If anyone who signed up to the workload poster reads this post I can imagine them thinking “there is no pleasing some people”. There is a growing correlation between my age and increased level of grumpiness. The poster just made me cross.
The Department for Education has pulled off a major coup by getting the teaching unions to sign up to the workload poster. It essentially lays the blame and the solution for workload squarely in the hands of school leaders; what the hell ASCL and NAHT were thinking of goodness only knows.
Nothing much to disagree with in the Do and Don’t columns. However, I couldn’t get past the header of the third column before my blood pressure started to rise. “Remember Ofsted Says” should really read “Remember Ofsted has been imposing a whole series of unsustainable and inappropriate practices on schools for the past two decades but now we’d like to change our mind and offer the following expectation but please remember it is very difficult to get all our inspectors to be totally consistent; they are human beings first and foremost, so give us a call if there is a problem.” I accept it’s not as short and snappy as the header used nor does it work particularly well as a hashtag. By the way, it’s perfectly reasonable for Ofsted to change its mind and is a necessary part of the evolution of any organisation or individual.
Following three consecutive Ofsted reports that criticised marking at the school, I introduced a Neanderthal system which was anything but manageable. Marking workload increased significantly, for two years, until we repealed the policy and re-thought our approach. My rationale was we can’t have a fourth consecutive report criticising us. Whilst the policy did reduce the variability in the quantity and quality of marking it was less than meaningful in many places. I was so busy with a capital building programme that I missed the whole triple marking fad; our staff thank God to this day.
It is a moot point whether we were closer to “meaningful, manageable, motivating” marking pre or post-Ofsted intervention. What I do know is that school leaders must take their share of the responsibility but they do not work in isolation; Ofsted and school leaders have a lot to apologise for.
The advice on planning is again spot on; nothing much to disagree with. School and middle leaders should take note. However, the causation of many of our problems is the amount of concurrent curriculum and assessment changes required in primary schools, at GCSE and A-level, driven by the Department for Education. Changes which have and continue to be imposed on schools and teachers. I could hardly tell primary colleagues to ignore the curriculum or assessment changes last year or English and Maths teachers to not bother with the new GCSE or A-level specifications this year or other colleagues next year and the year after. It didn’t help when publication of specifications was delayed or supporting materials were rather sparse on the ground.
There’s little we can do about this apart from grit our teeth and get through it. It’s not too late for a couple of extra INSET days to be given to all schools for the 2017/18 and 2018/19 academic years to enable collaborative planning time for teachers. Academies have the freedom to do this already; maintained schools don’t.
The National Audit Office as well as identifying the £3 billion reduction in funding were also hugely critical of the Department for Education’s failure to factor in any costs/funding for all the changes that were being foisted on schools; lessons need to be learnt all round. A little less advice and a bit more mea culpa from the Department might help soothe the situation.
Data, the wrong kind of data, has been king for a long time driven by a punitive accountability system; aggregated data, two sub-levels progress a year or for exceptional performance a level per year. Cue collection of nonsense, collation into tables and the drawing of graphs, venn diagrams and pie charts. Fed to senior leaders, governors, local authority officers and inspectors everyone was happy; no-one spotted that the emperor had no clothes on. The same happened with lesson observation data. I’ve got spreadsheets of lesson grades stretching over years. I keep them to remind myself of the stupidity of our education system and my stupidity for accepting the prevailing norms rather than questioning them. By way of bizarre contrast, when I first became a Headteacher I would not observe candidates for jobs teaching as a couldn’t set up a system of two classes full of identical twins to enable valid comparison.
And so, “Ofsted will usually expect to see routine evidence of the monitoring of teaching and learning and it’s link to teachers’ performance management and the teachers’ standards …” If this is what Ofsted “usually” expect to see then maybe some of us should be unusual. Others may ask why Ofsted want this and yet more may ask, “how can we do this with any validity?” The expectation will be top down; it is what we have grown up with in the profession.
I request permission to have no more evidence than what is of value to teachers and middle leaders; what is of value in the class room to promote pupils’ learning. I’m happy to ensure there is a system for teachers to identify what they do and don’t teach well, within their subject, and further ensure there is the means for getting that little bit better every week, term and year.
How long before we question whether the time spent on performance management is worth the effort and weep at the nonsense of performance related pay. There may be more #mythbusters trying to undo the unnecessary damage done. Told you I was feeling grumpy.