Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Efficiency and exam boards

I am sick of being told to find 'efficiencies' so I'm going to tell some other people to find them for me.
source: https://slightlychilledporcupine.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/the-grinding-gears-of-bureaucracy
I've always thought exam boards are really bizarre organisations. Who knows quite how they work? They seem to work on a shoestring, with hoards of part time staff on 0.05 contracts and spend their time passing the job of marking out to anyone they can get their hands on with a pulse and a vaguely relevant qualification even though most of those people already work 50 odd hours every week. In the mean time, someone who runs them gets an OBE and everyone says it's a jolly good show and we all go around for one more dance.

"I've got a fish tank and some free time between 9:06 and 9:21pm?" 
"Great, you can mark biology A-level then!" 

I have every sympathy for them in some ways. They live in shadow of the QCA, soaking up the ire and frustration of teachers which really should be aimed at 'the man' itself. Lets be absolutely fair - it wasn't any of the exam boards who were sitting about saying 'what these kids need is more grammar and remembering' 


I do think there's a huge amount exam boards could do about general teacher workload and here's a few ideas and reflections based on my experiences with new specifications in the last couple of years. (I'll name no names as I understand from my colleagues that the experience is pretty universal)

1: Think about the fact a specification should be a document for students to read (at least in part) and carefully consider the way things like assessment criteria and coursework requirements are presented. At least some part of the specification should be designed to give directly to students.

In my spec, criteria spread across pages - I want to print out and give to students but every single student needs two pieces of paper, not one.

In my spec a lot of the language describing the tasks and criteria are obtuse. It is fair to expect different levels of outcome, but it's not fair to leave students baffled about what exactly it is they are supposed to be aiming for.

2: Provide some simple student focussed resources that can be used in class. Video would be great. A simple talking head video explaining what the assessment is, what the criteria mean. Why not? Why leave students at the mercy of varying interpretations by teachers, some of which will be inevitably inaccurate.

3: Organise the information properly. My specification has some criteria in it whilst some others are in sample mark schemes. Some content is outlined in the specification, some things are in notes on the website, somethings can't be discovered unless I log into a secure site and find additional material.  Some further things have been added to the 'news' tab of the website and still more emailed or revealed in online training sessions.

It's 2018, digital information is really easy to organise and update. As a member of a subject support group on facebook, I'd say 60-70% of posts are people asking 'where is X?' - that can't all be people who are too lazy to look - it must be an indication that the information isn't well organised.

4: Provide a hub for teachers to share resources. Why not? It's the absolutely ideal point to bring staff together and share resources. Why is this happening in 'the TES resource sharing area' (a private organisation profiting from education) or within ad hoc groups online but not at the source (i.e. the exam board web page)

Perhaps particularly useful resources could be 'endorsed' by the exam board, reducing their own workload in terms of providing training and support. In time, the exam board website could become a really well used hub saving people lots of time and sharing good practice which could only benefit learners.

5: Actually encourage teacher feedback. It's genuinely hard  to speak to anyone who is actually responsible for the content of the spec or the information on the website. It can be a positively Kafka-esque conversation and getting a response beyond 'Thanks, we have logged your comment' takes real perseverance.

As someone who is essentially the user of a service, I'm amazed I've not had a survey to fill in, or a phone call to discuss my impressions of the new specification and points where it could be developed. It's not that I think I have amazing insight, it's that ultimately, I am paying the exam board to enter my learners, I am paying them so I can fill in reams of (sometimes ill designed) paperwork or to sit trying to work out what the hell criteria x or y actually means and I feel as if it doesn't matter what I think, it doesn't matter what my experiences are, it's a 'put up or shut up' arrangement which seems to be


These five suggestions would (I think) go a long way towards eliminating some of the long evenings spent trying to work out exactly what it is that 'the exam board want'

I'm well aware that it might be challenging for the boards to fulfil these points as I get the impression they aren't exactly generously funded at 'ground level' but if the Government is actually serious about teacher workload, it could do a lot worse than look at the work which could be saved 'at source' which for many of us is the exam board.

