When did we forget that a lot of SLT/Ofsted’s suggestions do help kids?
Note: Please read the caveat in the final paragraph explaining that this is a generalisation and does not apply to all teachers/styles/OFSTED guidance etc.
It is rare for me check Twitter or the education news without seeing someone complain about pressure from SLT or Ofsted piling on too much unnecessary pressure. Sometimes I do believe that suggestions can be superfluous and are just there so that schools can be seen to be effective in the eyes of inspectors. However, most of the time, I see teachers complaining about things that genuinely can help kids and improve teaching and learning in schools.
One of the most frequent complaints aired is regarding marking frequency and detail. Do not get me wrong, I completely agree that not every piece of work needs marking and that verbal feedback stamps are a waste of ink. However, marking demonstrates that we care about what students produce and it gives students direct, detailed feedback to improve and progress. Is that not the point of our teaching – students improving and making progress?
In this regard, if your books are not marked and you do not do things like mock assessments and extended writing (if your subject is a writing based subject) because they’re too much work, are you confident that your students are better off? The unfortunate truth with some teachers is that, when pulled up by SLT on their lack of marking, they say “don’t worry, I’ll catch up in the holidays”. This is the problem the profession has: some teachers have forgotten the fundamental rule that everything we do is for the kids. If you “catch up”, you have ultimately missed the boat as kids don’t need the feedback weeks later, they need it ASAP to build upon. Thus, you’re marking for SLT who have probably already clocked that your marking is not supporting the kids.
Targets, success criteria and data:
A Secret Teacher a little while ago implied it was unfair for observers to ask “demanding questions” such as whether kids know what they’re doing and what their targets are. In my experience, students who know exactly what their targets are, are pushed to constantly exceed their targets and have success criteria in nearly every lesson (and marking that also helps with this) are the ones who excel. Just like a baker making a cake needs a recipe, students need to know what to put into their work for maximum success. If you are not providing that, you can’t expect Bake Off worthy outcomes. Mary Berry wouldn’t put up with excuses such as “I’ll catch up later” or “you’re being too demanding”. Therefore, why do we expect our SLT to accept it…or, more worryingly, our students. Just like the Bake Off, our students are now being pitched against each other for the best grades. Therefore, if I was a student, I’d rather have someone telling me the ingredients I need rather than coming up with every reason for Mary Berry being unreasonable.
Nonetheless, I do completely appreciate that there are many teachers who put in 110%, get great results for their students, develop their students pastorally and do not follow the classic Ofsted model. However, when teachers deliver sub-par lessons and excuse it with lines about being under too much pressure, even though they don’t spend their time on progress-efficient tasks (for example), I start to see exactly why our school system is internally and externally regulated.
Teaching is a lot of work. However, when you’re on top of your marking and your planning makes progress transparent for students and observers alike, students fly and you can still be home by 5:30pm and look forward to minimal work in the holidays.
Thus, instead of fighting the system, why not embrace it? If you mark little and often, make peer/self assessment meaningful through scaffolding, take the time to create success criteria and utilise data management to help you target students, you will find that you need to work LESS because the kids are ticking along nicely as they know what to do to progress.
Some schools can be overly demanding. Some Ofsted inspections can pose questions about reliability. Many teachers can forge their own path successfully. However, if you’re not an off-piste Maverick, maybe we should make sure we think about the kids at the heart of it all… Are they getting the best from you? If not, maybe SLT are not the big bad wolf..
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