Monthly Archives: April 2014

Boys in the spotlight – Mr Drew’s School for Boys

I had to share this one with everyone. I only found out it was on today but a series on Channel 4 in the UK started last night called ‘Mr Drew’s School for Boys’. It’s a documentary following a summer school like none I’ve ever come across run by Mr Stephen Drew, the headteacher from Educating Essex back in 2011. The school takes in a group of boys who have all been excluded from their mainstream schools, some on a permanent basis, and aims to unlock their potential. Linked below is the episode from last night, and it continues I believe on Tuesday nights at 9pm on Channel 4. Enjoy folks!


It’s the exam season again! My take on behaviour changes

Exams, the maker or breaker of children’s dreams and school years, the inconvenience to the summer in just about everyone’s eyes (not that we get much sunshine in the UK anyway, but we can dream), are back on the horizon now, with children up and down the country taking on GCSEs, A levels, SATs and any other exams that the government want to throw at us.

So what effect do these exams have on the children’s behaviour? What do you do as a teacher if a child starts acting up, knowing the pressure that these kids are under? Well I’m going to attempt to answer these using a couple of different examples of people I’ve met, worked with, or went to school with many moons ago. Of course I won’t be using names for obvious reasons.

The first example is a boy I used to know who always knew where the limits to behaviour was, and frequently tried to push them. He had potential, but was never completely willing to show it for whatever reason. He would often decide to turn up late, answer one question in an hour, and then sit in the back corner of the room doing nothing productive for the rest of the day. Naturally, the expectations for him were very low because he showed little evidence of anything higher. The exam season came around, so much so that the penny finally dropped. All of a sudden his attitude towards his learning completely changed. He would turn up to lessons on time, ask for additional work to support his revision, and even apologised to the teacher for all the problems he caused previously. It was like a completely different boy had entered the classroom.

The second example is a girl that always used to push herself to the limit, working harder than anyone else around her, refusing to do nothing but her best work 100% of the time. In many ways, most people would class her as a model student. However, the exam season, like in the first example, showed quite an alarming twist in the tale. The exams came round and the expectation on her to get the highest marks in her class amounted to so much pressure that she caved in. Her confidence fell through the floor and she gave up. She stopped working on homework completely, her attitude turned sour towards her peer group and the teachers.

I’m sure I’m not only speaking for myself when I say it would be lovely to have all children have the attitude that the boy in the first example developed. Sadly the results in the second example with the girl showed what can happen. The question remains as to how we deal with this as teachers.

Well, if we were working as to the book, logic would say that you would treat this as any other incident across the year, using the appropriate sanctions. But this isn’t just any time of the year. This is a time when the pressure ramps up, partly due to the weight of expectation, but us teachers also put pressure on them, even if we don’t mean to. The last thing they need when they are get revision classes, practice papers and all sorts of different things thrown at them in all kinds of subjects is time in detention. It’s natural that behaviour may be a little worse than usual, so my advice is to not be so heavy handed.

So what could happen in the classroom and how do we look at it?

General disruption will always be present. Always acknowledge bad behaviour in whatever guise it appears. But some leeway for minor indiscretions can be appropriate on occasion. I believe in a firm but fair approach, but for kids who are feeling the strain of exams, I like to use discretion and give them the benefit of the doubt. I also believe in talking to them and helping them to see that what they are doing is unacceptable, and let them know that if their behaviour is linked to stress you can tackle it together.

Uniform and appearance is the hatred of the school, with some children taking to customising the look of their uniform with clown length ties, top buttons on their shirts undone and shirts untucked. Personally, I come down the line of tidy appearances throughout the year as I believe a person who dresses smartly would behave more mature. I usually wear a suit in the classroom so I expect the same courtesy. Of course this is exam time, and the summer, so this isn’t always going to be possible for some students. If someone does untuck their shirt, use your discretion and avoid being firm. A casual ‘your shirt has untucked itself again’ may be the limit I would use. We don’t want the children to feel like we don’t appreciate the effort they make towards the exams with something like uniform.