A small amount of funding here, to enable proper oversight, to update technical expertise, to provide a really good service and some full time commitment (at least in the first year(s) of a new specification could pay itself back many times over in time saved by teachers and thus more time to actually teach, assess and do things that really develop and benefit young people.

I'm not sure me endlessly rooting through quasi legal documents really is the ideal use of my time in terms of educating young people holistically.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

When your taxes get spent on adverts then you know something is wrong.

Image result for Boardroom
'We need a more aggresive YouTube presence - lets get rid of some TA's and hire a marketing assistant!'

Hello reader. I pay tax.

I don't really mind cos I'm not that handy with my fists so I'd probably get eaten in a total anarchy and also they pay my wages so it would be a bit contradictory to be against taxes cos I'd have no job cos it'd probably be only rich people that went to school beyond the age of 7 and I'd be working in the silicone chip mines instead or have a job tending the maggot farm at 'prole foods inc' or whatever dystopian alternate reality scorched earth disaster porn vision floats your salvaged boat.

I'm not that fussed about paying tax because I'm not planning to open an armed gated survivalist community and I can afford potatoes and even stuff like that posh ginger cordial in a glass bottle. Neither am I planning on living in a tree with free loving like minded souls living only off nutrients leached through the souls of my feet.

I do think, though, that it might be an idea to question what tax gets spent on sometimes because (and this is where the fun bit ends) I'm not sure that public spending and a free market style vision for the public services really works that well.

I see on a daily basis (using my eyes which then sends signals to my brain which I use to process and make sense of the images in front of me) evidence of the fact that there isn't enough money being spent on some things which should have money spent on them.

You can make your own list using your own eyes and brain to eye wiring - It shouldn't be that hard if you have access to a high street or any public services.

Anyway, to keep things on track, what surprises me is the fact nobody seems to be outraged at the fact that a big chunk of the money given to schools to spend on their stuff, like teaching and learning and going on trips and all that normal 'getting kids to know about stuff and be able to do things' gets spent on advertising.

Sit in a school boardroom. Listen to the endless conversation about 'market share' and consider the number of hours spent 'considering what the competition are offering,' the money spent on branding, the hours spent trying to convince potential pupils and parents that school A is better than school B, the sloganeering, the full colour glossy brochures, the photo shoots, the videos on websites, the time spent creating 'positive news stories' the search for 'our USP' and so on and so on.

Think about how with academisation and the impact of central funding cuts the razor's edge of the 'marketplace' gets even sharper.

Think about how we can't afford

- to properly resource SEN support
- to finance either decent workloads for teachers or pay them in line with interest rates
- to do anything especially innovative or unusual
- ten million other wider social things which inflict problems on education system.

Think about how it maybe cost effective for the individual school to compete but ultimately how the money spent on competing for students overall is a waste as no matter how well marketed and branded every school is you can't increase the overall consumption of the service offered. One school will win and another will lose. This is fucking schools we are dealing with. Not Shreddies or computer consoles. Schools forced to fight within a closed marketplace set up as an ideological experiment.

The total number of schoolkids is the total number of school kids. End. There are x numbers of school places and y number of kids. Overall. No amount of marketing can change that.

It's not like a can of coke where you can buy a variable amount of the commodity on offer. Parents aren't going to think 'wow, I like this school thing, I might send my kids again in the evening' or 'can I get a bigger size or a multipack?' - There is a woeful lack of deeper thought about this.

Even if the average marketing spend is only 2% per school (that figure is misleading as it represents only the direct costs, not the indirect costs of time - for example, the indirect cost of a head teacher drawing up a marketing plan, which is drawn from ideas generated by a head of department, drawn in turn from ideas from the staff body or the cost of x number of staff representing the school on a weekend open day and receiving time in lieu) - then we are wasting a massive chunk of public money on playing a nonsensical game of 'survival of the fittest' instead of considering what it could be spent on to benefit the learners and manage the duties of teachers so they can in turn, benefit the learners.

