-1 support for what was seen as just “behaviour issues” were in the process of having applications put through for just that at the end of the year. Much too late but still hopefully next year will be better for them. The really badly behaved child never got much better but I think the school are hoping he won’t return after summer. Interestingly, the class’s teachers for next year are two very experienced teachers (including the deputy head) doing a job share.

All this is by way of a meandering note explaining why I haven’t written for 9 months (to be fair, the 5 delay since is because I hadn’t sobered up since Friday). Although this was a particularly hard class, full-time teaching for everyone is mental. I didn’t mind the 10 hour days in school but I really resented the weeknights and weekends working at the end (especially as they were taken up with assessments and reports that were drastically rewritten in the end but, again, another post awaits for that). Noticeable, I was the only teacher who was working 5 days a week who also had kids. I think that this is the way teaching is going to go – young teachers will come out of Uni with lots of enthusiasm, idea and energy. As they get married/have long-term relationships and have kids, they will start to realise that part-time job shares or supply teaching are more not only family friendly but life-friendly. Teaching will cease to become a life long vocation or profession but something that people do for 10-15 years tops (not least because it is so physically knackering – I am using the holidays to sort out my eyes, knee and back). Teacher turnover will increase which, from the experience of this last 6 months, is detrimental to children. This isn’t something that I, an inexperienced teacher who has, diddums, had to do 6 months of hard work, am saying. At the end of this year, a teacher of 17 years experience gave up because she had just had enough. Teachers are giving up in their droves, often in the first couple of years of their career.

Personally, I am back to supply teaching after the summer. I was asked to interview for the Year 1 job next year but had already decided to go part-time next year. My son is doing his GCSEs next year and I have taken my eye off the ball with his school the last six months. Also, my mother-in-law was very ill and I wanted to support my wife who had been supporting her and, also, supporting me more than she should have been. That my mother-in-law died in the last weeks of term put all the fictional report-writing and doctored assessment results into perspective. Also, as the interviews were just before Easter, I was not only too busy to prepare for them but also was so lacking in self-confidence that I could go and ‘sell’ myself to people who knew all too well my shortcomings.

Of course, I am glad now. The teacher that got the job was, it seems, amazed at the amount of literacy we were expected to get through. I am not envious of here. The thought that, for a while, I will go home at the end of the day and, not only have to do work but I won’t have to even think of work until I get in the next day is blissful. I won’t even mind doing 10 hour days. Mind you, last time I said all this was my last blog in October, after which I ended up doing the last six months.

דער מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט
Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht.
Man plans and God laughs.
English equivalent; Man proposes, God disposes.
Source: Furman, Israel (1968).

*newly qualified teacher – a sort of year long parole that new teachers get where they are observed more frequently and have more planning time.

….and….breathe.

Why haven’t I posted since April? Well, there are good reasons. I went into something resembling full-time teaching after the last post, 9 weeks covering a PPA teacher’s maternity cover – teaching, marking, punishing AND planning. Then into the summer holidays, catching up on sleep and writing an assignment for my MA in Education Studies. Back in September doing 3 days a week covering a year 5/6 teacher’s maternity leave and then a month ago completing the week by working the other two days compassionate leave. As I had been specifically asked to do all three long(ish) term contracts and the last two were going to go towards my NQT and kept me fully booked up until Christmas, I felt very good about it all. Of course, all three made me realise that supply teaching is a doddle compared to anything with any amount of assessment and planning. 10 hours in school followed by most evenings and at least one weekend afternoon planning saw to that. However, it was great work, especially after I was over the first month’s mayhem, disorganisation and reactive fire-fighting. Having two classes of my own since September was great.

As with many teachers, I did get to this last week of an 8 week term thinking that I just needed to finish the final furlong and I would be OK. On Wednesday, I got called into the head’s office for, what I thought was, my first NQT meeting. For a little context, I had had an initial meeting with him two weeks earlier explaining the NQT process and brought up some areas for improvement – behaviour management, some errors in marking and planning. I had a lesson observation with the deputy head where she provided some very constructive areas that I could improve. What was nice was that, along with a very positive lesson observation at the other school I was working at, I was getting feedback that was positively critical and, unlike some of my PGCE ones, didn’t make me feel that I just could not teach.

Anyway, sat down with the head and he mentioned some of the points raised in the lesson observation and that he thought I could still do some work on the original points he had raised. I started to feel that the meting wasn’t quite going the way I imagined and, sure enough, halfway through, he announced that, despite initially saying that they wanted me until Christmas, they didn’t want me to come back after half-term. So, last week of an 8 week first term, two weeks after an initial meeting and advice on what to improve upon and one day after my first lesson observation, I am told that that is that. I was told after school on my last day so I couldn’t say goodbye to the class nor many of the teachers.