Often punctuality can become a problem with some children. It’s easy to reprimand the child on every occasion they are late, but this perhaps isn’t the best approach during an exam time. The may have genuine reasons for being late. Instead look at the minutes they are late by, and wait for it to accumulate to a certain amount of time. Perhaps for every half an hour in minutes the child is late, they have to attend a revision session for that half an hour. It’s important that the child know that if they miss some time, they need to make that time up. Time is not a luxury during exam times as the exam period in my experience tends to fly by.

Arguably, this is the most important part of the year for work to be completed on time because that time is fast running out. However, it is crucial to use your judgement. When children tell you they are finding it hard to stay on top of work and revision, it’s important to find out exactly what level of work they are contending with and how much revision they are actually doing. Based on this information, you can give the student advice on time management rather than punishing them, and help them to create structured timetables. If you smell a rat, however, don’t let them run through a list of tired excuses. Instead, tackle the issue head-on. It is vital that the children understand the need to be committed.

The most extreme thing I’ve ever seen happen is the occasional fight between children. It’s very easy to come down heavy on these fights, but knowing the time, I would treat this the same as general disruption. Once everyone is calm, talk to them, if their behaviour is linked to stress, which is highly likely, tackle it with them. Managing stress is not just an exam effort, but a life skill. Learning it early makes life so much easier, some adults haven’t even learned this skill. We’ve all been guilty of letting stress get the better of us, I can certainly think of a few occasions myself.

Not all people will agree that we need to adjust. There will always be people who advocate making no changes in behaviour policy during the exam period, arguing that consistency is all-important and that at this time more than ever children need to know where the boundaries lie. However, if we insist on putting students through the enormous stresses of exams, we have to accept the repercussions. We are already treating them differently in class – pushing them harder, piling on the work, making bleak pronouncements about the consequences of any lack of effort – and behaviour management should not be excluded from those changes.

How hard do teachers really work?

Well, pay and workload has hit the headlines once again as the NUT has voted for further strikes in June. I’ve been saying for a long time that strikes are ridiculous, and that view is not going to change, justified by the fact that all of the previous strikes done have clearly achieved absolutely nothing apart from causing a nuisance to children, parents, and our own reputation as professionals.

Teachers’ unions have warned about excessive workloads and complained about staff being put under too much pressure since the new government has come in. The long working week has been one of the grievances prompting teachers to go on strike over and over. But today’s post is going to look at whether these claims can be justified or not.

We’re quite unusual in many ways because we actually keep an official record of hours worked. The Department for Education runs an annual survey in which a sample of teachers in differing sorts of schools keep a diary of their working lives. The latest of these surveys was published in February and looked at hours worked in 2013.

Let’s start with the number of hours in the working week. The government has expressed it’s ignorance to the amount of hours for several years, claiming that our job is simply start at 9am and finish 3.30pm, 5 days a week, equating to 32.5 hours a week. The survey paints a very different picture. It reveals that secondary head teachers logged an average of 63.3 hours a week, and primary school teachers working longer hours than their secondary counterparts on average – 59.3 hours compared to 55.7 hours per week. This is almost double what the government claim.

The reason for this is because the government simply look at the hours of which are spent teaching. The survey describes these teaching hours as a simply minority of a teacher’s workload, averaging around 19 hours of timetabled teaching. Of course head teachers are timetabled much less in the classroom due to their roles.

So what else goes into our teaching hours besides teaching? Well in school, there are tasks such as marking, supervising children out of class, planning and any other administration work. But this isn’t all either. This work also comes in out of school hours too. The survey reports that primary teachers spend almost a day’s worth (23.8 hours per week) of work outside of school, compared to just over 21 hours for secondary heads and teachers.

To me this prompts the question of why we are spending all our time on this, particularly with the ‘other administration’ part, which just under 5 hours a week is allocated according to the survey. Not all of it is useful, the survey suggests. There are 45% of classroom teachers who think the amount of time spent on “unnecessary or bureaucratic” tasks has increased, with only 5% saying it has reduced. The biggest cause of unnecessary paperwork, the teachers reported, was preparing for an Ofsted inspection. Head teachers also identified changing government policies and guidelines as generating “unnecessary” bureaucracy.

