A Gift From Above

I know that Twitter is occasionally like the online staffroom – that safe haven where teachers and staff can (quite rightly) get things off their chest. And I know that what staff quite often want to get off their chest is the latest initiative that is causing their workload to resemble the never-ending story –except that at the end of term you won’t be flying atop a massive flying rodent with a moustache. Occasionally, the staff room is also the place to (whisper it) BITCH about senior leaders.

It is this element of the staffroom/Twitter comparison that I find the most uncomfortable. Not just because I am pathetically needy and want everyone in the real and virtual work to think that I’m great. Nor because it is necessarily untrue.

No, I find it most uncomfortable because

  1. Nothing I say about the virtues of my leadership or the fantastic Heads I know will stop others from thinking ‘Yeah but what do you know, you’re a Head…you probably wouldn’t know a successful lesson if it kicked you in the Ed Balls*: you’re too busy chasing the Ofsted golden ticket of outstanding like some deranged OmpaLumpa in a suit: you disgust me.’
  2. Nothing I say will make those depressed, deflated or damaged teachers feel better.
  3. Nothing I say will improve YOUR SLTs.

So what’s a Head to do?

Well, all I will say is this:

If you truly see absolutely no value in the people who are leading your school then you should leave. I know, I know: that’s not fair; it’s not you who should have to leave it’s them. But face it, if you’re in a situation where their exit looks unlikely then why put yourself through it? Please don’t say ‘for the sake of the children’. Again, I know that sounds mean and callous but the damage being done to them by poor leadership is greater than the good they have with you for one year. If you want to feel valued as a teacher you must work in a place where you feel valued and where that sense of worth is reflected back onto the SLT. It is the strategic direction of the school that impacts most heavily on the achievement and future achievement of children. I truly believe this.

As a teacher I worked in a school where the thought of me ‘not’ being there for the children sickened me. They were disadvantaged, didn’t see the point in school and were deemed so unlikely to succeed it would break your heart. It was a privilege to teach them and to see them succeed. But when the leadership of the school began to crumble I could see that no matter what I did, no matter what magic I achieved in the classroom: it wouldn’t have a lasting impact. Except maybe in years to come some of them might think back and say that they quite enjoyed my lessons but that isn’t good enough.

So I left. Did I run away? Did I let those children down? Maybe. But not as much as those getting paid a lot more than me let them down. I saw a window of opportunity where I could have a greater impact on more children for a sustained period of time and I took it. And I’ve never looked back-partly because it was too painful.

Ok, let’s cheer things up.

If you really don’t want to leave then try this: Even though I’m a wonderful leader to the point where I’m probably written into most staff members’ last will and testament, I do think that ensuring a school’s leadership team are effective, strategic, good at their job and nice to people is pretty darn important.

So to achieve this in my current school my SLT are at this very moment creating a code of conduct for SLT. I am very happy to share its current daft with you fine people. It is a draft based on discussions we have had about taking the school forward and represents what we want to say about ourselves and hopefully what others will say about us.

You will see that the draft is in two colours: the black writing is the official document and the red writing is the official document but in plain English. I call this version the ‘idiot’s guide to SLT’ and we’re using it to make sure that everyone in SLT gets it…because you can’t be too sure!

SLT Code of Conduct idiot’s guide

So, read it, tell me what you think.  If you like it why not photocopy it and leave it in the Head’s office or under their windscreen wipers or use it as their screensaver. All I know is that I’m proud to be a school leader. I think I’m good at it. I think I can unify and lead a load of people in a direction that could help children achieve. But I also respect the job too much to risk it being ruined by some of the behaviours described on Twitter in recent months so I won’t let it happen and here is how I intend to start.

*I appreciate Ed Balls is a rather old education reference but I could hardly have used Tristram Hunt could I…that would be rude.

MOT – Motivate Our Teachers…or Mad Old Tristram?

Image from @MartinShovel

It’s a bloody outrage, how dare he? I’m not a car! I don’t need more hoops to jump through. Yeah, yeah, yeah whatever. As with any idea that could affect how the cogs of education turn, @TristramHuntMP’s suggestion that teachers should have a licence to teach was devoured on twitter and the blogosphere quicker than a teacher’s packed lunch on the first day back after the holidays. It wasn’t helped that his proposal had been abbreviated into an over simplistic idea that provided an easy target for pretty much anyone with access to the internet and at least one opposable thumb.

Let’s get the basics out of the way: There will always be those who feel hard done by and who live their lives eternally bothered by the fact that their job warrants scrutiny by people other than themselves. Those people should largely be ignored. Criticise by finding faults/flaws and suggesting better alternatives not by screaming ‘It’s not fair.’ So if you have read what Hunt has suggested and object in principle to the profession seeking out robust quality assurance and methods of self-improvement then maybe it’s time you just went away.

Now let’s focus on the idea – there are some good thoughts hidden in what Hunt said but in my humble opinion they are either not good enough or facsimiles of what already happens in schools up and down the country.

He talked about teachers being ‘motivated’ and ‘passionate’ as if these were equal to competency in the classroom. It was as if the media-savvy side of his brain was thinking ‘They’re not going to like this so if I just go on for ages about how teachers are important and passionate – and I mean really go on about it – I might be able to slip the idea in and they won’t mind.’ Don’t insult us: yes passion is a great motivator but we all know that sometimes it can count for bugger all. As the saying goes: just because a cat has kittens in the oven, that don’t make them biscuits.

