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My post for @LabourTeachers : Why I’m not convinced about local authority control in education

January 22, 2016

I wrote a post for Labour Teachers earlier in the week. As it was about education, I thought I’d share it here.

I was reminded the other day of this blogpost “Let’s stop eulogising democratic accountability” by Jonathan Simons of Policy Exchange. The post argues that the political accountability for education provided by control by local authorities is so weak that parties who oversee a worsening in local education provision are more likely to have gained electorally than lost. This is not a surprise. No single issue dominates local elections, and education is one where local politicians often have the least to say. But it is rare to have any discussion in the Labour Party of education without somebody suggesting that local authority control is more democratic and that Academies are “privatisation” or “undemocratic”.

What follows are my main experiences of local authority control of schools. Utterly anecdotal, but I hope they highlight issues.

  1. When I was training to be a teacher, my local constituency party invited in the councillor responsible for education. (I think it would have been in the days of “committee chairs” rather than “lead members”). Despite having schools in the area that supply teachers would run a mile from, and a lot of schools with low exam results in the area, he told us the council were doing really well because no schools were currently in special measures.
  2. When I was an NQT, the director of education (or probably the deputy director of education) visited my school and told all staff that there would be no permanent exclusions from now on because figures were too high. In the months that followed teachers were sworn at, spat on and terrorised in the school.
  3. I worked at a school that had once been branded the worst in the country. It became part of a federation with another more successful school. Its results went from terrible to just bad. It started attracting a different intake. The leaders I saw (provided from that other school) were incredibly effective. Then, before the school had a chance to really improve, the funding for the federation was withdrawn by the local authority; most of the good managers went; an emergency replacement head was drafted in who didn’t seem to have a clue, and the school became something of a nightmare to work at.
  4. During the time when “inclusion” was still fashionable, the education spokesperson of the Labour opposition group came to speak to members at a policy forum organised by the district party. When I raised the issue of inclusion, (i.e. the deliberate policy of running down special schools and forcing kids with special needs or appalling behaviour into mainstream classrooms) she simply said that all the experts were agreed that it was for the best, so we had to support it. Other party members at the meeting also disagreed with her, but even in opposition, it was not considered possible for the party to oppose what council officers had advised was best.
  5. Two of the authorities I worked in changed control between Labour and the Tories or back again, while I was working there. I cannot tell you a single policy change that resulted from the changes that I was aware of as a teacher.
  6. I experienced local authority trainers and consultants. Back in the days of local authority control, my NQT training was given by the local authority. They taught me about thinking hats.  Other LA advisors taught me about thinking skills. And card sorts. And interventions. And all sorts of nonsense. And this does not seem to have been unusual. LA consultancy was the place that failed middle managers tended to end up.

I don’t think anything I describe above is particularly unusual. LAs were bureaucracies whose main priority often seemed to be keeping a lid on the worst schools while trying to keep the best schools from attracting too many students from their neighbours. No doubt, for every anecdote above about LAs an equivalent one can be found about academy trusts. But then I’m not arguing for compulsory academisation. All I’m arguing for is an acceptance that sometimes, for some schools, the influence of the LA can be harmful and an escape route is needed. All I’m arguing is that LA control was never a model of democracy. All I’m arguing is that Labour should stop speaking up for the idea that council officers know best.

I’d sooner have the status quo than a return to the days of LA interference. Turning the clock back to LA control is a policy with little to recommend it. If we are not happy with the current situation, and I accept it is fragmented, then we should at least come up with something new, perhaps something genuinely democratic.

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The #OFSTEDMyths Videos

January 21, 2016

A post to the OFSTED blog about myths yesterday, included three videos in which OFSTED luminaries sought to set the record straight about inspections. I thought I’d publicise them and, just in case you can’t be bothered to watch them, or your school blocks Youtube but not my blog (what are you thinking?), there is a transcript below each one.

London Director of Schools, Mike Sheridan on preparing for inspections:

When we go into great schools, we tend to see that they are focused on the young people that they serve. They’re not looking to see what Ofsted wants. They’re looking to see what their children need and this is really refreshing and inspectors are very capable of really recognising the difference that those processes and systems make for the young. It’s rare that we go into a school and we find that superficial and so we don’t want schools to be worrying about the process of want schools to be going through ‘Mocksteds’. Of course you want schools to understand where they are. We want them to be able to evaluate where they are. We want them to be able to use this evaluation to be able to improve further. There’s no one way of doing things and it’s really important that teachers and leaders find the best way for the communities that they serve.

Deputy Director for Schools, Joanna Hall on feedback:

There’s no particular expectation about seeing written records from oral feedback. The most important thing is, do the pupils understand the feedback, do they act on the feedback, and how does that have an impact on their learning?