Now, you may say, you obviously had a disastrous lesson and had done nothing to improve the initial points that the head had highlighted in your initial meeting. Possibly. Personally, I thought I was making improvements in the areas he had pinpointed although he didn’t think he had seen any improvement. Personally, I thought it was an OK, if not great, lesson but maybe it was a train crash happening before the deputy head’s eyes. I do know that I did a lesson in front of the head and deputy head of the other school I work at a week before and they said that there were elements that were just what Ofsted would be looking for so go figure.

There are many thoughts that have gone through my head about this is in the last couple of days. Partly, I am quite happy about it – I can go back to three days of supply work and get some of my evenings and my weekends back. 12 hour days, six days a week on just £15 a day more than normal supply rate can little fun – leaving aside the parents meetings, staff meetings and days in the summer holidays that I did for free. Partly, I am angry about it – not for me but for the kids who are going to end up with 4 different teachers this year now and some of them had a year of many different teachers two years ago. Indeed, the night before I got effectively sacked, there was a parents evening and a parent, harking back to that year, asked if I was staying all year and I assured her that, although I wasn’t, I would be there until Christmas and then the regular teacher would be back after Christmas. God knows what she will think about me when she hears I am not going to be there after half-term.

However, my main thoughts have been, as always, about the state of the education system today. Firstly, a head employs an NQT supply teacher to cover two terms of maternity cover based on the supply work the teacher has done. No great issues there, not least because I have been employed in a similar fashion by two other schools. However, due to perceived issues, this teacher is no longer required by the school after a term. If I were an NQT interviewed, put on a proper NQT basis and paid by the school, would I be less dispensable than a supply teacher paid through an agency?

More widely, though, the issues that the head had with me were the big flagship ones for Ofsted (who they are due a visit from before Christmas) – behaviour management, planning and marking. My lesson observed was a maths one and, of course, differentiation was mentioned. That I have had comments from other teachers and from the deputy head that I engaged and cared for the kids building relationships with them has pleased me greatly but it obviously cuts no ice. I always take things back to what I (and, I am sure, many other people) remember about our most inspirational teachers. Was it the planning and marking? Personally, no, I am not sure what the planning was like, if it was there at all, 35-40 years ago. Marking was never exactly the most positive of procedures. Differentiation was obviously there. Behaviour management was, indeed, important back then but it was tied up with engagement and the personality of the teacher. If you respected a teacher, you would behave and want to do your best for them, thereby doing your best for yourself. The “Wow” or engagement factor wasn’t some gimmick, it was how the teacher engaged you and what their personality was like. Now, don’t get me wrong, I may have failed on the engagement part as well.

Anyway, like I say, I am able to go back to half the week doing supply which means that I get some evenings and weekends back (the extra £15 a day really wasn’t worth losing those) and still have a school that presently seems to appreciate me. However, I feel very sorry for the kids who, regardless of how good he or she is, are going to have yet another new teacher after half-term and also for my former colleagues who are going to have to retrain someone in what is happening in the school.

The G-spot

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I started writing this recovering from the Death by Nativity Play Rehearsals. Every teacher has to put up with these and you can see the fear in their eyes growing from October onwards. Given bad luck being placed in schools, however, and a supply teacher can end up viewing 20 Nativity Play rehearsals of varying degrees of quality. I think I saw 10 in the end and also oversaw a reception Christmas party.  My tinnitus, needless to say, only got worse. For many reasons,  I am only picking it up again at Easter. I am lucky – a lot of teachers probably still have too much teaching work – marking, planning, etc – to do or really couldn’t face writing about education in their precious time away.

It seems time that I should address the G-word. In a way, it seems redundant to write about him as his every loopy utterance is quite rightly attacked in the media, blogs and on internet forums and message boards. Indeed, I tend to zone out at his pronouncements nowadays as they are so out of touch with anything based in evidence and experience. I should probably pay more attention to that which will probably affect me so greatly and directly but feel somewhat like a saturated sponge. Almost needless to say, the man is an idiot but, like Boris Johnson, not some harmless comical one. He is a man who is dangerous to education and, by association, to the country.

