Saturday, 19 January 2013

Blog Sync 1: The Universal Panacea: The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime

29 Acacia Road
Nutty Town

19th  January 2013

The RT Honorable Michael Gove MP
The House of Commons

       Dear Mr. Gove,

This blog post is addressed to you as I cannot think of who better to direct this blog syncing post, 'The Universal Panacea: The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime' to, not that for one minute I expect your eyes to rest upon, lest alone digest what I will write.  For I am one of those folk in your charge that you publicly revile at any given opportunity. I am a classroom teacher in one of the secondary schools that you seem hell bent on destroying. 

Being a classroom teacher, I know my position which does not place me with a great deal of authority in the system as it stands, which in itself is, to quote Hamlet, 'the rub.' However, I have been a classroom teacher for ten years.  I have also dipped my toe in the role of middle management for a spell, and I have taught in three very different schools. My longevity in the role and variety of experience, I believe, provides me with a little more authority than you to comment on our education system and what I believe would make it so much better. I ask you, other than your historical public education utopia you seem determined to enforce on all of us, what do you actually KNOW of secondary schools and what it is like to teach in one?  What do you know of the pupils that populate these schools?  What on earth do you know about what engages the contemporary teenager? How much time have you spent with them? Tell me, how do you you engage a pupil whose has a brother in prison for murdering another of his brothers? Or the young boy whose mother has a mental illness, who is unable to wash, clothe or feed them properly? Tell me, as you seem to have rigorous answers to everything. 

During those ten years, I have yet to see the system evolve into perfect and I have lost count of the number of education secretaries that I have worked under, you lot do not seem to last that long, certainly no more than 18 months having been the average. In the past, that had been an irritant, but oh how my heart sank when the coalition cabinet re-shuffle was announced and we found out that you were going to break the 18 month duck and stay in position. 

What I am experiencing, as a classroom teacher is more akin to an Orwellian dystopia or a Kafkan existential nightmare of shifting goal posts, in what is deemed a 'good' school, or 'good' teaching.  Much like the protagonist in Kafka's 'The Trial', I never really know what the overbearing bureaucracy actually want; what on earth am I on trial for? 

Or, to pose another question, once we have figured out this Sphinxian puzzle, will all this really benefit the pupils that I see every week? Does any of it actually improve my teaching and learning?  The answer, Mr. Gove, is no.  What you have created is a dark, labyrinth of paranoia and distrust, emanating from you, and perpetuated by the Daily Mail which grinds away at confidence and competence of me and teachers like me.  Teachers who often go the extra mile at great personal cost to themselves. Teachers who care about their job and their pupils, their competence, about constantly bettering themselves; who at the very least want this to be recognised and not through the farce of performance related pay; a pay system which will be bureaucratically burdensome for schools and remove valuable time that could be used to improve teaching and learning in the heart of British classrooms. 

Moving onto the Panacea or Utopian element of the post, in the letter that you will never read, I find it hard to narrow down to one thing, so I'll do discuss two.

Firstly, should the education system be a means of glorifying an individual's ego and reflect the ideology of that individual? Does this positively benefit the pupils in my care? Does this actually and conceivably raise standards in schools? What could be in place instead? 

It seems inherently dangerous to those pupils that one person be given so much power over their futures without their decisions ever being tempered.  Even though, you Mr. Gove, have access to a range of educational advisers, you do not seem to care much for their opinions. Opinions grounded in classroom practice and sound educational research, for you know best, so it seems.  

What we need, the people on the front line, is our voices to be heard, our opinions recognised and our ideas valued through better use of the democratic system. It must be that educational decisions are presided over with great care, via multi-party input and a range of voices listened to from the classroom teacher, headteachers and world renowned academic writers and researchers. How that is to be done? I do not know, however, that has got to be better than the Orwellian and Kafkan nightmare we are currently in. Most importantly, it will be better for our pupils.

You could, if you were interested, look at democratic educationalists in action on Twitter.  Twitter is populated by a range of teachers who put aside their rank and file and continuously collaborate, cajole and enlighten on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.  This is an idyll of CPD in action; how we want to be, how we are and how beyond cyberspace it now so often provides us with an idea of what an educational Utopia could be. 

Have a look at this Tweachers Tube Map, Mr. Gove (produced by @Pekabelo/Peter Jones):

Here you have a map that represents the virtual community of teachers sharing good practice, peeking into each other's classroom via blog posts that share a range of good pedagogy which transfers to the real world via Teach Meets. More importantly, all of this interaction and collaboration drip feeds into classrooms across the country. 