Deputy Director for Schools, Joanna Hall on grades:

Ofsted doesn’t grade lessons anymore. We might visit a whole range of lessons, talk to leaders about the quality of teaching, talk to staff and talk to pupils. The most important thing is: what’s the impact of teaching, learning and assessment on pupils’ progress.

The blog post and youtube pages also link to the updated OFSTED myth-busting document.

I think most of this is stuff that schools need to get the message about. There’s still too much nonsense imposed on schools on the basis that OFSTED will want to see it (some recent examples here and here). However, there is one bit of these videos that worries me: the part in the second video where Joanna Hall asks “do they [students] act on the feedback…?”. While, technically, students improving and not repeating mistakes is evidence of acting on feedback, schools now seem utterly convinced that the only way to demonstrate student response to feedback is to have “interactive” marking policies that involve students responding to teachers. I don’t think that OFSTED require this sort of “triple marking” or the multi-coloured pens it so often involves (see here) but that comment in the video is only going to encourage schools to introduce such policies. I think greater clarity about how OFSTED will look for evidence of students acting on feedback would be useful.

Update:

A twitter response from OFSTED national director, Sean Harford, which will hopefully come as a relief to a lot of teachers:

Screenshot 2016-01-21 at 18.32.44

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Top Blogs of the Week : Schools Week (January 2016)

January 17, 2016

Schools Week have published my review of the best blogs of the week.

Andrew Old’s top blogs of the week 11 January 2016

The sinner who repents

By ijstock.wordpress.com

A geography teacher recalls his PGCE training back in the 80s and considers how biased it was to one particular set of values and to certain opinions that were not to be questioned. In particular, he decides that recent experience does not support the advice from his training to “always give each child a clean slate every lesson”. Is that really something a child should expect after awful behaviour?

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A Guide To My Favourite Bits of The Education Blogosphere

January 16, 2016

I’ve been relatively quiet recently on social media (honest), and I’ve tweeted far less (really) and barely blogged since before Christmas. Much of that time has been spent on my various side projects in education blogging, which often don’t tend to get the publicity they actually need and nothing like the readership of this blog. So I thought I’d give a quick guide to those parts of the education blogosphere that I am either involved in, or I’m most interested in and encourage you to get involved in them too.

I should probably start by mentioning this blog. It’s been going over nine years and there is a guide to all the posts here. I am hoping it will be more active this year than last year, and it will remain the first place to keep up with my opinions and issues that have interested me in education.

Most of my other projects are under the “Echo Chamber” banner. These have been built around publicising the best of the education blogosphere, or simply promoting all UK education blogs. The Echo Chamber blog can be found here and is my attempt to share the best of the education blogs. The growing nature of the blogosphere has made this a bit of an impractical task, and there is plenty of work still to be done to improve that service, but if you like what you find on this blog, then this should be a way of finding similar blogs. Non-UK blogs that I like can be found on the Echo Chamber International Blog.

As well as my selections, the Echo Chamber also tries to help you find your way through all the UK education blogs. My latest count found over 3000 education blogs written by people in or from the UK. Various lists can be found here and it includes a spreadsheet where you can add details of your own blog. To get some perspective on the whole of the blogosphere, there is Echo Chamber Uncut which attempts to link to every new post from every UK education blog with a working RSS feed. You may find it impossible to keep up with it, but you can browse it looking for things of interest. If you use the “search” facility it should help you find posts on topics that particularly interest you. There are also “mini-Echo Chambers” that share posts from bloggers from particular sectors or teaching particular subjects. If you teach the relevant subject then you should probably follow one of these blogs:

There are also mini-Echo Chambers for:

I’m always looking to expand the number of mini Echo Chambers, but these efforts have become somewhat bogged down in an attempt to create an Echo Chamber covering all the primary blogs. I hope to complete that soon, and then I will be looking for volunteers to create blogs for other subjects. So, if you are a teacher of MFL, geography or any other unrepresented subject, who also uses wordpress, please get in touch. Details of all these Echo Chambers (including Twitter accounts) can be found here.

The newest part of the Echo Chamber is a diary of events for teachers which can be found here. Please comment or use Twitter to contact @annaworth if you have any events to add. I am also thinking about what else should be added to the Echo Chamber in the future.

Another blog I run is Labour Teachers. If you are a Labour supporting teacher, please get in touch if you help write for it. However, in the interests of balance here are a list of the main party political education blogs.

Labour

Conservative

Liberal Democrat

The newest blog I have created is Starter For Five, a blog compiling advice for new teachers which can be found here. You should be able to follow it to get advice as it is posted. You can also add advice from this form here. Please make use of this.

