Thursday Period 7 – Celebrating Success. What, reward for doing the job?

imageI was at school when there were extensive discussions about banning the cane. One fairly significant argument was: “well I was never caned at school and it never did me any harm”. The implication being that the cane kept us in good order and thus helped the majority. This blogpost is about rewards, and frankly, I was rarely praised or rewarded at school. Maybe it did or maybe it didn’t do me any harm. I’ll finish my story later. I am definitely not someone who thinks we offer some financial cash rewards for each GCSE ( as a school or as a parent) and will fairly despair if our job of education only seems to get done by offering financial rewards. There is much research showing this is pretty redundant, moreso for many of us, it’s not likely to instil lifelong learning skills and the kind of education we want for the generation .So how do schools celebrate success, in fact what do we mean by success and how to reward excellence? It’s not the winning but the taking part, so do we just reward all who take part or just winners? Then we find it difficult to decide winners, oh hang let’s do nothing to anyone in case someone is offended or upset or overlooked.

Here are my top five of thoughts on rewards

1. The big occasion


I recall my own school’s prize days in the 70’s, long speeches I never followed, and a day off in lieu granted by the speakers wife usually!. We will shortly hold our school presentation evening, we use the local “Albert Hall ( Nottingham sorry not London). We have an evening with a few short speeches, aimed at the pupils, parents and teachers. We imagehave our honours, about 75 pupils for subjects, for contribution, for effort for battling against the odds and for achievement. Every year will be represented, every ability but sure emphasis rests with the Y13 and Y11 who will be the role models others can aspire to. The pupils who watch can see that they too can ‘make it’ yes they can, they reallimagey can, because these are our pupils from our school who have enjoyed success. The bulk of the evening will be a musical celebration with the best of our orchestras, music groups and choirs. It will be top quality and uplifting for all in a way only music can do. The audience will be staff and parents, grandparents ex students guests. When our previous Head suggested the event, many of us thought it would last a few years but here we are 22 years worth of celebrations on.

imageWe used to celebrate sport that evening too but this made for a very long evening. So we now have a separate sports event on a Friday afternoon in October – local sports stars generously come and help us celebrate. Our competitive teams, our sports stars, our selected pupils and our internal house teams ( swimming gala athletics football, rugby cricket cross country….you know the sort) video clips and some good humour from the imagestaff too. A great event to mark the work of hundreds of pupils and of course PE staff and all those who take teams and go the extra distance literally.


2 The extraordinary occasion.

imageNot so long ago we worried that our post 16 students were getting lots of advice, lots of suggestions as to how to improve and messages from me and others to ‘work harder’. We felt the need for a rebalance and introduced an ‘Oscars” – students nominated by staff not just because they were achieving but because they were trying, they had listened and learnt, and they were progressing. A message publicly that we have noticed and we say well done. We repeat these medal awards at the very end of the year on the day they dress up as Y11 and we say farewell. In other year groups we applaud the sports teams weekly, we offer the certificates for getting into a special place.

3 The bread and butter.

Our Y7 to 9 have merits, they have varying degrees of enthusiasm to collect them and I guess the same is true of staff who show varying degrees of enthusiasm to hand them out. Despite the fact we can’t quite create fully workable rules the system works and pupils do work to collect them. They do try and the things we ask them to do are recognised on the bigger stage. Certificates, presentations in assembly and what I do really love, their peer group applaud as they recognise something special themselves. We have only recently introduced rewards in Upper school Y10 and Y11, pupils collect them and after gathering a number complete a card. Once complete this becomes a chance for a bigger reward as we have a draw for some prizes like book tokens, meals etc We recently had a group of Brazilian teachers visit school, a few of our Portuguese speakers helped out showing them around and interpreting in lessons. When I thanked the pupils who did great job, written all over their faces was “Sir any chance of a merit?”. There can be great ways here to involve school councils and the proverbial ‘pupil voice’

4 The regular routines.

In lesson time and form time and extra curricular time there are merits but there are also significant responses. The pupil giving the subject a good go, the one who really tries to learn for a test, the one who listens to what was said at their parents evening , or maybe the one who happily takes the CAFOD box around or the poppies. imageA recent report said ‘lavish praise’ doesn’t work, I think the headline should be ‘false praise’ doesn’t work. It is important in schools to say thank you, well done; to ring home with good news as well as with concerns. It is nice, it’s appropriate and it’s probably important to send and receive a letter from school just to say something slightly out of the ordinary has been noted.

5 The most effective – the informal.

The teacher who notices. Notices the pupils tried, notices there has been improvement, notices that the task was actually quite a big challenge and it was managed. We recently had our swimming gala and the races are hard fought. Some younger pupils filled with enthusiasm volunteered to swim but unknown to us they were not the fastest of ‘fish’ in the pool. How wonderful to hear a whole audience of Y7 to 9 cheer and clap and appreciate the last person home as they gained…just the point, that really was the ‘taking part’ and the PB ( personal best). The “pincer” movement is even more effective, pass the little message to a Head of Year or to a form teacher and let them also pass on gratitude or thanks – watch the smile and see it encourage even more contribution, and effort.

imageA lot of our pupils, whatever we may think, really do lack self confidence, they are growing up in an uncertain world and I have always found it a challenge to convince them they really are good, capable and can aim even higher. Keep an eye out for those five ways.

So to my story of school, at one of those Grammars oft touted as bringing social mobility ( which it did for me but by accident methinks! Top of my class in Y7 I was rewarded with a book, an atlas. In Y8 I didn’t come top, but second and my report said: “Now even Dexter has learnt that there is no substitute for hard work” a phrase I have occasionally used myself. Despite not a single absence, a clutch of decent O Levels and A Levels and a place at a fairly prestigious University; the first in my family to even stay on past 14 let alone get into HE – well just one more book in Y9, and hey the lack of reward never did you any harm Dexter! There is a spectrum of views about rewards, from overdoing them to under-doing them. I still say to all my classes or year groups, don’t expect rewards for doing what I ask or for turning up for school That’s what we expect, but extra efforts, fulfilling parts of the schools ethos, and maintaining persistently high standards should always be recognised.

Rugby world cup winning captain M Johnson

Some questions to consider

Q1 Should we give rewards, or do they offer the wrong incentives?

Q2 It is often them same (few) names who get nominated for rewards and prizes, as they are the best should they keep winning, or how do we share out rewards?

Q3 Are we all winners, or does that make us all losers?

Q4 What ways do you have to reward, celebrate and promote successes?

For those in a church school

Matthew 5:46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?

2 Kings 23:21 The king gave this order to all the people: “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”

Proverbs 9:12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Luke 15:23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.

You might like to read other posts from my timetable of teaching – each is set out from lesson in the school week, before or after school or at the weekends, appropriate to the time of day. I have also started a  class lists or “set lists” which was to answer the questions: “why be a teacher?”or “why have other responsibilities in a school?” Shortly I am starting a new area about progress from one role or experience in teaching to another with hints and tips about successfully moving on in the job and your teaching career.

Thursday Period 2 – Second Chance? Third Chance? Any Chance? No Chance.

monopoloyMy wife told me I needed to listen to woman’s hour radio 4. (@BBCWomansHour) I am a big radio 4 fan ( @on_radio4) only top and tailed in the weekdays but in those holiday moments I do admit to catching more. However this was a command “you need to listen to” . So I did. The story was about Leeds University alumni annual lecture to be given by V. Craig Jordan  You might not have heard of him, he discovered tamoxifen the drug used to help in treatment of breast cancer, now nicknamed the Father of Tamoxifen. According to wikipedia in 2004 it was the world’s largest selling hormonal treatment for Breast cancer and in 2001 prior to  coming out of patent it made $1024m profit. there must be literally millions of people alive today thanks to Tamoxifen.tamoxi

He is a chemist so I was naturally hooked but moreso he is a truly great chemist, and it all started back at home when his Mum allowed him to have a chemi lab in his bedroom in Cheshire. Wow. He admitted to setting fire to curtains and throwing the odd reaction out the window, but he had a kindly curiosity and steely determination to find a cure for cancer. Back in the late 60’s when cancer wasn’t so well understood this was a great mission and huge credit to him for the discovery. A drug which is on the WHO list of essential medicines. I hoped to find the lecture and kindly @DrNMistry kindly tweeted me the link to a truly great lecture from a wonderful man telling an inspiring story.