What is frightening is no one seems to really know what the 'norm' is in relation to marketing spend. It doesn't seem to be monitored and scrutinised in the same way that a 7 year old's mastery of reflexive pronouns are. It doesn't seem to be subject to the same kind of penny pinching meanness that school milk or free lunches are. It's apparently wasteful to give a child a meal or some calcium but perfectly fine to give an ad agency a brief for a pointless logo change. I couldn't find any government papers or analysis relating to the impact of marketisation or it's recent acceleration.

Think about everything we apparently can't afford in the UK and think about how we seemingly CAN afford to allow schools to compete over pupils with little or no thought given to it.

Think about whether you want your taxes spent on adverts or something else.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Deserters will be shot!

It's pretty clear that teaching is a toxic profession right now. The combination of botched curriculum reforms that are unfit for the needs of the students, a performance management system that forces us to take responsibility for things we can't control, pay freezes, creeping private sector involvement, workload, Kafkaesque data systems and a pathetic amount of reflection time in comparison to more enlightened countries make working in teaching a pretty joyless experience at the moment.

I want to write a short piece starting with a reflection about the prevalence of the TES and Guardian 'That's it, I can't go on' articles which seem to be particularly en vogue at the moment.

There is a common theme to them. Summarised they tend to go like:

I wasn't a 'struggling teacher'
I did everything I was asked and did my best
I pushed myself to the limit for the sake of my students
I found myself in a terrible place mentally
I battled on and tried really hard.
A straw broke the camel's back
I quit.

There is no doubt about the validity of the personal experiences these articles cite. There is no doubt that there are some monstrous management regimes in education (as in most walks of life) and little doubt that teacher burnout is a major problem. I have nowt but sympathy for the people who have actually broken under the weight of what is a pretty impossible job to actually do all of.

I think the prevalence of these articles on 'teacher social media' (I want to kill myself acknowledging I know that is a thing) is symptomatic of a misunderstanding about what brings about change - Essentially it's a collective naivety, it's like we keep expecting someone to change it for us. For someone to sweep in and make a magical decree on behalf of everyone and click their fingers and suddenly teaching is a great happy place.

The only people who can change this system meaningfully are teachers and if we keep celebrating the fact teachers quit by enthusiastically sharing, publishing and recommending the stories of their breakdowns we are really only serving to further our own misery. We are perpetuating the idea of ourselves as victims of a cruel system we can do nothing about.

What we need is a clear understanding of the key problems facing schools and a broad agreement around what we want. 

We need a common framework that the majority of teachers agree would improve both their conditions and the experience of learners. Year after year after year we swing from political regime to political regime and like a pendulum move back and forth adapting to ideological changes and political career making. It's time to say - no more! Yes, it's satisfying to fantasise about walking away from a job but it doesn't achieve anything beyond throwing another NQT on the bonfire, rinse and repeat.

I'm not going to quit. You shouldn't either. At least not if you enjoy at least some of your job on some level. You should start seriously thinking though. What I think is important is the following:

1: Schools should be controlled by LEAs. It is more efficient. Maybe the LEA model needs reform, I don't know, but academies are fundamentally damaging to employment rights and inefficient.

2: Schools should co-operate not compete. Funding must be a longer term arrangement, not simply based on x number of pupils = x amount of money. This forces schools into competing for learners which is a significant expense of time and money, and can result in forcing learners to complete courses  which don't suit their needs because they dare not 'lose' or 'fail' a learner who might be better suited to a different environment or course.

3: In order to achieve 2 we really need to consider the impact of league tables on standards. Has there *actually been a positive impact?* (I'm interested in any evidence if anyone has any - it's always struck me that 'competition improves outcomes' is a truism that in 15 years teaching I've never seen any actual evidence of that isn't either statistically questionable given the shifting nature of exams and 'standards' or just a basic re-framing of an essentially ideological belief - clearly in sport, footballers try harder in competitive situations but they also get lots of rest, can see their opponent and are playing a simple game - lets not just accept the situation 'as is' as true.)