What I will say is that Gove’s pronouncements are so little based in robust evidence-based thinking that he would have been thrown off my Education Studies cause after the first assignment. As an example, in a document called “Training our next generation of outstanding teachers“, Gove (through the DfE) made claims that school-based training is better for teachers. He made three references to “Musset et al. (2010)”. In a manner that would have got him marked down by my lecturers, however, that is the only reference. Perhaps the reason for the obfuscation is that, after a bit of Googlery, you find out that the paper is an OECD Education Working Paper called “Initial Teacher Education and Continuing Training: Policies in a Comparative Perspective” (http://tinyurl.com/n3uufnx) which was written for the OECD-Mexico Co-operation Agreement to Improve the Quality of Education in Mexican Schools. A working paper written about Mexican schools. Not only that but the paper merely refers back to the existing school-based education in the UK in the literature review. It also has appalling typos. Anyway, I digress.

 Anyway, aside from that bit of Gove-bashing, my main argument is that, for all his idiocy, he is only the logical conclusion of a process that has been evolving over the last 30 plus years and, with the Liberals now in the coalition, is the fault of all three major parties.

From the start of universal free schooling straight after the way to the mid-1970s, a non-partisan  post-war consensus between political parties ensured curricular and pedagogical autonomy for the teaching profession. The state had no involvement in curriculum or pedagogy, these were the sole responsibility of teachers while the LEAs appointed and paid teachers and for buildings, equipment, resources and materials and Her Majesty’s Inspectors cursorily oversaw the system. Let me put my cards on the table and say that this, to me, is the ideal system for running an education system more or less (I would also rid the system of religious, private, selective, single-sex and, obviously, Free schools and academies).

This was a period of almost-complete teacher autonomy. Local Education Authorities encouraged teacher-led curriculum innovation in schools, increased professionalisation of teachers and the high degree of autonomy which they enjoyed. However, a foreshadowing of the death knell of this golden age was soon upon the profession, during the 1970s, with the demise of the post-war consensus on education prompted by concerns about teacher autonomy and progressive teaching, illustrated clearly by the Willam Tyndale school controversy. The latter is an event that continues to be bashed about teachers’  heads 40 years after the event and in the shadow of an education system that continues expand the inequality of education. The real reason that politicians were worried was the economic recession fuelled by the OPEC oil crisis with those pesky Arab countries wanting their oil to themselves. William Tyndale etc. was just a useful scapegoat, an excuse to get politicians and outside interests involved in education so that the country could ‘compete’.

Callaghan’s Ruskin College speech in 1976 announced the politicians, parents and, more ominously, industry would be getting involved in education. This precipitated a major sea-change in the involvement of the state in education. Firstly, education was no longer being seen as a benefit for children administered by the state for the benefit of the rest of society as well – including such hitherto unconsidered figures such as industry . To this end,  Callaghan suggested a “basic curriculum with universal standards” that would “equip children…for a lively, constructive place in society” but, also, conscious of the mass unemployment,  “to do a job of work” . Education being a process that providers what Marxists would call a semi-skilled workforce – and they would be right. Not only did this signify a remodelling of education as form of technicist training  but paved the way for later developments such as introduction of the National Curriculum by Thatcher’s later government. This from a Labour government, don’t forget.

As it happens, Thatcher’s government’s education policies were fairly restricted in its first two terms. However, the appointment of Keith Joseph, a free market advocate, as Education Minister in 1981, led to much more control of education being taken by the government and the genesis of the decreasing of teacher autonomy over curriculum and pedagogy that would not only be seen over the period of Thatcher’s government but henceforth. In 1980, they did introduce open enrolment whereby parents could now choose the school that their children were sent to, subject to available places, and had a chance to sit on the school governing bodies. As I have mentioned previously, this has led to a widespread change in the attitudes of many parents not only towards teachers but also to the idea of sending their children to the local school. After a third election in 1987, however, the Conservative government introduced the National Curriculum which proscribed the core subjects to be taught in all state primary and secondary schools. This curriculum was notably written by the government with no input from teachers – the Schools Council, which had had great involvement in the design of curriculum and examinations previously having been disbanded in 1982. Indeed, it shows the control that was given to the Minister of Education, Kenneth Baker that he could proscribe that 10 subjects that were to be taught compulsorily  until age 16, even despite disagreement of Thatcher who wanted a core of English, Maths and Science. This bill also introduced funding attached to individual pupils through Local Management of Schools in 1988 which, along with the previous open enrolment, was to effectively usher in marketision on education by introducing competition between schools. It also marginalised the influence of the Local Education Authorities by funding schools directly along with creating the opportunities for schools to opt out of LEA control completely by becoming ‘grant-maintained’ (a precursor of Free Schoos and academies).  Control of the education system was also to be further strengthened with the establishment of the Ofsted replacing HMIs and further reducing the teachers’ professional autonomy.