What I’m sure he meant to say is: ‘If you’re not a motivated teacher – passionate about the profession and determined to reflect and develop your skills in order to become a highly effective practitioner so all children achieve when they are in your lesson – then you shouldn’t really be in this profession.’

In fact he sort of did say this too but annoyingly I think the weakest part of Hunt’s statement was introducing this ‘licence’ as the way of guaranteeing teachers engage with professional development: ‘If you’re not willing to re-engage in re-licencing to update your skills then you really shouldn’t be in the classroom.’ This does make it sound like it is the process of the re-licence that will keep teachers qualified which I believe is wrong at worst or a distortion of school’s robust appraisal processes at best.

We already have performance management and now a teacher’s appraisal is linked to their pay. If this is done well the Head will ensure that this establishes a culture where teachers proactively engage with their own development in a way that not only meets the needs of the school at that time but also improves their personal approach to teaching. So…do we need a licence to prove it?

Ah yes, but what about those schools where performance management is just a tick boxing exercise and the teachers don’t respect the views and judgements for the senior leadership team? Well, I hate to break it to you but a licence ain’t going to change either of those problems. The biggest problem there is the leadership: it is your job leaders to create that positive culture where reflections are not attacks and improvements are individualised rather than regurgitating the latest initiative of the week. Putting in an extra layer of accreditation through a teaching licence seems to me to be either fixing a problem that isn’t there or an inadequate way to patch up failing schools.

The most noble part of Hunt’s statement was the notion that teachers should be valued as a profession to the same degree as Doctors and Lawyers. I and I’m sure everyone in education would agree that we should be as valued because we ARE professionals. But surely the point here is the perception of our professionalism rather than the nature of it? If (and I know it’s a big ‘if’) but IF schools are led effectively everyone in that organisation can hold their heads up high. If Hunt has an issue with unqualified teachers working in schools, well, address that issue on its own and leave the rest of us out of it.

So I thank you Mr Hunt for your efforts and you at least gave me something to write about this Sunday.  If you are desperate to develop this idea you can count on me to engage with it positively. But you haven’t got long, the election’s coming soon and I’ve got my car booked in for its MOT next month and that hunk of junk has got less chance of passing than Gove being asked to appear in the new series of Blackadder.

Your country needs YOU! (But qualified please, don’t take the Michael)


I appointed a new office worker this year: she had worked in banking and had experience of working with the public. At the end of the term I asked her how she had enjoyed her first 8 weeks working in a school. She said that she had absolutely loved it but…

…she couldn’t believe the intensity of life in a primary school and how hard all the teachers worked. ‘I knew they’d be busy in the classroom teaching stuff but I never realised how hard they work on the emotional support for the children and the parents and everything else that has gone on this term: it’s just non-stop!’

For me this newly found perception is most interesting precisely because she hadn’t even seen the work that goes on in the classroom: just everything else and as those of us in education know it’s often the ‘everything else’ which is so exhausting and rewarding simultaneously…and a big reason why QTS is important.

So you have a degree, a passion for your area of expertise and you believe you would be a great teacher. That is genuinely fantastic! I’m pleased for you, come into the world of education and you will love it but please don’t break in via a side door while no one’s looking. Do it properly and train: why? Because you’ll be a better teacher, I promise. I know you have a Masters and yes I know you have a passion but all that will enable you to do is to give some high quality information to the children in your class (due to your degree) with some of them retaining some of it (because of your passion). Teaching is more than getting children to remember stuff (despite Gove gulping to the contrary).

Being a teacher is HUGE. You literally can’t get a job with a bigger job description. I haven’t got time to go into all of it but this picture of a mug sort of puts it across – albeit in a rather smug way.

A mug that is smug…a smug-mug if you will. Every staff room should/will have one.

See? It’s a big job and quite frankly it is too big for your degree in [inset whatever degree subject you want] to handle. It needs a bit more care and attention if it’s going to be done correctly. Oh, and if you think by ‘done correctly’ you think I’m still just talking about the teaching a lesson bit you need to start reading this again or look at the smug-mug or alternatively decide never to become a teacher.

What I’m trying to get at is that with QTS you will understand and will be beginning to be better at working with the pressures and the all the other ‘stuff’ that you have to manage effectively so you can still deliver consistent levels of progress and achievement over time. You still won’t be perfect (but don’t worry we’ll all help you) and you’ll get better.

But if I’m going to get better at being a teacher because of working on the job anyway-why can’t I skip the boring QTS bit?

Oh ok and while we’re at it we might as well just put it about that ‘rosebud’ is just his sledge, Vador is Luke’s Dad, Romeo and Juliet both die, Godot never turns up, the girl in the crying game has a willy and the answer to the life, universe and everything is 42. Do you want to do that? No, I didn’t think so. You don’t just skip to the end, the pay-offs will be meaningless: you’ve got to work your way through it, build up your knowledge and understanding.

Training to become a teacher is far more valid than some certified measure of aptitude and a lot of self-belief. It involves going to lectures and listening to experts talk about learning and the psychology of pupils and the importance of all those bits and pieces identified on the smug-mug whilst doing small work placements in a variety of school settings and reading endless books about becoming a reflective teacher and then transposing them into your own thoughts and pedagogy. It will actually really help you when you finally get your hands on you own class full of 30 (or more) individual minds bodies and souls.

So give yourself and the fellow professionals you wish to work alongside the professional dignity and stature we deserve and become a qualified teacher.