4: We also possibly need to really consider carefully whether outcomes tell us the real story of education. There's a fascinating study which suggests the real impact of education is not how children perform NOW but how they perform much later in schooling. It suggests that teachers who focus on real skills and underlying concepts and attitudes as opposed to cramming for the test are punished for not cramming for the test, but actually add much value to their learners on a longer term basis. In other words, feed the pig junk food and it'll get fat. Feed it health food and it'll live much longer or produce much better meat. We reward the junk food feeding. If I was actually writing a book I'd link to it. You'll just have to believe me because I haven't had any dinner yet and this is a bizarre cathartic ritual for me to try and clear my mind because it's full of thoughts and I seriously need to switch off. If anyone wants to send me a few thousand quid then I'll take my academic duties more seriously and start adding footnotes and all that jazz.

5: Teachers need to focus on teaching, assessment and reflection. Nothing more beyond an open day and a parents evening. The clue is in the name.

6: To do this effectively on a 23-25 hour timetable is already an almighty challenge. We know that genuine AFL and other effective strategies are built around reflection, preparation and thoughtfully constructed lessons. We know parents and learners want a system where staff have time to actually engage with kids and know them on some level. Not possible in the current system.

7: So therefore the priorities for us must be to a) reduce teaching hours per week by a significant amount. b) to guard against any reduction in teaching being filled with admin/marketing/data generation. c) to ensure this time is given to creativity and development of teaching d) because only this will improve the outcomes (both measurable and not) whatever model of pedagogy we subscribe to.

8: The money this would cost could in part be clawed back from the funding not being spent on competing and more efficient use of LEA services. I also think we could vastly simplify the exam system and save money there. The point being, that yes, we do need funding increases, but these increases must not be simply spent on making a broken engine run faster. Plug the leaks in the exhaust.

9: We must stop working 60 hour weeks. In simple terms, by doing so you are cheapening your labour and the labour of everyone around you. You tell yourself 'it's for the kids' but you are modelling a world in which the adults around them don't value themselves, don't value their rights and opportunities, don't stand up for themselves. In an increasingly volatile labour market and faced with stagnant growth, automation, gig economy bullshit, these learners are going to HAVE to stand their ground and demand a world that affords them dignity and humanity.

10: If you spend your time running miserably from job to job, doffing your cap to authority all the time how is that 'modelling' anything positive? 'Hey kidz, work hard, stay in school then you can get a good job and be miserable as fuck' - Teacher mental health and student mental health are entwined. Live with someone who is constantly unhappy (hello partner, I'm sorry, I love you more than I can say) and it'll grind you down (again, I'm sorry! I WILL be happier!) Don't give me some 'I don't let the kidz see' bullshit. They aren't stupid. They see exhausted, tired, drained adults trying desperately to communicate stuff they don't really see the importance of and understand absolutely the game being played. It's not a nice one.

Neo-liberal education isn't a pleasant bedtime story.

"Once upon a time there were some grown-ups, they were sad because they had to make some children try and do some things when they'd really rather have asked the children to do some different stuff. They didn't really understand why the children had to do the things but they did their best because it was what is called a 'target'. So, the grown ups all did it even though it took ages and seemed pointless and it made them even sadder because they felt rubbish doing it and the children were sad because they didn't like it or know why they were doing it and that made the grown ups sadder and it all just carried on because that's the way it is and next year the grown ups had to do it better to beat another school down the road because that matters more than happiness or sunshine or anything and that's all anyone can imagine because 'targets' are a bit like God" 

I'd MUCH rather read a child Nietzsche. Less scary.

11: We MUST support direct action. There are no excuses. None what so ever. Ask yourself seriously, genuinely, honestly, even if you want to work the hours, even if you want to climb the ladder, even if you love the job from bottom to top, from every intervention to every single column of data in every spreadsheet; can you look around your school and not worry about the staff? Can you look at your learners and honestly think 'this current incarnation of British education is working really well for them!'

I'm having my dinner now. It's over. Revolution begins and ends with you*.

*I don't really know if that's true, in fact, I suspect it isn't, but it's a nice way to end. What does truth matter anyway?

Thursday, 12 October 2017

There's a maniac on the loose in the school

In which I begin with a moment of levity before writing an unremitting splurge of bleakness

Lets imagine a scenario. A masked person (of unspecified gender) bursts into a school. They open fire, killing, maiming and injuring both children and teachers.