In many ways, this Act opened the floodgates for state involvement in education. Further adjustments to the education system under the Major government. The introduction of state involvement in pedagogy as well as curriculum with the Literacy and Numeracy Strategies in 1998 –  coming in, again, from a Labour Party – was merely building on the foundations of 1988 . Indeed, considering that Blair’s New Labour carried on the Conservative policies of ‘parent power’, neo-liberal marketisation in education and Ofsted inspections, it was as natural a development as anything a Conservative government would have implemented.

Of course, after this, the introduction of Academy schools in 2000, which partly resurrected an ultimately doomed Thatcherite idea  of City Technology Colleges, as well as an increase in faith schools, reduced further state involvement in the curriculum and pedagogy in education . Academies put the control of education into the hands of private sponsors and religious bodies rather than returning it to teachers, especially in remaining state schools still bound to the National curriculum. With the continued move away from true comprehensive education, e.g. the introduction of specialist schools that were allowed to select a small number of their pupils and widening of the academy system by the coalition government in 2010, teachers and local education authorities have been almost completely bypassed in involvement in the governing of schools and choice of curriculum and pedagogy.

This brings up right up to date with Gove who has further marginalised the latter’s control with his implementations of Free Schools where, theoretically, parents and teachers will be able to run schools outside of local education authorities and with their own curriculum. However, running a school being such a huge and complicated undertaking, it was always more realistic that these schools would be run by private companies who could manage such an endeavour. What has happened with these Free schools (and, indeed, academies) and the companies that run them are for another day.

Although the state control of education has gradually increased and, to an extent, decreased again since the turn of the last century, this means nothing, apart from its effects on teacher’s autonomy and political ideologies, unless we judge what impact these changes have had on the children in the education system. While it would be tempting to look at at numbers of passes in public exams, education has to address social inequalities and provide equality of opportunity to all children entering schools. In their flawed but useful book ‘The Spirit Level’ the authors posit that it is not only beneficial for individuals to have equality of opportunity but also for society as an educated working population contributes more and is less reliant on society, is more likely to have good health and less likely to commit criminal acts . The 1944 Education act was introduced to provide an education system that closed the attainment gap between rich and poor and, as such, subsequent education policies need to be judged by how successful they were in this. Evidence of a reduction in inequality in any education system has to be taken into account as well as total attainment.

The current marketised education system, introduced by Tories and enthusiastically adopted and expanded on by New Labour and now the coalition, was supposed to offer more choice and diversity of schools to the consumer of this particular market. With the introduction of parental choice of schools and parental governors, it is arguable that the consumers were the parents rather than the children. The 1996 Education Act was concerned with parental choice and the New Labour government would continue the Thatcherite ideal that market forces would raise standards. When looking at the available attainment statistics of New Labour from 1999 to 2010 and the Coalition government’s figures for 2011, passes of 5 GCSEs at A*-C have increased for the total amount of children entered. However, selective schools outperformed non-selective schools by  47.7% on average and independent schools have outperformed non-selective schools by 32% meaning that, despite increases in the education system as a whole, there are still inequalities between selective schools, independent schools and comprehensive schools . Research of statistics since 2003 of children who are in receipt of Free School Meals – an indicator of low income- and those not receiving FSM shows the disparity is even larger . Non-FSM children have outperformed FSM children on average by 27.5%, albeit with the gap decreasing slightly every year.

While there appears to have been a steady increase in GCSEs, the British education system is still rife with inequality – between independent, grammar and comprehensive schools and, more dramatically, between children who are at the lower end of the income scale and receiving free school meals and those that are not eligible – albeit there is slow small reductions in the disparities year on year. More pointedly, this social class attainment gap has run through the whole post-war education era from the intrinsically unequal grammar school system through the ‘golden age of teacher autonomy” era of the well-intentioned introduction of comprehensive schools undermined by existing grammar schools and middle class manipulation of the system through to the marketised education system of the Thatcherite and New Labour years. State involvement in the education system during this time has gone from ensuring the rights of children to free comprehensive education but with a light touch on teachers and schools to the proscription of curriculum, pedagogy and national testing . Finally, the neo-liberal marketeers of New Labour and, presently, the Coalition Government appear to be divesting control not back to education professionals but to parents, religious groups and private enterprise.

What has this long historical meander got to do with Gove? Well, he is basically the beneficiary and result of a system that started over 30 years ago with the jettisoning of the post-war consensus and has continued with more and more meddling of pedagogy, curriculum and the administration of schools by increasing numbers of completely unqualified non-teachers. He hasn’t just popped up out of nowhere, the last thirty years’ governments’ education policies have paved the way for someone like him.