So what interested this Chemistry teacher beyond the chemistry was that he didn’t do so well at school. Despite his obvious talent and ability, back at school he only passed 3 O Levels not enough to get into the sixth form. After a visit to ICI with the possibility of becoming a lab tech, a clearly determined Mother and a sensible Head seemed to agree to give Craig a second chance -the rest as they say is history, and not lost on me is the fact his discovery has given many a person a second chance.

bennettAnother Chance …Please?

So there is the challenge for schools, when do we give a second chance, or a third? Here the end of the story so so justifies the decision to give a second opportunity and I can think of students I have given a second chance to who got through – though I must quickly add that they haven’t yet discovered a new drug treatment to my knowledge, though at least one I recall became a medic. There are other students who my colleagues could quote back to you (and they do regularly to me) who we gave a second chance but sadly there was no change of attitude. I am sure there are also those we denied a second chance and that some way or other they made it. There was a moment in the Jordan interview when he said ” There isn’t anything wrong with a setback early on” I think most teachers are optimistic, give a child a second chance esp before the end of compulsory school. Second chances when…homework not done, work not up to scratch, an out of characteristic reaction but there must be a change of attitude, forgiveness yes but change please. Then comes that rather horrible moment equalling “Sorry no more chances”. For most of us that comes when other students are still being disrupted from their learning by the second chancer or when teachers spend a disproportionate time trying to get someone to conform. A challenge though is to look at our systems, to intervene, support, help bring change and make ethos and expectation clear. As I have said elsewhere this isn’t simple but it is desirable and I think it’s what a good school should be able to do. Pupils and students do sometimes need a second chance, they are growing up and learning, they need to learn to give second chances and well to forgive too.

yellow card

Second Chance more common post 16?

Post 16 may be a different matter, not on the No No but on the second chances as students find AS Level a different situ to what they anticipated or a subject is not how they imagined or maybe they hit a difficult time in their own developments. Recent funding changes might make second chances very difficult. Recent examination changes also make second chances difficult – the summer of 2014 also saw a greater media highlight of those who did badly and them being told they could not continue. In future the potential loss of AS and the use of internal data might make these decisions more difficult so where do we draw a line? I don’t want to be responsible for wasting teacher time with students destined never to make it, neither with the students time nor with taxpayer money BUT I wouldn’t like to say ‘No’ to a future star, or even a future plodder. At heart it’s about knowing your pupils well, and trusting teachers. I daresay some decisions on giving a second chance will reflect a teachers own story or a school history …I was given a second chance so….

We could rehearse the arguments over league tables, pressure on schools to do well ( and with PRP for teachers too, second chancers might become rarer). Perhaps we can have a performance table for those we gave a second chance too?

monopoly2Are you listening? No really listening?

Perhaps the radio4 story needs to be heard by our students not by our teachers. A message so often given out to pupils: take opportunities; work hard; need to be genuinely heard not just listened to. On the other hand perhaps we get too neurotic about it all, pupils will rise up to the surface, maybe leave a school and get a great deal at a College, or bounce back when they mature or face their destiny. I am sure some would argue the second chance prevents facing up to errors, though personally I doubt that. So for those who do turn over the proverbial new leaf, their story ends well BUT for some the pressure of being a failure and “not allowed’ might just send them in a different direction, not just in studying but maybe in wasting a talent that schools just couldn’t quite untap if second chances get rarer. In some ways te matter is about forgiveness and a second chance, but can we go on forgiving blindly, and seeing other lives affected? Can we make restorative justice work in schools? I think we can, and much of our nature wants to give a second chance but just sometimes we have all had enough!

I have one sticky questions I feel my post should face
red cardpngWhat about permanent exclusion? We might all allow a second a third chance etc but there are some incidents a school community probably cannot forgive, possibly cannot allow to blight the rest of their work. They cannot be seen to tolerate or to condone certain extreme behaviour or persistent bad behaviour. We need perm ex, we need to use it rarely, we probably need an appeal system, but we also need a system that can pick up and offer a second chance, but it can’t be back in the home camp where such an offence takes the student beyond restoration with their present community.

You can listen to the original programme via itunes or from the BBC

Some Questions to think about?

Q1 Do we give pupils too many chances?

Q2 Is there ever a limit to how often we should help young people start again?

Q3 Can the proverbial “Leopard” ever  change its spots?

Q4 Are some more deserving than others?

Q5 Is permanent exclusion ever justifiable?

Some references to contemplate for those of you in church schools or interested.

Matthew 18: 22,23   Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times

Luke 15:7    I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

John 8:11   Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Leviticus 26:18    If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over.


You might like to read other posts from my timetable of teaching – each is set out from lesson in the school week, before or after school or at the weekends, appropriate to the time of day. I have also started a  class lists or “set lists” which was to answer the questions: “why be a teacher?”or “why have other responsibilities in a school?” Shortly I am starting a new area about progress from one role or experience in teaching to another with hints and tips about successfully moving on in the job and your teaching career.

9YBA Head of Year

imageimageIn many schools pastoral work has taken a new twist as tutor groups are arranged vertically with a few pupils from each year. I cant really comment on that , others might by clicking reply. My experience is in schools with horizontal pastoral work, tutors caring for a tutor group of 25+ pupils and a Head of year possibly an assistant head of year working with them. So this short post is to give a few reasons you might consider this middle leader role:

imagePastoral experience is useful if not essential for senior leadership posts and hey a Head of Year role brings a TLR, more money and a title. Unlike a Head of department you will almost certainly get an office, in my school that is usually a converted wardrobe/cupboard with enough room for a computer, a desk, a filing cabinet, a box of tissues, a notepad, a phone and second chair. In some ways that sums up the role of HoY

If middle leaders subject staff are the engine room of a school this role is the engine oil keeping the school running smoothly. You will be expected to help monitor and to intervene in behaviour issues, attendance issues and a broader view of pupils achievement. These aspects lead you into a new understanding of the background of your pupils and definitely a greater understanding of subjects and staff. our Heads of year are actually called Progress Co-ordinators which I think is a bit clumsy but sums up the expectation.

One way or another there are simple things you can nip in the bud, but soon issues will bring a level of complexity. HoY are expected to intervene, to work to improve attendance, punctuality, performances and to do so without a magic wand. It’s about wisdom, experience, problem solving, oh and infinite patience.

It’s sometimes complicated.
Lets consider punctuality, some pupils are just lazy and late and a HoY can sort this either directly with the pupil or by speaking with home and a balance of discipline and reward. However some lateness is more difficult, dropping off a younger sibling at a local primary, caring for an ill family member. So what the HoY begins to notice is the complexity of family life and what some young people face from home. You’ll be surprised how an appropriate conversation can actually improve matters.

Top negotiator
imageGreat training to be a diplomat or peace keeper. HoY sometimes have to advocate on pupils behalf, see them through a rough patch, and get work sent home and check they settle back in on return, and don’t forget them, Try and note or remember a significant anniversary. Sometimes a teacher complains and there is another side. Sometimes a parent has heard one side (!) and wants to tell you so

Bridge back?
IMG_6254Sometimes the HoY has to help reintegrate pupils after incidents, maybe from being withdrawn from lessons or back from exclusion. Staff will be watching, other pupils too, as a HoY maintains some sort of bridge back into the school community, not at any cost but trying to ensure the issue is sorted and of course the issue does not raise itself again. Learn from senior staff.

One of the most rewarding tasks is too help see a pupil “turn the corner” it might be a report card, it might be a conversation where a colleague tells you how well X is now doing. It might be a successful way to help a parent with a challenging child. Working that team to success is very rewarding.

imageNever underestimate the letter home, the positive call home, the quiet word on a corridor to say you’ve heard how well… But you might have to seek that out. A proper scheme of merits or a reward system can help and if you get it right enjoy the rare staff confessional “your new rewards – that is really working well”

Setting standards
I think effective HoY set out their expectations and those of the school clearly and keep referring to it over the year. Assemblies, gatherings individual conversations. Scanning reports and data, maybe the rank order of effort for your year group is compared at each report and you seek out those who climb and …well, yes decide what to do about those who fall.

The go betweenyellow cardred cardpng
In particular parent – pupil. When a parent is worried they are likely to contact you, when you have a concern you contact them. You sometimes have meetings with parents and might actually chair the meeting between a colleague and parent and pupil. You will learn a lot but observe how experienced staff do that. There will be formal meetings too like parents evenings , you’ll prob get a bit of extra stuff to follow up from them. Oh and of course there are very difficult meetings with parents, observe and learn.