Why does this work so well for us? Trust, Mr. Gove, trust.  There is both implicit and explicit trust between Tweeting teachers that we share a common goal: to do and be the best for our pupils by constantly trying to improve our practice.  Is that ever recognised by you, Mr. Wilshaw and The Daily Mail? 

This virtual model can easily be transferred to the real world. Local Authorities can take this online Utopia and use it to improve the practice in their schools, to 'accentuate the positive'.  

Now, the other Universal Panacea that should be seriously considered, that never seems to be a part of educational reform is a teacher's timetable load.  Here, have a look at mine:

I am a classroom teacher which means I have a full teaching load. I have had this full teaching load for a decade. As you can see there are 6 lessons a day so out of a potential 30 lessons, I plan, teach and mark for 22 lessons a week.  Not that I have counted the number of pupils that this entails, for I think this would probably scare me, but I think that's at least 150 pupils, if not a a few more. 

Teaching standards are quite rightly, demanding, focusing on professionalism. Of course we should have good subject knowledge; plan learning that is full of stretch and challenge; mark in a way that enables pupils to improve; aid our colleagues' teaching and learning; lead by example and take into account learning beyond the four walls of the classroom and this is to paraphrase just a few.  We need them because what we do is of great importance.  The young lives we deal with matter to us greatly. 

Here comes another 'rub'.  During my ten years of teaching, I have yet to find a way to manage the work load in a way that is the best for both the pupils and I; be fully satisfied with the planning for each and every lesson; to maintain anything that resembles a good work/life balance. Ten years down the line, both physical and mental well being has been the cost to me and that rather heavy cost seems to increase under your 'watch'.  I know from the teachers I interact with so often on Twitter, that I am not alone in this. 

Here is what I propose which is both simple and complex.  Reduce the teaching load of each teacher.  When  Year 11 have left, most of us get a drop in timetable load and the atmosphere amongst teachers is palpable.  It is not just that Year 11 have finally gone, the reduced timetable this brings about allows us to breathe, reflect and feel that we CAN actually cope with the demands of the profession.

However, I am aware that this is a simple idea with complex implications for schools, not least budgeting because more teachers will be needed in each school.  Then there are the logistics of classroom sizes, number and location but do hear me out. 

What might this reduction in teaching load enable:

  • I know that teachers will be able to plan lessons of consistently high quality that we can take pride in.
  • We can consistently improve the quality of our marking and feedback.
  • We will have the time to better reflect upon the quality of our lessons and act upon those reflections.
  • We have the time, energy and bravery to take more risks with our pedagogy.
  • Non-contact time will not just involve us trying not to drown under the workload but enable time to collaborate on a range of pedagogical projects
  • We will have more vim and vigour to put into our lessons. I know I am at my best when not wracked with exhaustion.
  • We can use non-contact time to take up the Twitter model and collaborate with teachers across our LAs and the country.
  • We can peer coach each other into improvement on a regular basis
  • We will feel that we can rather than feel that 'I can but only if many compromises are always made.'
  • We will be best placed to put the teaching and learning at the centre of what we do, rather than the plate spinning act of teaching, learning, marking, data and more bureaucracy than we know what to do with.
  • We can stop the feeling of constantly fire-fighting. 
  • Everyone of those very important standards will improve.
  • The outcome for each and every pupil will be better.
  • We will have time for professional dialogues about teaching and learning.
  • There are bound to be many more positive implications that I cannot think of.  
  • Excellence will be more realistically with in the grasp of all of us.

I write this list knowing it is, much like your reforms, based on a hunch. If there is evidence for my assertion, I'm not sure where this lies.  It is a contradictory proposal due to its seeming simplicity and complex implications. With this hunch I feel, and it is a feeling, the educational Panacea that we all aspire to, consistently great teaching, will be more frequently achievable.  That being the case, the by-product of this, is the data that you hold so dear will look far more pleasing to your cold, hard eyes. 

I am baffled and confused as to why this doesn't come into your thinking. In fact, much of what you do and say baffles me, Mr. Gove, for I know not what it is you aim to achieve other than forging your path to promotion which will be at the expense of hundreds thousands of pupils well-being, and the thousands of teachers, who are dedicated, hard-working, and inspirational; who contemplate throwing in the teaching towel more often than they care to admit, because they still don't know the purpose of your Trial and how this Trial will make things better for pupils.

      Yours Sincerely,

       Miss. Drained Demoralised English Teacher

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1 comment:

  1. OMG!!! Very well written application. Thanks for sharing.

    Agrodut Mandal
    Editing and Proofreading