The government, fully aware of this just shrugs and says 'carry on as you were'

That scenario seems unlikely.

I am old enough to remember my primary school (and high school) being a pretty 'free range' kind of environment. It was eminently possible to walk in (and indeed out) of the school but despite this it seemed fairly unthinkable that it wasn't a safe place to be. I remember Dunblane which changed that belief forever and now your average school resembles a low security prison.

It seems unlikely that the government would just shrug and allow things to remain 'as they are.' Evidence suggests when faced with a threat like Thomas Hamilton, the authorities act with fairly swift and decisive action.

Lets consider now that this 'gun wielding maniac' is a device. A manipulative weapon wielding device employed by the writer to grab your attention and focus your mind on the issue at hand. We are not actually considering the unlikely and almost impossibly painful possibility of a school massacre.

Let me present you with a few facts to guide you to what we are considering:

The suicide rate amongst primary school teachers is double the national average (according to this)

One of the prime causes of suicide amongst young people is exam pressure (according to this)

This well researched exploration explains that 27% of the suicides of young people studied in the report had at least some link to exam pressures.

This article explains that the majority of teachers feel their job has impacted on their mental health in the last year

This article - reports on the education select committee findings on the impact of primary testing on the wellbeing of learners.

However trite my analogy is (and I'm aware it's not exactly a sensitive one) the point is clear. We can link 'the education system' to the poor mental health of teachers and learners and even suggest a link to the deaths of teachers and learners.

Even if we take away the hysterical proposition of the gun wielding maniac and replace it with someone who at the school gates intimidates, frightens or physically harms the children, it's really quite unthinkable that action wouldn't be taken. Not taking action would be considered a gross neglect, heads would roll, scandal and outrage would have its day, newspapers and phone in shows would fill with frothing fury and bilious outrage. 'Schools MUST be safe places' we would shout.

Danger is not always visible. Sometimes you have to look beyond what you immediately can see.

Now, lets take the analogy a little further. Suppose the gun wielding maniac had attacked and escaped. Suppose there was nothing to suggest they wouldn't do it again.

Suppose the response from the government was to take away the fences, security doors and id badges? 

Perhaps you're ahead of me here:

- Here is an article that deals with a parliamentary enquiry explaining the impact budget cuts have on mental health services
- Here is one of many articles explaining how workload increases are putting increased pressure on teachers

IF you've read this far, your probably aware of the corrosive impact of targets on education, you probably know that schools have to invest a huge amount of time and energy into the exam performance (at 7,11,16 and 18) of their learners. You probably know that if local authority schools fail to achieve a certain standard they are threatened with forced academisation which strips teachers of their hard fought rights and fundamentally changes the school's relationship with the support structures which surround it. You might be aware of the confusing and often botched changes to the GCSE and A-level structures and the removal or loss of focus on many of the more 'humanistic' subject areas in favour of measurement of a specific group of subjects.

You might possibly just look at the above articles and the brief paragraph of context and humour my overstretched analogy.

What if there was a threat to pupils and teachers alike, what if it was demonstrable, real and happening right now and the government just did nothing? What if our schools were infested with mould or dangerous wiring or some other kind of physical course of illness?

Why don't we take the raft of evidence of the impact of a target driven education system seriously? Why don't we listen to teachers and pupils when they speak out about this? How many breakdowns and suicides does it take before we take reform seriously and commit ourselves to properly looking at the needs of pupils (which are intrinsically linked to the needs of teachers.)

How do we allow education and the lives of those who live in it (young and old) to be subject to the whims of a tiny group of elite ministers who often have little or no experience of either comprehensive education or teaching?

I'm not suggesting that suddenly we can instantly turn education into place of happiness and joy unconfined overnight. Teaching is inevitably challenging and young people will continue to have complex mental health needs and suicide is something we should never simplify to one cause.

I am however suggesting very clearly that there is an identifiable human cost to some of the bad decisions made in education policy and a real negative impact from the structures imposed on schools and that we must, collectively, as parents, teachers and learners demand a more human system in which we are all encouraged to learn and teach in a more healthy way.