Running a team
Your tutor team unlike the subject staff you probably didn’t choose them, you have some you are pleased to see on your list and you have others. There is the pastoral work and in many ways the standards of behaviour uniform and so on at least set out clear expectations and get tutor support and support them when they crash into issues. You might have a bit of pastoral curriculum (PSE /PSHE) to plan and this is a big challenge, prepping a topic for others to use. Plan carefully, look for big impact and get the feedback, above all show gratitude.

Dealing with SLT
Inevitably as a HoY you need some help some coaching and some ideas. I recall thinking myself that I had seen every situation a pupil might encounter after about 15 years in the job, and then around the corner would be an issue I had never dealt with. You need wisdom and help but also sometimes need their support. A good relationship with your line manager eg your Head of school is critical but nothing better than solving a tricky issue between you.

Dealing with agencies.
A host of outside agencies look to a HoY to help on a host of issues, from looked after children, through children’s services to support agencies possibly the police. Learn the proper protocols, systems and statutes.You will learn how some are really good and others surprisingly poor. However they performed you still see a pupil every day and therefore might be the most important part of a jigsaw in their life. Try never to forget that some pupils have complicated lives and perhaps we should be kind.

imageKeeping a perspective
Be prepared – some colleagues will think you are too soft, that cup of tea in your office after Rudolph did that; others will be the opposite and think you were ridiculously harsh to force the detention over that so called trivial event. So sure sometimes you can’t win but you are the reality of loco parent is and tough love needs mixing up with the bridge back.

Advice and help
Pupils will come to you for advice maybe careers maybe personal. After all you it was you who actually said if they had any problems to come and talk to you, but you just didn’t think they would talk to you about that! Listen, listen a bit more and then help, just that and if you can’t help it’s fine just be prepared, like we always should be, to pass it on.Help Support Advice Assistance and Guidance on a signpost

Ultimately the success of a number of pupils is definitely down to the pastoral system of which they hoy is the critical position. Knowing your pupils and families. This job is about relationships relationships relationships and a frequent stepping stone into more senior roles in school.

Nice blogpost reflecting on this role from Andy Lewis.

Sunday period 3 – Plans off the shelf? No – planning is critical.

My short blogpost on planning started from some major frustration with a TES article  in October 2014 reporting Lord Nash (Schools minister) comments about teacher planning. This and a twitter conversation with colleagues (Thank you I’ve tried to cover your points) out there who know the job. I need to come clean I am an SLT member, I like to see evidence of planning and not a template lesson plan, but we are not a school in measures so that may be necessarily different. I still teach and I can well remember teaching full timetables, even though not so much now and in the immortal words of Mr Tom Bennett “I have a fat wallet and light timetable”.
fail to planSo my thoughts:

Credit to the deputy in my teaching practice school in rural Oxfordshire along time ago “every hour of teaching John will need an hour of prep and an hour of reflection/marking”. That was aimed at a PGCE, maybe to an NQT but it is not sustainable, some planning time can be reduced from an hour per lesson over a period of time methinks. Even the oft hated Oftsed stopped checking lesson plans ( often perfectly presented etc) but want to see evidence of planning. But here is my analysis:


Planning long term
The first task with any class is to plan the year. Think about each term and the purpose, the aims and the build up to say a public exam. For most of my career I’ve taught GCSE, AS and A Level groups so this bit of planning threads aspects such as: coursework demands (when will the students have learnt the skills we test?) alongside standard assessments and exams and any reporting cycle (nothing worse than writing a report and finding out in an assessment the next week how wrong I was). Think through the rough division of the specification or units or topics. and Then also think of the state of our pupils, (not too much compromise) – Chemistry coursework started the week before Christmas is likely to be poorer but if we have four groups how do we fit them in? These are the discussions to have with HoD. This is also where we all produce, contribute to, work on and improve schemes of work; even in production the discussions can be a huge help to understanding the T&L of a course.

goal without a planPlanning mid term

So knowing it is these topics to cover this half term and these assessments to fit in, just check how far we got in the last chunk of time. For example the summer often catches us out, we restart the AS students and they are not well motivated (sometimes neither are we) so the autumn term needs to take account of such. Even now I still read over the topics, refreshed from a textbook and check for any shiny new ideas maybe from twitter, maybe from blogs. Chemistry is a great subject to teach and there are lots of ideas out there but the core lesson cannot have too many stories, just a bit of spice in the meal. So this “planning aspect” is about subject knowledge, and it needs building and learning by the teacher, hang it that was the stuff we wanted to teach so it should not be a chore. It’s the reading and the thinking how I might get this over and get it learnt and get it understood that is such a great part of the job. (and worth noting in all my years the content has changed at all levels and the assessment model at all levels and very often, so what I do now is far removed from what Terry Alsop taught me back in the 1980’s in my PGCE. Thankfully the principles held me in good stead.)

Planning short termarchitectural

Well that’s the weeks work. I still have a planner and think what I’m doing for the week. Science teachers need to order their kit for experiments and whilst we can be kind and buy chocolates for lab technicians, we know they need a fair notice. ( see blogpost unsung heroes). It’s now getting quite detailed, the odd powerpoint, video, website links I’m using, narrative from a text and a think about what questions I might ask and even what might be written on the boards. Oh and don’t forget homework!Certainly any worksheets for practicals or other activities need checking printing or ordering. Oh and here I might check my resource bank and colleagues shared resources and have a chat with colleagues. This is where we should not reinvent the wheel! I really like this and miss it now I teach less. I used to find it difficult to use other people’s worksheets and likewise I do with other people’s powerpoints but they are a starter. In fact this stuff all evolves. I grab last years lesson(s) and last years resources and adapt. In my first three or four years of teaching I did a long review every lesson and my reflections were one of the most helpful parts of my work.

Planning the lesson
Take the deep breath and have a think where we got to last time, check out the short term plan, adapt anything from my marking , heck they really didn’t understand that part. When I was a Head of Year and stuff hijacked me and even now as SLT when stuff in school happens this step can get lost in the fog of school. After all these years I know my stuff well and can cope and manage, it won’t be outstanding but it will be pretty good. There is a vitally important point to this part, we make the lesson work for the class, for the time of day, for certain individuals. We do this to help with behaviour, with progress and ultimately with attainment. Teacher’s know how important planning is to maintain and raise standards of behaviour and understanding – watch me try and teach French if you want to see how awful it can be. ( I make a good fist of it c’est la vie). This needs saying in response to the original article. So obvious really there is not much point me teaching how to do calculations in Chemistry if we can’t balance an equation. In a threatened new world where I am given lesson 256 today and tomorrow must deliver 257 it will come unwound in a hugely serious way. attainment will suffer and behaviour will deteriorate. Teacher plannerQuite often I’ve been lucky enough to have two Y10 or two Y12 classes, less prep -well sort of, the long the mid and the short but not the lesson. It remains a mystery that I can teach exactly the same and one group get it and one don’t, hey ho that is what we love about the challenge of the job. It’s what I think absorbs all the extra time too as the teacher pleased with all that work gets reminded – Ah but it still might not work for Robert, yes what can I do with Robert? so there is a final challenging jigsaw, are we doing enough for “every child matters?” G&T, pupil premium, SEND, girls, boys, middle of the road, quiet pupils? BUT we cannot kill ourselves with work, even I say to the NQT, sometimes you won’t be able to do an all singing all dancing lesson, it’s not a problem, just do some now and again to remind yourself why you came into the job.

Off the shelf plans, will they cut down planning? No. Will they save time for us all? No – and anyway much of this is done… home! DO I want offf the shelf plans? No its the creative bity of the job and if you offer me some they pop into a box called possible resourcves, I still need to do the planning. Or follow the logic and then read this post by Martin Robinson

I still think this basic, preparing a lesson is vital for the successful outcome and it’s a good reminder to try and protect each other from other stuff to make sure we prep well, we enjoy prep and our pupils benefit. One last small point though, pupil behaviour needs to be good, nothing more soul destroying than all that prep and an inability to deliver cause of poor behaviour or low level disruption. That’s for another post.

Here is a helpful link to @teachertoolkit clever 5 minute teacher plan if you have others, let me know.

