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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

The Ugly Duckling: Tales from the Frontline

So the tale goes … the ugly duckling emerges from a long hard winter as a beautiful swan having been through some tough character building experiences.

Newly qualified teachers up and down the country are emerging from a long hard winter.  When I look back, a long way back, I can remember the near exhaustion of the first year of teaching.  Everything is new – the school, the rules & routines and the children – there is so much to learn.  Everything takes twice as long or even longer to do – the planning, the marking and deciding what best to write in each child’s report home.  The short cuts and benefits of experience will come in the years ahead but for now it is survive until the summer.

Source Unknown: Can you help with attribution?

Source Unknown: Can you help with attribution?

Sadly about one in six newly qualified teachers will leave the profession this summer probably never to return.  Something is going badly wrong as the disillusionment phase, in the graph above, continues through the spring and into the summer months.  There are many things that concern me about the education system and how some people are operating which are out of my control.  However, there are many areas as leaders and experienced teachers which we can and must influence.  How good is the induction programme for new staff?  What could we do to ensure even greater consistency from mentors and higher quality mentoring?  Given the extra pressures of planning & preparation for an NQT, do we need to strengthen our schemes of learning?  How can we find some extra time and space for NQTs at pinch points in the year?

There’s not exactly a shed load of graduates lining up to replace them, we need to cherish our NQTs more. 

Photo Credit: mcveja via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: mcveja via Flickr cc

As the newly qualified teachers become recently qualified and then gains further experience and knowledge of teaching & learning the serene swan like class room practitioner magically appears.  As the years go by there is a camaraderie of teachers, experienced, trustworthy, enjoying their work, who are the power house of any school.  They add massive value but we tend to take them for granted.  The impact of excessive workload is driving far too many out of the profession.  A lack of retention of experienced staff is becoming a multiplier in the looming shortage of teachers.  How can we push back accountability and give the space for these colleagues to take greater responsibility?  Which initiatives are really going to have impact and are worth pursuing but more importantly which can we ditch?  What requirements around lesson planning, marking and meetings are adding value but more importantly which can we ditch?  We need to create more time and space for these experienced teachers.

There’s not exactly a shed load of NQTs/RQTs lining up to replace them, we need to cherish our experienced teachers more. 

Thank goodness we still have teachers who are prepared to take responsibility as middle leaders, then senior leaders and for some become head teachers.  With the pernicious nature of our accountability system there is a growing fear around taking on the leadership of schools and departments, particularly core departments and particularly in more challenging schools.  We reap what we sow or more precisely our children are.

There’s not exactly a shed load of teachers lining up to replace them, we need to cherish our leaders more. 

Photo Credit: lunaman via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: lunaman via Flickr cc

It takes time, support and development to turn us from an ugly duckling into a swan.  We experience this change when we are new to the profession but also each time we take a new responsibility or fulfil a new role.  Our education system has become too much about the short term and the illusion of the quick fix.  Running around looking like you are improving things is being misread and reinterpreted as impact.  The challenge of working in schools can be at times akin to a long hard winter.  It takes time and commitment to build a culture which has a lasting impact on young people’s lives.  Let’s make sure the long hard winter brings forth new life instead of freezing so many out of the profession.

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The elephant in the room is the likelihood of a teacher recruitment and retention crisis impacting on schools.  To find out more click the image below:

Source Unknown: Can you help with attribution?

Source Unknown: Can you help with attribution?

This week we had our annual Directors (Governors) and senior leaders’ development planning meeting.  We’ve committed to making out Trust and its academies places of first choice to work.  We’ll have to lead well, maintain a constancy of purpose, offer great support, challenge and development and see each other through the ups and downs of school life.  We have some way to go but at least we’ve taken the first few steps … now to take a few more.

Let’s hope the new government help rather than hinder us.




7 thoughts on “The Ugly Duckling: Tales from the Frontline

  1. I am afraid that I am one the experienced teachers who have left and your analysis could not be more spot on!! In all honesty I toy with the idea of going back most days but at the same time I have a life outside of teaching.

    Every time I mention going back the other half starts to turn a bit pale!! He doesn’t want it – he wants to see me once in a while, he likes that we get to do things together and that in the evening we can watch a programme together or go to the theatre or even plan to do things on the weekend. In the end, no job is going to compensate me for losing my partner and it was this realisation that led me to resign.

    The workload, the stress of coping with challenging children (and parents) with little or no support (I had alopecia for a whole year after teaching a class – what kind of stress does one have to be under in order for ones own immune system to attack it!!!) and being subject to game-playing and hoop jumping affected me and him. In the end there is more than one way to put food ones table and a roof over ones head.

    My current role is part time and I have just been made permanent. Why can’t I have had the same experience teaching? Working hard and contributing to the organisation is what led me to that. Yet as a teacher this did not lead to promotion and possibilities in most instances just exploitation and attacks at times.

    Something is indeed wrong if the job that I have been best at is not one that I can do without being exploited.

    Posted by teachwell | May 9, 2015, 8:42 am
    • Thanks for taking the time to add this. I think your story will resonate with many teachers, too many if truth be told. Hope the new job gives you the best of both Worlds.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | May 9, 2015, 8:55 am
      • Indeed – but here’s hoping that changes are made so I can go back in!! It’s still education related and involves helping teachers so that means that at least my experience is not ‘wasted’ in an office job or the like!!

        Posted by teachwell | May 9, 2015, 9:03 am
  2. Agree with so much of this. Stephen. And in line with Vision 2040 and @CollOfTeaching, I think we need to think again about ITT and its relationship with the long term development of the profession. Hope the new-old gov’t will continue working with ITT and CPD expert groups to look at this. I also think schools, inevitably facing budget constraints now, need to look at long-term staff dev as a priority, not as an optional extra, and part of this needs to be time and space for experienced teachers to act as mentors to the newer/younger colleagues in a school, or local ‘family’ of schools.

    Posted by misslisa67 | May 9, 2015, 6:27 pm


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