That’s pretty much it for things I run, but other people have created some great resources for teachers. Let me point out a few places of interest.

  • Staffrm is a blogging site for teachers. It specialises in short posts and a generally positive vibe. It’s a particularly good place to start if you want to begin blogging.
  • researchED is an organisation for helping teachers find out about (and challenge) education research. It holds regular conferences.
  • Teachmeets are events for teachers (often free) in which teachers share ideas.
  • Knowledge organisers (for collating subject knowledge).

Obviously this is all my own personal guide to what’s out there for teacher bloggers, and I have concentrated on my own work and my favourite sites. Feel free to suggest what else is important in the comments.

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Top Rated Posts in 2015

January 1, 2016

The following posts got the most views in 2015. A lot of them weren’t actually written in 2015.

  1. The Darkest Term: Teacher Stress and Depression
  2. How to Destroy NQTs
  3. What OFSTED Actually Want
  4. A Myth for Teachers: Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet
  5. Good Year Heads
  6. It Seems I Won’t Be Joining The College Of Teaching
  7. Nobody Believes in Learning Styles Any More, Do They?
  8. A Guide To Scenes From The Battleground
  9. The arguments against the phonics screening check have been discredited
  10. The College Of Not-Actually-Teaching
  11. Is this the most clueless OFSTED report ever written?
  12. What OFSTED Say They Want
  13. Is Phonics Being Implemented Correctly?
  14. More OFSTED Good Practice that isn’t
  15. The Return Of The Most Annoying Question In Education
  16. A Very Short Summary of the Phonics Debate
  17. There’s One Thing Worse Than Green Pens
  18. Enough With The Green Pens!
  19. Never Forget: Learning Styles are Complete Arse
  20. Does teaching philosophy to children improve their reading, writing and mathematics achievement?
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Blogs of the Year 2015 : Schools Week

December 23, 2015

Schools Week have published my (and several other people’s) review of the best blogs of the year.

Blogs of the year 2015

Harry Fletcher-Wood picks…

My favourite blogger of the year isn’t really a blogger, more a compiler of a latter-day encyclopaedia, gradually sharing entries.

Continued in

Blogs of the year 2015
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The Darkest Term Revisited: Teacher Stress and Depression Part 6

December 20, 2015

The most viewed post on this blog is one from two years ago entitled The Darkest Term: Teacher Stress and Depression in which teachers shared their stories of stress and depression. Last year I contacted some of those people to see how they were getting on, although I never got round to publishing their responses. I’ve also contacted them again this week. This post contains one of the accounts from the original post and any updates.

Original Account: December 2013

To sum up, I have been teaching for 10 years now in mainstream and BESD. Last year has been awful. Wanted to quit; couldn’t cope; cried all the time at home; worked ridiculous hours to keep up; didn’t sleep. Also, I’ve put on nearly 3 stone through poor diet, eating on the run and comfort eating and look about 50 (I’m 31). I went to the doctors because I was ill a lot and, once I’d explained symptoms, he medicated me for work-related anxiety.

Months passed and there was no change really so I went back. Now I take mild antidepressants too on top of anxiety meds. Generally it’s helped and I can cope better but I definitely had to get out of my current school as it is going to the dogs. So short-staffed it is silly; no PPA; always on duty; no time to get anything done. 13 hour days most days.

So I’m starting a new job after Xmas; hoping to get some balance back…

Update: December 2014

Well….

Having been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome I took the decision to leave teaching. My body and mind cannot cope with the demands and stress makes my physical symptoms worse.

Right now I am officially unemployed which is scary but also a bit liberating.
I’ve accepted that to be able to put my health first I need to change career, drop a ton of money and have a “regular job” – so sad in some ways that it comes to that, especially as I know I was a good teacher, making a difference and doing well.

The depression fog is lifting slowly but the anxiety remains along with all my crappy physical symptoms. I’ve improved from 3-4 months ago but still got a long way to go.

Update December 2015:

I’m now working as a SEND Case Worker – I started 6 weeks ago having done 1-1 tutoring for 10 months. I’m loving it so much and it’s helping my recover.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is becoming more controllable and I still have bad days but life has really moved forward for me, so much brighter and happier and I feel I have purpose.

Currently I have no regrets leaving the classroom and hope I have a future in this role.

If anyone reading this is experiencing stress and depression themselves, you should be aware of the Teacher Support Network which runs a hotline and offers practical advice. If it is your working conditions that are making you ill, or if you want help with ensuring that you are supported at work having being diagnosed with stress or depression, I would recommend contacting your union.

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