Some questions to think about

Q1 How does preparation evolve in a teacher career from student teacher, NQT, the early years, middle leader etc?
Q2 What evidence should we see from colleagues, what evidence of planning without an endless stream of paperwork and extra work which does not directly benefit pupil progress?

and for those in church schools

Isaiah 28:29
All this also comes from the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent.

Isaiah 32:8
But the noble make noble plans, and by noble deeds they stand.

Proverbs 15:22
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Psalm 94:11

The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile.

7 YBA Chemistry Teacher

In my blog yba teacher I confess to a small white lie or being economic with the truth – teaching is a great job but Chemistry teaching is the best!

[Now I know there are frustrations, problems, annoyances, SLT (hey I’m one) BUT here are my positive thoughts.]

What it is about Chemistry and teachers?  It’s a great subject to teach, though not easy (are any?) so what do I think makes our subject unique , intriguing and beguiling.

It has a great intellectual capacity and challenge. There is no doubt there is a lot to know, a lot to understand, a great deal to work out,  a challenge of how it all applies but at its most basic Chemistry is about ‘problem solving’. From the exam questions to the global problems and from the latter the history of discovery, serendipity, heroes and well a few anti-heroes too, some absolutely lifechanging discoveries and developments and some we are overwhelmingly embarrassed about. but it generates huge curiosity. One of my first ever lessons with a brand new shiny y7 and I added acid to indicator, then added alkali and as it went from red back to green a small child open-mouthed, staring from a silent audience in my lab said “bl**dy hell that’s amazing” and the whole class and me gasped, his face said it all, one of astonishment and yes we had a word about his words. but who couldn’t read about our subject and not be curious. There are patterns and themes and exceptions and rules and maths and observation and theory and practice, what could be more intriguing?

image 2(3)

For me the real highlight is that it has great stories : of discovery, of changing the world for the better, of poison and intrigue, of dedication, of enviable cleverness, of battling against the odds. Stories of people (too many to list) and materials. it has a great history, it’s involved in culture, it is …everywhere. If you are a non chemist reading this get hold of ‘Chemistry world’ from the RSC in a local library and I defy you to read two or three copies and still not agree: medicines, dyes and paints, fuel, energy, food, agriculture, materials from plastics to metals, detergents, cosmetics, …..just soooo wonderful. I might even claim the history of mankind is driven by Chemistry, you can’t fight a battle against warring invaders in a bronze age without..bronze, and you can’t fly aeroplanes to escape without Aluminium. I can only tease you here, otherwise it’s a book on the way!

image (3)

Resources: the subject has come along way in classrooms since I learnt in the 70’s from a textbook and the occasional copy of “New Scientist”. There are fantastic books and blogs, magazines and great stuff for children like the wonderful “Chemical Chaos” We have great writers like John Emsley, how could you read anything he has written without being desperate to share the story. But it creeps in elsewhere in Physics and Biology from DNA to solar panels…we are here, there everywhere –  #loveChemistry. I have taught Salters’ Chemistry since it was first piloted in the 1990’s but if you don’t teach it, get the Chemical story book and I’ll refund your money if you don’t make good use of it

People: The subject is a living one and so we study past, present and future at school and then there are graduates, PhD’s  and post docs, researchers and professors, retired Chemists who blog and write and tweet, there are Uni researchers sharing their research. Check out the RSC Learn Chemistry  and make sure your school is involved. If you are not on twitter get started, and follow the likes of…actually it’s not fair to mention a few here, there are so many keen to help and half the fun is finding them on twitter, some may even retweet this blog. In due course I might get around to listing the bloggers and tweeters. Alternatively search for #Chemistry or #lovechemistry. There are also the phenomenon that are twitter chats such as #asechat. Over my 30+ years I have had the great genuine pleasure of meeting all sorts of academics, industrialists and educators. They have always been willing to share and help and support. I’m not sure I have capitalised on this but it can be done. My school had a wonderful industrial link with Boots locally for many years when industrial visits were part of the specification – Boots were hugely helpful and my students found the visits to….essentially pipes and pots…fascinating. How? The whole visit was around solving problems in production of Ibuprofen and hey….they were good. [see ofqual there is more to teaching than assessment ut your is a critical role!]

Web based resources. In recent years we have seen a growth in resources on school websites and university websites and fantastic links to be pursued and followed. Organisations well preeminently the RSC but also the ASE. Local sections, paid staff and volunteers, publications and websites and the most wonderful CPD.There are foundations like Nuffield, organisations like CIEC, NSLC and University departments too numerous to mention, my experience is that these people are always willing to respond and support too and I’ll add in any more if you let me know any obvious one’s omitted. I have though to mention @RSC_Eic because their website and magasine has a special place in my work but it is always an inspiring read with something to make you think and something for you to try and use. stuff for students, events to take students along to and great ideas to use with them. I can’t leave this section without referring to videos ( hey we watched the Christmas lectures in my day) and of course youtube has great links. You really must store periodic table videos from the University of Nottingham in your favourites but here is my all time favourite video all the way from 1947.

Practicals: From demonstration to class practicals through to investigations. I still love demo’s, yes a few bangs and a few ‘ooh agh’ colour changes or explosions but also the finer details, demonstrating a titration properly and seeing youngsters learn and do their own, aiming for really good results. Class practicals, especially if we keep them a little open ended and coax some extra curiosity. No not those we have to use in coursework or controlled assessments, just great practicals. If you get a chance make use of local companies or Universities willing to show/use some of their big kit too. I am still scared when we start our Investigations with Y13. Perhaps ten or twelve different experiments over 3 weeks, carefully planned, executed only to find this is Chemistry and sometimes doesn’t do as it should, written up, analysed and evaluated and all that for 90 UMS, and they enjoyed it. Not sure where this is going in future Ofqual!

Making nylon

Exam questions ( well applying Chemistry) I mentioned intellectual curiosity and once pupils have learnt enough basics ( although my University tutor claimed that took 3 years as an undergraduate) we can then solve problems. I refer readers to OCR specification assessment materials, they are a major challenge as pupils look at their problem solving in a new context. All the exam boards have stuff like this. You can’t really look at solutions to an ozone crisis without understanding bond energy. You can’t look at fuel replacements without a deep knowledge of thermodynamics and despite the interest in a manufacturing process you really do need to get a good grasp of equilibrium and kinetic Chemistry. I recall one bright A Level student say to me after their exam “Sir that was really hard, you never taught us about poisoning deer” which was true, the derivation of course was Arsenic chemistry (also not taught but worked from the pattern of N and P). I love those new and different contexts and I always reckon one of these young pupils might just be able to replicate photosynthesis in a test tube one day.

Frontier stuff: Yes we can share the here and now, sure we have to cover atomic models established back at the turn of the last Century but we can look at the major modern progressive stuff too:green chemistry or clean technology, computer modelling and yes we can read about whoever won the Nobel Prizewinners in Chemistry (another brilliant website) and we can think why and what it might mean.

Chemical education research it’s not just a subject with diverse, interesting and challenging content from the worlds of Industry, academia, research, Art, culture. But we do have proper chemical educational research, and like the content it’s not just a UK tradition. if you need a starter, try this site, but do look at stuff going on in Higher Education too as much can be brought down into secondary.for example there is a lot of discussion going on about ‘flipped classrooms’ bet we can draw from that. ( oh and they might learn a bit from us too). So lots of wonder CPD and commitment, including the RSC’s latest paper on Chemistry teaching and I added a positive but challenging voice in a recent endpoint, whatever happens the commitment is there for the profession.

Rare orchid, smells of chocolate, makes the milk of cows that eat it turn blue!

Rare Swiss orchid, smells of chocolate, makes the milk of cows that eat it turn blue.

Activities  Pupils do love their practicals but we are richly blessed, we can stimulate great data analysis, we can develop and try out micro scale practicals, we can turn to molecular and computer modelling. Back in the day I tried so hard to think in 3D and I think my inability prevented my progress but then along comes molymod models and then computer graphics. This will light up the Chemical world. I have a few old OHP I drew to explain electrolysis, atoms with a bit missing (cations) and atoms with a little extra electron being picked up and I flashed these up quickly to make a video. Laughable now as we can see so many animations, we can even do ‘play’ experiments in school altering the temperature and pressure etc of complex reactions or processes.