If we don't address this, the costs will keep mounting. We have to focus our energy, not on whining but on action and clear demands - not just for pay settlements and bribery for teachers to join shortage subjects, but for real changes. For pupils to receive an education which is broader and healthier than being drilled in grammar and Pythagoras 'because it's on the exam.' For teachers to be able to reflect, plan and access professional development and find some joy in their work. For us to be able to understand and appreciate that learning counts even if it isn't attached to a grade. To understand that teaching should be about giving people liberty, giving people skills, giving them things that make their lives better and that this isn't a stupid and romantic notion, it's actually the foundation and reason for the development of humanity.

We spend an increasing amount of time marketing schools, fighting in a competitive market place for learners, badging, branding, proclaiming USP's and asserting our 'identity' - why are we doing this? Does it have any impact on the actual experience of our learners or the quality of our teaching? Let's play a little mental exercise based on 'They Live' (a film in which a bloke discovers some magic glasses and sees the world as it is)

If we don these glasses, do we see signs like 'St Winifred's Academy - Our teachers are unstable and our support systems are overwhelmed, but with luck your child will escape with their self esteem intact' or 'Crowsend Primary - where 60% of the teachers are 'overwhelmed' and year 3 +6 are a miserable nightmare where you kid will learn a load of crap and forget about childhood'

Please can we properly discuss the mental health of our education system like grown ups? Can we drop the rhetoric and assumptions and have a really good think about it. Please can we at least try to fix it? We can send people to space, we can collide hadrons and have 76546 TV channels to choose from but we can't manage to make the innate (and very socially necessary) human skill teaching of young children a job that doesn't directly increase your risk of serious mental health problems?

What is this world we live in? Who is it for? Why do we keep perpetuating it? 

What would your answer be to the problems posed above?

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Bad satire, some maths and a bit of literature at the end.

I really get annoyed with the 'Now Show' on R4. When I occasionally catch it I am struck by its mediocrity and the image it evokes of its audience irks me to. I presume the audience to be people with nice big oak kitchens baking a recipe from a guardian supplement chuckling to themselves about how witty TV rejects Punt and Dennis are about the government mishandling of social care which is a terrible shame. Sigh.

This is the attitude of envy. I consider myself to be a cheeky banter monkey with an eye on the topical pulse but as yet R4 haven't offered me a contract. I haven't asked them but trying is the first step to failure and we all know a chip on one's shoulder is a serious medical condition worthy of a living allowance and ideally a medical prescription for two or three pints with someone who agrees with you about things. Plus I've got a shit kitchen.

Anyway, I'm going to take the brave step of attempting to create my own 'Now Show' style sketch. Granted, it's a radio show and my sketch includes visual imagery but again, if politicians don't have to live up to their promises, why should I? (that was a warm up gag. See, it's going to be a doddle...)

An office setting - two people dressed in business uniform. Gender and ethnicity of cast is unimportant but they must be well dressed. An air of anxiety pervades. This could be politicians, leaders of a school or hospital or the management team of a large business. 

A: There's a serious structural crisis in the heart of this organisation. Our systems simply don't work.
B: Call a branding manager
A: But... couldn't we go and Google something and make the decision ourselves - It can't be that hard surely?
B: No, because then we'd be responsible for something if it went wrong + the whole exercise would be over in about 15 minutes and then we'd have the rest of the week to fill. 
A: That's what I call strong leadership
B: We owe it to the organisation to do this properly.

I'd carry on but I can't be bothered. My teeth are getting blunted with all the biting savagery contained in these words.

Frankly, the sketch is awful, but I do think it contains more truth than much of what passes for communication in our lives. I'm all for well being and positive thought, but it feels like we've passed through a looking glass into a world where everything is what someone says it is and not what it actually is. Linguistic games matter more than truth.

Now truth is a tricky concept, I concede this. We can wrestle over 'the truth' but I'd suggest that it isn't to be found in branding exercises. Recently I conducted some independent research (I googled stuff for a bit) and found that the average UK school has a marketing spend of about 2% of it's budget. This is a questionable truth, but even if the figure is closer to 1% it's quite a spectacular figure if we do some maths.

