It should have been a quiet day on twitter; I hadn’t posted anything for a number of days and I needed to focus on moving a whole series of things into storage. Panic set in when Sean Harford sent me a couple of tweets seeking some clarification.
“Stephen, just so we’re clear, your first two ‘non-negotiables’ here aren’t intended to gather evidence for inspection to justify your investment are they? If so, that would be entirely unnecessary. Just trying to clarify …”
My first thought was of panic; how could I have forgotten to think about Ofsted? We’re bound to fail our next inspection now! The inspectorate had never crossed my mind when formulating the proposal. It was aimed at retention and improving outcomes via better and better teaching.
The non-negotiables had been part of a post, Teacher Crisis: Deal with the Causes Not the Symptoms. The post included our intention, as a Trust, to go out to consultation about reducing a teacher’s class room contact time by about an hour per week so s/he could focus on personal professional development to improve the quality of her/his teaching. The latter part of the post I thought was the least controversial; why would anyone disagree?
“ … No, and glad you weren’t. Just anxious that ppl will think O want to see an individual T’s CPD tied to their exam results.”
Sean’s issue had been the first point; producing evidence. This was included as a non-negotiable for two reasons. First of all there will be no specific monitoring of how teachers decide to use the time; I trust them to know what aspect of their teaching they want to improve next. The only way of knowing whether it has happened will be the production of “verifiable evidence”. For example, if three teachers decide to complete a lesson study project then the verifiable evidence would be a write up of the project. This would then also fulfil the second reason; their learning can be shared with a wider audience. The process of knowledge sharing may occur.
The day didn’t get any quieter and I intermittently responded whilst packing and moving boxes. The second non-negotiable is about impact. An increase of about 500 days of professional development across the Trust needs to have a positive impact on pupils’ outcomes. Initially this may be seen through improvements in performance by a small cohort of pupils, following a specific intervention, in year. This should be cumulative across teachers and over time. Medium to long term, it may take a few years, I would hope to see outcomes at Key Stage 1 & 2, GCSE and A-levels go up. This would be a positive correlation.
Although I was very clear about the difficulty in attributing causation in the original post; a number of tweets made me wonder whether everyone had grasped the difference. The way I explain this when talking is: there were no maternity leaves for the first two and a half years of my headship. However over time there were more and more and by the time I left headship we’d regularly have six to eight per annum. There is a positive correlation between the length of time I was in headship and the number of staff becoming pregnant; however, there was no causation. I was responsible for none of them.
Causation is very difficult to prove in situations like this; I can live with this uncertainty. If we are going to invest tens of thousands of pounds per annum in reducing teachers’ teaching time, to enable them to undertake more professional development, instead of spending it on something else, it has to have impact. This is not about vanity projects. It’s about improving teaching, enhancing learning and making a positive difference to children’s life chances.
Twitter is a rather imperfect communication tool but if I understood some tweets correctly people were adverse to this connection. They saw professional development and improved outcomes as an emulsion; a fine dispersion of one aspect through another in a mixture where the elements are not soluble or miscible. I see professional development as solution; to ever better quality of teaching. We just need to afford professional development the status and critically the time it needs; we also need to make sure it is outcomes focused. I will be interested what comes out of the consultation. Without the overwhelming support of the teachers it will be advisable to ditch the whole thing; just as we did when we consulted last year. Staff told us “love the idea but where will we get the time from?”; now we are seeking to provide the time that is needed.
Having got over my initial panic of forgetting to think about Ofsted I now have a deeper fear. If we are not prepared to take responsibility and be answerable for something as important and integral to teaching as professional development we may never see the back of the inspectorate. This was the reason why we deserved Ofsted in the first place.