So what does all this mean? Well in terms of pay, it means that teachers in effect get paid around half the minimum wage for the amount of hours they work, as they only get paid for the hours they work in school, which is what the most of this uproar and strike action has been about. This has been an age old issue which has never been solved by successive governments. It is no secret that teaching is an underpaid and sometimes undervalued profession, it always has been. Will this government or any government change that? Well in these economic times I highly doubt it, but I am open to be surprised in a nice way. So for me, all this striking by teachers and lecturers is not going to achieve anything, so instead of whinging and striking time after time, as much as I’d hate to say it, it will have to be a grin and bear it scenario until the economy sufficiently picks up enough that we can afford to speak out. Let’s not forget that we have children’s futures in our hands, and whether you like it or not, the chances are the work we do will make life a lot easier for them. Most of the work we do is for the next generation and generations after that, not our own. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Head teachers earning 6 figure salaries

Pay and pensions has been in the media an awful lot lately, what with strikes happening just about every month and achieving nothing apart from annoying families who have to work and those outside of the profession with it constantly rearing it’s ugly head in the news. You’ll be pleased to know this isn’t another one of my rants about striking.

Instead this one is about news that nearly 1000 head teachers are earning 6 figure salaries (over £100,000) according to figures published by the Department for Education, which immediately makes the thought of ‘more transparency needed’ come to mind.

This figure has risen more than a quarter (29%) of the number earning such salaries in comparison to 2 years ago. The question has to be asked in some people’s mind: Are schools abusing public money bit like the banks?

I will be honest here, the figures do show that around a third of these high earners are heads of Academies, which have considerably more freedom over pay than schools controlled by the state.

The Department for Education suggested the increase reflected a rise in the number of successful heads now enlisted to run more than one school. Ministers have actively encouraged the model to ensure more schools benefit from the experience of senior teachers with a proven track record.

But classroom unions criticised the disclosure, warning that pay is often set in “secrecy” with little requirement to publish full details of salary levels. For example, Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said many top heads had “benefit packages” including private health care, company cars and additional holiday with “no requirement to make any of it public”.

“Head teachers should have their annual salaries published in a clear and transparent way like every other person in senior public service positions,” she said. “It’s scandalous that schools in receipt of millions of pounds of public money do not have a requirement show exactly what they pay their heads.”

An annual census published by the DfE showed the state of the state school workforce in England. According to data, 900 heads are earning six-figure salaries in the current 2013/14 academic year. This includes 300 taking home over £110,000 and the rest paid between £100,000 and £109,999. The number of six-figure salaries was up on 700 in 2011/12 and 800 in 2012/13.

It is thought that the number of large pay awards could be much higher because another 600 senior leadership salaries were declared as “misreported”.

Overall, the average salary of a school leader at any type of state school now stands at £56,100 – compared with £55,700 in 2012 – although this includes assistant and deputy heads. The average classroom teacher in England takes home annual pay of £34,600 – up by 1.3 per cent, or £500, on last year.

I’m a mathematician, so I love a good few stats, so here come some more …. Other figures show:
• A record total of 451,100 full-time teachers are working in English state schools – up 9,100 up on the previous year;
• Some 17,000 teachers are officially registered as “unqualified” – an increase of 16 per cent in a year following the introduction of Coalition rules allowing schools to employ staff without proper teaching qualifications – prompting claims from Labour that the Coalition risked “damaging school standards”;
• A total of 750 posts – 0.2 per cent – were vacant in November 2013 when the census was completed, compared with 0.1 per cent a year earlier;
• More than 288,000 teachers – 57 per cent – took sick leave last year, up from 55 per cent a year earlier, with the average absent teacher missing eight days.

So what do these statistics tell us? Well it would appear to tell us that more people are entering the profession as the number of people working is rising, but these people are not necessarily qualified in their role and are pulling a few sickies. What the stats also show that yes more people are entering the profession, but the percentage of vacancies is on the rise at a faster rate, calling into question whether enough teachers are entering the profession to plug the gap.

Last year, the Government’s independent review body on teachers’ pay announced plans to give all schools more flexibility over senior leaders’ pay.