There will be some maths in a moment. 

I absolutely understand why school managers would pay this money. It is after all, essential to attract learners to schools as the funding of the school and therefore the jobs in the school depend on it and so on and so on. We could even probably do some maths to decide its money well spent in a lot of schools.

This is an extract from the first result I found when I googled 'school marketing budget' 

It isn't this 2% figure that scares me per se. It's the fact that this sort of policy is required as schools need to compete with each other. It's that no one questions it seriously beyond a little griping.

Here's a little maths exercise. If we assume (falsely) that teachers work 40*37.5 hrs per week then what time benefit could that 2% have if the money were spent on teaching? Let's just assume the money is spent on more teachers thus freeing the existing teachers up a bit.

Neatly enough 2% of 37.5 is 45 minutes. 45 minutes X 40 is 1.25 days. Someone from Pisa (the global education league table people) suggested (in an article I can't find but does exist) UK education is stuck in the doldrums because UK teachers lack reflection time. Without reflection time, teachers mentally can't produce the high quality lessons, engage in the professional development required to improve, consider their learners as individual people and the things that every decent teacher aspires to do. Without reflection time, teachers are 'getting by' or 'burning out' (or climbing out if any managers are reading this, I see you!) 

According to government figures there are over 450000 teachers in the UK (statistical equivalent if we add up all the part time ones to make full time ones)

This means that, if schools stopped having to pretend to be businesses and spending money on glossy brochures, adverts, staff managing outward facing social media accounts and painting the face of a teenager on the back of a bus with the slogan 'Thropp Academy - a pathway to your future' we, the UK publicly funded education profession would be gifted with precisely 571125 days of reflection time.

That is 47500 months of reflection or over 1500 YEARS of reflection time every year.

So, lets remind us of my sources.

A) PISA (I assure you, there is an article! - but the point works anyway even if there isn't, reflection = better teaching, PISA state quality of teaching is vital)
B) Government figures. (I even linked them)

The above isn't taking into account the time that goes into meetings and 'fact finding missions' worrying about 'what the competition are doing' that doesn't appear on the balance sheet by senior staff (on larger salaries) or the cost of time spent by teachers on marketing exercises - it is clearly a conservative estimate of the true cost of competition. Whilst the 2% figure is a fairly educated guess (coming from a survey in which 300+ schools were surveyed to attempt to establish 'best practice' in marketing schools)  the fact that academies and free schools are likely to push marketing spend UP not down makes disputing it's precise accuracy a fairly moot point in the humble opinion of this blogger.

In other words, my shit sketch is trying to show that applying the logic of capitalism to something that isn't essentially capitalist costs money. Costing money costs teachers time. Teacher time lost costs learners. Marketing might be cost effective for school A but school B either improves its brand image (spends money on marketing) or suffers the lost students (loses money.)

This is the trap we are in.

A business can expand exponentially or alter its product fundamentally if it loses market share. Whilst of course a school can change its character or build another building, ultimately it is a school, providing GCSEs, SATs tests and various other aspects of the national curriculum to a local population - it is a service.

My final point occurred to me as I wrote. It seems the homogenisation of education created by first a national curriculum and second, a stringent regime of pseudo 'standards' (measurement would be a more apt term) coincides almost precisely with the boom in school marketing. It's almost as if we collectively believe that being told we have choice and freedom in our education means we have choice and freedom in our education!

To badly paraphrase Kafka, the door is open, but for some reason, we just don't seem to see it.

We are trapped by our imagination. By perceiving what is as what has to be.

I want to rebrand the word 'efficiency' I want us to really work out what it means to us.

(Now work through the exercise above and change teaching to 'the railways' or 'the council')

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Workload thoughts on the side of a mountain.

It's the weekend and I'm in the hills. Right now. In the beautiful, raw countryside. In a minute, I'll set off and hopefully walk these thoughts out of my head but for the moment they hang like a cloud in a windless sky, refusing to go away.

I've got quite a lot to do. I'm sure you do as well. I don't know any teachers who don't.