Ah – the Element of surprise

Careers– I think Chemistry qualifications show some sort of standard even in this ever changing time. Our pupils are well served by a GCSE in Chemistry, an AS or A level and BTec’s in linked areas ( though I wish the vocationals could be sorted properly!) and of course a massive variety of degrees and linked degrees. But we chemistry teachers can get great careers too, after all these teachers are good problem solvers ( theoretical and practical) they are good communicators, they know about research principles and hopefully they are a touch eccentric and they share great good humour: need I say more! Interestingly the fantastic Chemistry teachers I have met and worked with, very often still think of their classroom lessons as the highlight, they really do #lovechemistry.

Colleagues – I work with and have always worked with great chemistry colleagues, sharing ideas, learning from each other, thinking how to improve what we do or frankly working out how to use some new spec or new assessment model to advantage. Just discussing Chemistry with another person interested in the world of Chemistry, is frequently uplifting.

Students– best bit of the job, trying to teach them, trying to help them learn, coping with their lows and highs, getting them through mocks, tests, exams, answering their questions, moving their ideas, challenging their understanding, helping them solve problems, sharing the stories, working out how to motivate this one, challenge that one and support them all. The best being when they get it, when the proverbial penny drops, when they see the bigger picture. The other reward when they enjoy chemistry, decide to choose it into y12 or y13 or HE. Especially those having chosen it as a ‘ best of a bad choice’ who find they too #love chemistry and then think of HE or employment in the world of Chemistry. Seeing them sailing off into the Chemistry sunset….or sunrise 🙂

So if you are a prospective chemist wondering about teaching at school or in HE…go for it, you won’t regret it, and if you are a Chemistry teacher in the broadest sense:

Q1 What else do you think makes it a great subject?

Q2 Are there other things professional bodies could do to help us?

Q3 What obstacles that stand in the way do we need to shift?

Q4 How else can we share our enthusiasms?


7YBA Teacher

[Like all set liststhis one may change by those annoying SLT i.e. me; Mainly if you reply or tweet me anything forgotten.]

Some of the best things about being a teacher:

You get to work with some great pupils. those who want to learn are in the majority, they are keen to hear from you, your knowledge and keen for you to help them understand, to apply knowledge and yes sure to pass exams. In secondary there is a massive variety of ability and also of ages. There is a huge difference between a y7 and a Y9 and a Y11 pupil. That is a major challenge. At the heart of the job, good relationships with your pupils, and an opportunity to open their minds, challenge their minds and do much the same for yourself.

You get to work with some great teachers. People of wisdom about the school or about the job. Hey and you need to aim to be like that yourself one day. It is a profession full of intelligent and clever people, but the best are the witty ones! you will also get to work with great support staff, secretaries who understand you can’t speak to a parent just now, exams officers who sort your error, and ICT technicians who we call “superheroes”. Those many interactions are, in the best places full of witty banter.

You get to share your subject. That means you share your passion, enthusiasms and you learn about your subject. It is difficult to teach a topic without mastering in so whatever subject you love you get to love it more.

You get a specification or a curriculum to teach. You get some guidance from schemes of work ( which you can contribute to) and to try to fathom out the best way to deliver the objectives. Lots of colleagues will help you and also be willing to learn from you. You need to learn to make good use of resources

You get to be creative./ OK, so there are Powerpoints and worksheets but there are also activities and practicals and a massive host of ideas. Some are in your school, some on the internet and some in your head. You can also contribute to that wonderful pool of resources. Hey and you get to share your humour.

You have to look out for data. Yes, you have to mark books and assess work and get depressed about mock results. But mostly you use any data to help you engage with pupils and help them learn and improve. You do really assess for helping learning. In fact other data…forget it. You get to see the wood for the trees and the trees in the wood, individual pupils progressing and growing up, under your guidance.

You probably get a pastoral role. Looking after a tutor group is another twist to the wonders in the job. Checking they attend, they have the correct kit and uniform and do their homeowrk. It might sound a routine but there is nothing better than helping youngsters in your tutor group. They have bad days or bad things happen, they have birthdays and good things to celebrate – you can be involved. They get pleased with a report, they get disciplined, they need someone keeping an eye.There will be some pupils who your involvement, helps keep them engaged and helps see them achieve. No one forgets a good tutor. You’ll meet them later in life, you will.

Professional support. Well there is CPD and courses and INSET stuff but there are also subject associations, twitter, blogs, teachmeets. meeting colleagues in other schools hearing their moans snaffling their ideas.Though for some, nothing better than a conversation in the staffroom at the end of the day

You get a career. You can move into all sorts of areas. You might get interested in SEND pupils, or EAL, or gifted pupils. You might get interested in careers advising, pastoral work, running a dept or in assessment and examining, or writing books, or educational research or teacher training…the list goes on. Develop your interests

You get to do some extra curricular stuff. Maybe your own interest or a hobby well you can share it, even if it is a bit obscure, but it might also inspire someone at your school. The obvious, run a football team take the basketball, run the orchestra, organise the drama, help with the technical stuff. But there is also the yoyo club, the chess club, organising the charity fundraising…..nothing will go unnoticed, well it might be a Head or SLT ( it shouldnt) but it ont by the children neither their parents

You get to work as part of a team. As a subject teacher you are in a dept, others to chat to about your subject, about your class, about their progress. Stimulating, challenging and usually supportive. If you want you to can learn a lot from this group. But you are also in a pastoral team. Watch and learn how well some staff deal with those apparently difficult or vulnerable pupils

You get to work as an individual. Frankly when the classroom door closes despite observations or even cameras, you are the adult in charge of the learning. It’s your room, your timings, your decisions about following the plan or abandoning a bit. It’s where your reputaion is made and respect is created. You get to perform, to act, to entertain, to control, but most of all to teach, to inspire, to help children learn and progress and get a qualification and begin to become an autonomous, independent confident young person

Magic moments i got that, ive understood that, Ive got this right, I can do this. A smile a look a decision to do your subject in options or post 16 or even in HE. A parent thanking you, a pupil thanking you. A pupil achieving their dream. Lots of ‘little lights’ going on, and many ‘Oh Agh” moments.

You get support (usually). Support from colleagues from pupils, from parents and from your local community, the village the district, or if a faith school it might be a parish). Usually local people and businesses are supportive, they might employ your pupils or take them on work experience. Teachers get a good press ( try being a politician lawyer, estate agent or banker) we are trusted. Your view might actually count, in a classroom and community if not in whitehall.

You get paid. The pay isnt so bad ( unless you live in London and/or want a lavish lifestyle) the pension is OK but might be deteriorating. The holidays are good but maybe not quite as they appear from outside the profession. Despite any moans most teachers enjoy going back to work.

Hey there are drawbacks: you need stamina; despite all your effort a class gets you down; pupils can behave badly or sometime they behave well but just do not appreciate your effort (on the face of it). Leaders sometimes don’t help they interfere, then annoy, they rearrange things, they tell you off. Some parents…well perhaps the less said the better. Governments interfere..let’s say even less about that. Resources can be short in comparison to a neighbour school or another dept.

You will have avery busy days. Very intense and lots of interactions but you will never be bored. There are no two days the same, and frankly no two lessons the same.

It’s a great job, lots of us, old and young still #loveteaching

If you wish for a glimpse, take a look at the easy to read stories of life at a school (Trinity, mine)


Trinity Lower courtyard

Thanks for all the tweets and messages and for version 1.1to the following


Monday period 5 – A simple and profound lesson to learn

If you are hoping for inspiration for teaching your Monday period 5 jump to the end. My Monday period 5 is my worst lesson. If you are an ex pupil reading this, I do apologise, I can explain. If you are a present student get off this blog and back to the work I set you. When preparing for my week, sorting assemblies, pastoral work for the teams I lead and critical admin or UCAS ref then marking and lesson prep etc invariably there was not enough time. I am a professional, so usually got Monday 1 and 2 and even 3 or 4 sorted but 5…it got left, drafted but left. After all I am SLT I have non contact and so that lesson could be polished in my free. What free? Why have I never ever learnt that my free on Monday got hijacked, maybe cover, maybe someone needing to talk – a sixth former wishing to quit, drop a subject, change subject, or a teacher…… with bothers, with worries….but I never learnt and end up with my meagre prep and the 10 m walk to the lab as I get to Monday period 5. Apologies all round. Thanks timetabler this year first ever no class Monday 5.

BUT one thing got me through, it was always on my mind, or in my mind, in fact in my soul and it goes back to my very first school and the end of my first year of teaching. However I recall it today because it is the school holiday.

Yesterday I arrived in Eastbourne or as my Dad would have said the seaside. As I took an evening stroll, I thought of my Dad and many happy seaside weeks as a kid and one profound ritual. As soon as we arrived we had to go to the beach. Whatever time of day, whatever needed doing, before any bag was unpacked, we all had to go to the beach and paddle in the sea. Just paddle in the brine, Dad thought it was good for us but it was a significant moment it meant the holiday had really started. I did that here in 2014 after arriving and I thought of my Dad, and his ritual is now mine and the holiday has started. Then as I strolled the sea front I though of other significant moments and rituals and I remembered a profound moment that still inspires me the teacher.


Back in the early 1980’s I had just completed my NQT year, woop woop. I had survived, I could teach, pupils could learn and most pupils even behaved themselves, some enjoyed my lessons, and I quite enjoyed the job. More importantly I learnt from great staff. Many of us might think the pressure of change under Gove or other recent SoS is worse than any other teacher has had to face. I am no Historian but the people who I was learning from were awesome staff. Some had started work just after the war – so stop and think of the changes from 1940’s to 1980’s not just in Education (qualifications, comprehensivisation, secondary moderns, the 11+, ROSLA, graduate teaching, corporal punishment, expansion of primaries, free milk (ohps) etc etc) but think how a grey 1950’s society transmogrified into swinging 60’s and these were the people managing pupils, teaching and learning throughout. I learnt so much. Miss D my Head of house who kept order, not just pupils but staff. Mr H in charge of special needs pupils: every single special needs youngster stood out, their manners, their impeccable behaviour, their progress, their employability, their reliability and willingness to help out even me and I didn’t even teach them. Mr L, another Head of house, formidable – he would never have needed a ‘cane’ that would be an affront but no one ever refused to change when he spoke to them, teacher pupil, even SLT! None of these were PGCE graduates all were wonderful teachers who got the best of results (in the full sense of the word). In my tutor group parents would ring me , the NQT and ask me to get their children dropped several sets just to have Miss D teach them (she never taught O Level!) I wanted to be a teacher to make a difference, to help young people learn my subject and to help them aspire, aim high, and there in my school these wise sages were doing that day in day out, and I was privileged to live with them and learn a few tricks from them.

So my profound moment – the start of the summer term and endless invigilation, no lesson prep, no marking but walking the lanes of exam desks. My HoD and I had been busy deciding what to teach and how to teach ( sorry present generation, this was what the job used to be like) and he asked me a favour. Would I go to the Curriculum meeting for him, he was unable to attend – he had OK’d it but this was the meeting options were given out, we needed the list of those choosing (opting for) Chemistry. I went along scared, rightly so as the pastoral giants took their seats ( hey and they were their seats) and the departmental academics arrived, then deputies and the Head. Top of the agenda the lists: “take them away. let me know any major issues” said the deputy politely. Just a few minutes of silence and nodding heads as the lists were checked, a few sighs of relief from me as most had chosen a Science (only Maths and English were compulsory and that a school thing I recall). But then the moment I’ll never forget. The Head of PE Mr K was clearly sighing, tutting and not happy. The Heads of House never missed a detail.
“Whats up Tony?”
“Oh nothing really”.
“No go on what is it?” Mr L didnt understand ‘nothing really’.
“Well” said Mr K “you all know we are offering CSE PE for the first time and we have worked hard on the resources and curr plans but I look down this list and it’s ..well it’s just depressing.”
“Why is that?” came a curious response from the Head of House.
“Well, if you want an example, we have Jim Jarwood and he …….can’t even swim.”

So as I watched carefully for the reaction, I passed sympathy to Mr K. My HoD and I wouldn’t like anyone pitching in for Chemistry who hadn’t shown some competence in Y9, and someone cack handed, dangerous or unable to sit still.. so what was the reaction:

“Tony” said a smiling Head of House rather cutting the atmosphere
“Yes Bill”
“You’re a bloody PE teacher Tony, teach the lad to bloody well swim.
Next item…….”


I can’t remember anything else of the meeting but that moment struck into my soul, like my Dad’s holiday ritual. So whenever I am a bit uncertain about my lesson, or facing a cover in French I just remember those words. “Mr Dexter you’re a teacher, teach them.”

Some questions to ponder;

Q1 We often reflect on our lessons and pedagogy but what are the profound moments in schools which have influenced you?

Q2 We might feel the political agenda hinders or even prevents the ambitions we had about being a teacher, does it really?

Q3 The school machine is oiled by the quality of relationships, which people do you seek out for sage advice, and wisdom? Oh and one day will others find you doing that for them?

For those like me working in a church school

Ephesians 1:16
I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

James 3:13
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

Daniel 1:20
In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

Tuesday Period 5 – Accountability, Responsiblity or Pressure?


1. the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable.

2. a policy of holding public officials or other employees accountable for their actions and results: a need for greater accountability in the school system.


1 .the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone.

2 .the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something.

3 .the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization.


I have been doing my round of department audits. These annual meetings are essentially a report from Heads of Department about what they have found in ‘checking’ on the work of their dept. An accountability measure, so it made me wonder again – just who are we teachers accountable to and responsible for? However after writing this I wasn’t so happy with the posting and was pleased when @Chemistrypoet tweeted me about responsibility and accountability and this made a bit more sense. Well you can see if it does so:

1. Pupils. First and most important I am responsible to my pupils. It’s why I took the job, I hoped to help them learn. I think about the class, the schemes of work, the way they learn, what might be interesting or exciting, difficult or straightforward. It’s these people I want to help succeed, to learn, to enjoy to be challenged and to grow. I worry about their exam results. There is some accountability too – depending on exactly what sort of pupils voice we use – smart ones methinks!

2. Parents. I am obviously accountable to parents. I send them reports, I talk to them at parents evening and expect their support if I need to call them over any ‘problems’. They occasionally remind me of my job – in the nicest way of course. There is a big responsibility here, whatever might be said we are in so many senses “in loco parentis”.

3. Myself. Maybe my conscience but accountability to my own aims and standards it sounds a bit grand, maybe pompous but it is true. I chose the job to spend my energy and effort and any talent I might have, delivering learning for pupils, trying to inspire, inspire in Chemistry but sometimes just inspire them to get stuck into life. I often ask myself if I am doing a good job and like most teachers wonder what I might do better. I prepare a lesson but then seem to dream endlessly about how I might improve it, and do much the same the next time I have to teach the lesson.

4. Colleagues. This is just staff in general. We talk about school, classes, pupils, education, Mr Gove, policy and yes about football or gossip. But my talking brings accountability. If I say I will do something in conversation about my classes or the school then I better do it, someone will for sure remind me. No escape (special phrase for Nottingham ppl). This also has its responsibilities because as I said after Friday period 1, much might rest with a class teacher, the world of learning is complex

5. My head of department. Even though I am an SLT member I still feel a loyalty to and expect scrutiny from, my head of department, I expect (and get) support too but I have no problem with my mark book being checked or asked where I am on a scheme of work, or being observed. In fact the conversations about my subject and our pupils is vital, enjoyable and even though occasionally we might disagree about a direction well hey that is the hod job. It’s often a fuel to the process of improving the work we all do. So this feels more like accountability.

6. My head of faculty. A bit like the above I expect to be answerable to my Head of Science. He is allowed to challenge me, and sometimes the boot is on the other foot as together we do a learning walk.

7. A head of year. Pastoral people are crucial people in a school and having been one I do expect tutors to be answerable for delivering the pastoral work, and helping create or maintain the ethos of the school. Let alone stuff like attendance, punctuality, discipline and uniform as well as mopping a good few tears. Whatever your job in school I bet you rely on good HoY, so we have responsibilities for communications with them and we have an accountability too.

8. Results. Exam results In fact not just examinations and assessment lots of other “results”. This includes ‘events’: the end result of planned concerts, sports games, outward bound. I feel responsible for doing my bit to help make the activity run smoothly and successfully and somewhat accountable for the result. Even for the unquantifiable such as morals, showing the pupils they matter, bringing hope. Oh have I lost track on accountability? – “actions and results”. However there is a great joy and reward here, it’s not all doom. Nothing better than seeing the Y7 pupil who dreamed about becoming a journalist given the envelope in mid August with those grades that got them off to Leeds University to start the next step of that journey……………. Really is nothing better

9. SLT. Well that’s me but I think most teachers understand SLT members can ask them questions, seek information about pupils, about work or maybe about things which go wrong or things which go very right. They expect me to take responsibility seriously and give support and challenge and sometimes just kindness. But for me, I do work closely with other SLT colleagues and frankly we are responsible or is it accountable for the decisions we make.