I need to work tonight and initially I felt fine about this, a bit of planning, sorting some resources to put online and tidying up a bit. Then I remembered another thing, and another thing, and another thing. Now I don't want to get the laptop out at all because I've got a stark choice, either choose one thing and don't do the other things or try to do all the things and do them badly.

See, it's not like I've been taking it easy recently either and I'm hovering on the edge of being ill. I'm probably a bit 'ill' in a mental way to be honest at the moment though to be fair, I feel no worse than I usually do generally, I just notice I'm more emotional than usual and I react badly to anything unplanned happening. So, what I'm trying to say is that getting a good night's sleep is also important to me.

Therefore, the third option, stay up past midnight to do all the jobs 'to a standard' seems like a bad idea.

As a teacher, I yearn for a bit more simplicity, a bit more focus. A bit more time to reflect and breathe. An opportunity to do a good job on one thing, not a bad job on six.

I'm tired of having no space in my head to think about other stuff, of being cantankerous and stroppy at home because my family seem to have about 10% of my focus.

I'm tired of working with 8 other exhausted people who in all likelihood feel like me. I'm tired of the dark mornings and dark nights. I'm tired of never having an 'easy' day, of never cruising and always challenging, questioning, motivating and pushing.

I'm tired of feeling like I'm behind, even though I've worked to point where I'm yawning all Saturday and in a foul mood most of the weekend. Even though I've no discernable life and think about teaching virtually constantly.

I'm tired of academies and faith schools and pay disputes and pay scales and learning walks and making every second count and no hands up starters and purple pen marking and learning journeys and evidence and inspection readiness and everything else. 

So I'm going for a walk and I'm not going to think about it at all.

I hope these thoughts resolve themselves into a plan. They often do. The best ideas tend to happen when you don't try.

Now, out with darkness and in with light and air.

Nearly the end of term.


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Work/life balance

I can't sleep.

I know why I can't sleep.

I can't sleep because I didn't work tonight. I did go in work early and work productively all day, (9 hours) but I didn't come home and work more, so I can't sleep.

The reason I didn't work is that I'm tired and I'm prone to becoming insular, grumpy, downright unpleasant and alienating when I work too much. This isn't good for the people around me. Like the 5 year old for example.

The problem is, when I don't work, I become anxious. I get worried that I'm going to 'get found out' or that somehow I'm doing a bad job, being lazy.

But if I counter that feeling by working all the time, I alienate those around me. It's a viscous circle. Here's another one below. I wish we could all think about this one collectively. When did we decide collectively stress was good? What kind of stupid macho pseudo-american dream are we locked into?

Image result for vicious circle

To get to sleep I tried

- writing a plan of the day tomorrow
- 7/11 breathing
- visualising somewhere nice
- the radio

They didn't work.

In the end I wished I'd just worked all night instead as then at least my time wouldn't have been wasted worrying about the 100 million jobs I've got to do.

Sometimes I really, really, really hate this job. I hate working to a timetable, I hate not being able to go to the ebb and flow of my own creativity (I'm the sort of person who works in bursts,) I hate the fact I have to stand in front of people all day tomorrow and try to present a chirpy, cheerful and happy face. I hate the fact I have to be coherent and empathetic, strict and soft, make a hundred human judgements, maintain high standards whilst also showing understanding and all the time be an expert. I hate the fact I'm supposed to do all this whilst simultaneously recording it all and demonstrating I'd anticipated it all beforehand somehow. I hate boiling everything down into grades. I hate chasing learners who just apathetically shrug knowing that teachers will flog themselves into the ground for them because that's what the stupid system has taught them will happen.

I hate the fact everybody knows the profession is facing a mental health crisis, a recruitment crisis and a retention crisis and the best we get is a few tips on 'mindfulness' as if that's going to fix systemic problems and the underlying general anxiety of being a teacher.

If I did a 'normal' job, I'd have the day off, I'd take some leave, I'd work flexi-time to earn it back or whatever. I feel like absolute shite. I've not had a day off in 3 years. This is not a normal job. I will not have a day off.

I'm fine with mindfulness. I really am, but it's a sticking plaster on a gaping wound and we deserve better.

Am I the problem. Is my mind the problem?