10. Head.  We all answer to the Headteacher. When the head asks us to jump, we just say, jump? Before or after all this teaching?

11. Governors. In many schools the governors are the employers so we expect to bump into them, to be answerable to them. We meet some at interview or informally and we know they are volunteers who help the running of the school, we might work with them in committee or maybe on exclusions, we understand the important role of governors and the systems they have to monitor and challenge, so yes we feel accountable to them.

12. The Press. I realised this was a bit odd but nevertheless the local press and media like to report what is happening in a school, they tell our stories both good and sometimes bad, they tell them straight and just occasionally exaggerate. They sometimes don’t seem to shout the story we tell them but there is an accountability of sorts to the media.

13 The good old DfE. I do just about feel accountable to the DfE, Ofqual etc because they keep sending out stuff, papers, documents, information, statutes, reminders of laws and responsibilities. Policies and in the case of our BSF cancelled policies. So just maybe if I don’t take some notice here I’ll end up in trouble. I have just ploughed through the document ‘the equality act in school’ thank you DfE. My school is accountable on that policy – these documents come fairly often from you. Thanks! You make it quite clear we are accountable. [Actually Ofqual is a different matter, in essence whatever they send me I’ll try to follow but I will try and do the best to make it work for my pupils…watch for another post there.]

14. Ofsted. They seem to want to bring accountability to my teaching or perhaps more subtly the teaching and learning going on in my school.( OK so some other areas too). They may or may not appear often, they may give no notice. They may only watch 40 lessons in a visit and may not watch me BUT they dominate my landscape. I feel acutely accountable to them. I think my own little performance that day might send my school in a downwards spiral. I worry more about what they might see than the 800 odd lessons I teach each year. I also worry because others worry me and even Ofsted themselves seem to change their mind on the ‘best” way to teach. As a professional teacher, can I choose? Or must I fit the bill? Or is it Ok as long as my teaching delivers great results? PS what are great results at the moment? 5A*toC; progress 8; Pupil premium …..

[And there is an argument that spotting a failing school by Ofsted does mean something happens (discuss…oh you have!)]

15. My community. ( A parish, a geographical locality) I do teach in a church school so we are answerable to the community of the parish, the church, the diocese, but I think most schools have a vital part to play in their community. Yes they have a responsibility too. We are the community, we raise money for it, we volunteer in it and we look for jobs and maybe opportunities in it. So we are answerable to local people. In fact we are all aware if we do a good job in our school, and a good job in our community we all benefit. (for example it might be better to persuade pupils to be this side of the law rather than that side.)

Our pupils have just finished a week of work experience, thanks to our local community, we sense we are accountable to you. Just occasionally a member of the local community moans to me, about a bus incident, I feel accountable and I will make sure it is dealt with. Interesting when I have a problem with Amazon I might moan and email and phone but I doubt I’ll bump into someone accountable to complain to.

16. Job description. I have one, I try to fulfil it, it changes and I still try to fulfil it. I earn my pay on the back of fulfilling it. It’s not a check list, it describes the expectations of me and someone will do Performance Management to check up on my meeting those standards (Oh yes talking paper there are the teacher standards out there too). My guess is I am responsible to develop and maintain those standards – we always have done, do we need them written and ticked off?

17. Union Yes I do think I am accountable to my Union. I have occasionally asked for advice and help and received it gratefully, they have fought for some rights for me, and take their responsibility for me very seriously. I recognise that and I owe them some loyalty but in some way I am accountable to them for the hard won ‘rights’. And if not accountable certainly grateful.

18.Law. Statutes. Heck yes now and again in my work I am reminded of a legal duty a statutory task. I am answerable to the Law.

Perhaps people in other jobs are also this accountable and sense this much responsibility, perhaps some of you read this and say no you aren’t really accountable to all that, because accountability in a sense implies we must get stuff right and we don’t always and it means we might change.. for the better ( but who decides what is “better”?

Imagine I am asked to cover a lesson and just don’t turn up, or turn up and sit allowing a fight to happen and say I do this every week – tell me, does: a) nothing happen b) the pupils say something c) a parent calls d) a senior leader asks me to see them e) we feel bad f) the governors get a complaint g) at the ‘school show’ someone else says something h) the colleague teaching this class their next Lesson goes bonkers at me i) a head of year wants to know how we let this happen?

Most or all of the above?

I think most teachers do sense they are answerable to all of these groups at one time or another, we take our responsibilities pretty seriously. They sometimes call this accountability sometimes stress. Or have I muddled accountability with responsibility muddled with professionalism, or is it all a bit of a muddle?

Teachers should be accountable – we are. School should be accountable – we are.

So my questions – can you get some of these accountabilities off my back so I can get on with the job? Some of the way you make me answerable takes time we might be able to use more effectively. Preparing lessons, delivering great lessons, marking work, creating opportunities in and outside the classroom, helping those more vulnerable pupils, those in need ( temporary or permanent). Working with my colleagues to deliver even better lessons, looking after my colleagues….. I am happy to be accountable, I think I am.

Some questions to ponder

Q1 Do those supposed great models of Education (Finland or Singapore) have such accountability? Q2 Does the accountability work? Have our schools got better? Q3 Maybe schools are just complex for a simple accountability?

When I have some clearer answers I’ll pop up a blog on how I think we could be accountable, but meanwhile take a look at this blog by of Stephen Tierney.

And for those of us in a church school

Hebrews 4:13

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 13:17

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Romans 14:12

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.


Thursday Period 1- Overlooking the Ordinary. No they are Special.

I was at the gym last Wednesday, I should go more often, my wife thinks I should go a lot more often. My excuse for poor attendance is that I keep on bumping into pupils, ex pupils and parents, it’s all a bit like being at work! But that night I spotted a student I no longer teach who is now in the sixth form. I will be careful in case he read blogs, but I thought, gosh how is this student getting on. I know they aren’t in any trouble, no bad behaviour, no major issues of attitude. So back at school next day, conscience pricked, I did a quick check on sims and 4matrix: showed me “doing well”. Then to be more effective , I asked my colleagues. “Doing really well, doing really really well” – one teacher used my favourite phrase “he has blossomed and is making really fantastic progress, likely to become an excellent….Historian (subjects changed)

This reminded me of a mission I used to have but still too often overlook. The silent majority. doubt it’s just our school but most pupils most of the time are fine, and a Head of Year picks up on issues. Ours are very good : attendance, punctuality, behaviour, slipping effort, matters of special learning need, vulnerable pupils, emotional issues often from home bereavement, divorce, trouble. Heck you are a teacher you know all this. In a class or year group we know all these issues. We know the loud, the outstandingly good ( brilliant written work, great answers, reliable with tip top homework). but my blog is for the ‘ordinary’ the ‘no issues’ (at the moment) pupils. The ‘occasionally overlooked’.

We give prizes awards, praise etc to our best pupils, we watch out and act on our weaker brethren with issues and we call in help ( heads of year….SLT counselling, coaching, mentoring, one2one etc) but what about that silent majority. They come to school, sit and absorb, join in when pushed, do most homework. We talk to their parents at parents’ evening and find ourselves a little surprised when we review their marks. Hey “he’s doing well”

So my plea – don’t overlook the ordinary. Hang it this might be deep in me, wasn’t that me at school, just did my best, quietly got on, never in trouble, but never a glowing star. I enjoyed school, no one coached me etc Pupils who are like that, they deserve their fair share of our time, the interest in their progress, achievement, aspiration and ambition. Data tools are great for analysis, they show up all sorts : those pupils unlikely to get 5 grades and English but not Maths , etc etc But we need to see beyond that data, always for the individual person, I am so glad 4 matrix has a little dot or a x for a pupil but it has their name, theor photo and hence can have a “story” too.

One of my daughters friends many years ago, aged about 13, told me it was their school prize night.

“I’m invited but might not go” she said.

“Why ever not?” I asked.

“Well we know who will get the prizes, the best in the class for achievement (fair, John, very fair but always the same people) and then those naughty pupils who have turned it around in the last few weeks. Those in trouble, bad trouble but who have responded a bit just recently and are now just in a bit of bother.” (Sort of moved from inadequate to requires improvement). We saw her again at the weekend. “Guess what John, I was dead right about who won awards”.

“Have you ever won an award R?”

“No John. I just turn up every day and do my work, not always very well, sometimes I don’t get it but I do generally try – no rewards for me.”

Teachers, Heads of Year, SLT never forget those ordinary pupils who do that, attend, try, work, sit quietly, are a bit reserved, never give you bother, but can be overlooked. Never forget because they are special and need special treatment, they might not get an award but they can still be loved, recognised, noticed, and never overlooked.

You wont be surprised I’ve gone out of my way to congratulate the sixth former for the great things I’ve heard about him. He smiled, and thanked me, as we used to say in the recent past every child matters – make sure those middle roaders really do. It should mark out the true comprehensive.


Some questions to thinks about:

Q1 How do we teachers and perhaps especially SLT make sure we look after the majority , hen the minority can sap time and energy?

Q2 How to reward the ordinary who are really extra ordinary

Q3 Remember those gifted and talented debates? Who is gifted? Answer = Everyone!


For those working in a faith school

Ephesians 4:7

Each one of us has received a special gift in proportion to what Christ has given.

Acts 4:13

The members of the Council were amazed to see how bold Peter and John were and to learn that they were ordinary men of no education. They realized then that they had been companions of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 7:7

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

Thursday Period 6 – Purposefulness or just a meeting

Dictionary definitions ->

“The meeting” = The act of coming together; an assembly or conference of persons for a specific purpose; the body of persons present at an assembly or conference
; a hostile encounter; an assembly for religious worship, especially of Quakers.

Meetings. Do they happen in all work places or are they just a huge part of the mystery of how schools work? I have sat in so many over 30 years and I have even contributed to some, yawned in many, played EduAcronym ( hey and won!) and led some. I can recall teaching many great lessons and frankly a few poor ones but can I remember any meetings…not really. Does it matter? I think it might.

Staff meetings, dept meetings, pastoral meetings, SLT meetings, governor meetings, Ofsted prep meetings, Ofsted feedback meetings. All those initiatives I have long forgotten TVEI, Diplomas,GNVQ Exam Board in fact just writing this I wonder how much time was spent there…….oh its exhausting just thinking of my life and energy ebbing away. I recall an “Excellence in Cities” meeting locally with every school given an extra INSET day whilst the project was launched with “At least you don’t have to teach today”. Just how uninspiring was that to be? No wonder that died a deserved death. After all I am a teacher and I love teaching, school might be different when empty but it’s not what the job is truly about.

I propose two things which I am going to look closely at in my school

Do we have too many? and What quality and impact do they have?

1) Perhaps we can all get rid of as many meetings as possible. It is 2014 and we don’t need to meet as much as we used to in 2004 or 1994 because information can be accessed so many other way and it is! There is email, learning platforms ( meeting platforms), conversation and of course bits of paper. In fact if we are not careful we tell each other the same information in every conceivable way via notices, email, platforms and of course the message in a pigeon hole and then in case people might miss we tell them too. Actually we do this because some colleagues don’t seem to listen or hear or follow the plot. But I am yet to be conviced a plethora of meeetings gets the message through as these people often don’t listen to any forum. In fact, maybe, there is a lot of meeting noise in their lives. We need some meetings, we have profession duties to do so, we share about children, we share what works in our subject. WE have training, its a vital lifeblood : child protection, sims, first aid etc But do we need a meeting about assessment or appraisal or levels or no levels? Did a committee design a camel? Can we find better ways? Evolve stuff, not just bringing in more stuff. Get someone good to design say assessment, talk with other colleagues, maybe pupils, maybe governors and then test those ideas with respected staff, talk informally to people, pilot with a well chosen group, not just the keen staff but representative of all of our views. It’s harder work, has a greater impact but avoids wasting precious time.

We all have busy lives, just becuase someone rushes home at 3.30 does not mean they are not interested, they have other responsibilities and tasks and are under pressure. They fit in work when children are in bed or elderly parents checked up on. hang it we are professionals and as twitter often reminds us: “some people have complicated lives….be nice”

2) Make sure as far as possible we aim for those attending our meetings to leave most of them uplifted, something to encourage us, challenge us, something to think about, something to help us improve. Or having listened to someone who passed on a great idea. Even boring planning can be like that! Many teachers ( at least many of those who are effective in the classroom) worry and bother about their work so the encouragement is pretty vital, and distraction by tedious time wasting meetings is little help. Realistically there is occasionally a meeting with bad news at its heart so we cannot always be uplifting, the meeting is called perhaps with sad news about pupils or colleagues or families or redundancy but lets overlook those exceptional meetings and consider those planned ones. I think even training sessions can bring a lift….”we are going to be able to do  (this) better”

Staff meetings- why? Once per term, 15 mins a week? Check your meetings schedules and ask why? Middle leader meetings, senior leader meetings, are they training sessions and sharing sessions, do people come along vaguely excited or watching their clock ready to leave? How much work goes into agendas and minutes or action points compared to some serious thinking about purpose and impact. Let’s look for a clear reason to meet, and tackle that wholeheartedly. Choose the topic, lets have some of the research on the topic, maybe even read up beforehand. Some briefing from those in the know, those with some wisdom and then a hearty discussion. Pertinent questions asked or raised and some solutions or suggestions created. Some simple actions which we can all trial or pilot and come back and report on – or just blog about or just post a summary on the learning platform. It’s then somewhere we can find it to go back to when we have time or need or both. Much of the recent twitter noise on research ed just shows we are good with endless ideas of what might, should, or ought to work but we just struggle with feedback, lets work that feedback into our school structure if it is important. In fact we might start with some feedback about our meeting’s effectiveness.

We also need to encourage better contributions and show everyone’s views or ideas are valued, from the most experienced to the new colleague, then mash that up and take away something which positively helps. This might help to move us all forward, confirming what we thought was the right direction. I am conscious some of you will think it’s your job to lead, you are HoD etc I am paid to lead, yes you are paid to lead, not to waste time, not to talk all the time, to have impact. So it might be your leadership job to gather the ideas and bring the policy to birth

My favourite meetings aren’t even on the calendar [which I spend so long planning for at our school] they happen spontaneously, often with unlikely combinations of colleagues. They focus on children, often certain individuals, they pick up on general themes but concern a given situation, they end up bringing clarity and thoughtfulness. They drop out of something which happened in a classroom and so bring an added interest. They help me see what sort of teacher, with what sort of philosophy other staff are and help me think what sort I am. They are conversations which usually lift , inspire and show much humour. They make me think. I love this time of the year (summer) when this happens a little more. I love overhearing those conversations, before school lunch or after school or in a free. I love zipping through the staffroom and observing these conversations, or hearing my science colleagues sort out “how to teach this better”. I know many a reader is thinking hey ho typical SLT with their light timetables and time to chat – sure agreed, the job is delivered by you ( well and me) in a classroom. We do need the occasional whinge, the job has many challenges not helped by the beloved SoS or Ofsted or Ofqual or the decision to go to progress 8 or ditch levels, that useless parent..hey this could be a long list….. but we are in the job because for better or worse we all #loveteaching. Establish a culture where these spontaneous chats happen more and more. Maybe I should ask Ofsted to “observe” meetings and grade them? Then count those vital golden nuggets of staff chat.

Classroom teachers do not have a lot of time, there are endless blogs about work/life balance and stress. Can we aim to help with our meeting programme and not worsen that workload? Let’s not waste each other’s time in meetings with endless agenda points which depress but instead clear the decks and get something inspiring, uplifting, purposeful – hang it we are intelligent people. Science meetings could ditch the agenda and in 45 mins do three “classic’ inspiring demonstrations that others might use; English can share new ways to introduce Shakespeare to the weakest learners; Design can show off what pupils have done and look at how they can be pushed to be even better…..there are lots more ideas, I’ll call a meeting to tell you.


Some questions to ponder:

Q1 What are the most effective meetings in your school and why?
Q2 How might meetings help in the workload stakes and work life balance for the conscientious teacher?
Q3 What ways can you find to encourage and capture those intimate uplifitng good humoured conversations?

For those (like me) in a faith community
The importance of Christian fellowship for growing th faith and the warning about meeting for a purpose (the Eucharist) without abusing the true reason for the meetings

Hebrews 10:25
do not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more……
1 Corinthians 11:17
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.