A DfE spokesman said: “It’s essential we have the best people in place to lead our schools if we are to raise standards. That’s why decisions on pay are down to schools – so they can recruit and retain the highest calibre of school leaders. As the nature of school leadership changes, these reforms will give schools greater flexibility to help schools ensure the most talented leaders are attracted to the teaching profession and are properly rewarded for taking on multiple or challenging schools.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “The average pay of a head teacher in England is £56,000 – far below the headline grabbing paychecks and far less than their skills would earn in the private sector. Those on six figure salaries are often responsible for leading several schools and all heads have high levels of scrutiny and accountability, work every hour available and care for the futures of thousands of children. Their leadership matters and if you want the best, you need to pay for it.”

As if you haven’t had enough stats, I’m gonna finish with some more. Here we go …

Thousands of schoolchildren are being taught by teachers who fail to hold to a university degree their specialist subject, new figures show. Lessons in core disciplines such as maths, English, history, geography, languages and the sciences are routinely being led by teachers with qualifications no higher than an A-level in their chosen area, it emerged.

Figures show 22.4 per cent of maths teachers and 20.1 per cent of those teaching English have “no relevant post-A-level qualification”. The proportion rises to 53.2 per cent in religious education, 49.9 per cent in Spanish, 33.5 per cent in physics, 33.4 per cent in geography, 27.2 per cent in history, 24.1 per cent in French, 23.9 per cent in chemistry.

Figures also showed that a total of 17,100 teachers were registered as “unqualified” – those without full qualified teacher status – this year. It was up by 16 per cent compared with 2012/13.

Labour said the introduction of Coalition rules allowing unqualified teachers to work permanently in English state schools risked “damaging school standards”. But the figures also include trainee teachers who are working towards full teaching qualifications. The Coalition has actively encouraged more students to train as teachers “on the job” rather than in universities.

The DfE also said a record 96 per cent of teachers now had degree-level qualifications or higher – 43,000 more than in 2010. A spokesman said: “More top graduates are coming into teaching than ever before and a record 96 per cent of teachers now hold a degree. Our reforms are putting teachers in the driving seat. Through academies and free schools, we are giving heads and teachers more power over what happens in the classroom and freeing them from interference by politicians. That’s good news for teachers, who can get on with their jobs, and good news for parents, who can be confident that teachers are solely focused on ensuring the best possible outcomes for their children.”

For me personally, letting all these unqualified teachers in can be a dangerous game with our education system, but I don’t buy the argument that teachers are not good enough at their subject if they don’t have a degree in it. Unless you actually teach that degree, in which case you will almost certainly need it, you don’t need that high a qualification to teach. It has been my belief that you should be qualified up to the point where you are going to teach, so if you are going up to A level, that’s what you need. I understand that knowing higher than that might allow you to inspire the kids to take up the challenge themselves, but as a mathematician, it’s hard enough to motivate kids to do maths at any age in the current climate …

Dear Mr Gove

It seems I’m not the only one who believes that Michael Gove hasn’t got a clue. An excoriating poem lambasting the policies and the “Dark Ages” curriculum of Education Secretary Michael Gove has become an internet sensation among teachers.

Dear Mr Gove, by Jess Green, has been viewed tens of thousands of times on YouTube since it was posted on Monday and is being emailed among professionals disenchanted with the Coalition’s reforms. Ms Green 24, who has been leading poetry workshops and working as a librarian since graduating from university, told The Independent that teachers were struggling to cope under the current workload whilst being demonised in the media.

“A lot of the mainstream press make out that teachers are lazy and take long six-week holidays and are selfish but it is not until you go into a classroom you realise how hard it is,” said Ms Green, whose mother is a head teacher in Leicester. “I have been working in schools for the past three years and I come from a family of teachers and I have seen how downtrodden teachers have become. They are being asked to reach completely unrealistic targets and for pupils to make huge levels of progress regardless of whether they have come from a privileged private school background or have just come into the country from a war zone,” she said.

The poet said she had been overwhelmed and moved by the response. “I have had an email from one teacher saying that ‘I work from 6.30am to 11.30pm’. This person said they felt isolated and that their friends who were teachers didn’t understand. They felt they were too old to leave the profession and do something else and too young to retire,” she said.

Included in the targets she takes aim at are Mr Gove’s insistence on teaching a more patriotic history of the First World War and his controversial plan to send Bibles into school. “Teachers need to be celebrated a little bit more. People need to realise how hard they work,” she added.

Now I’m not one for looking at youtube comments, but this video had some really great responses in amongst all the trolls. Among the comments posted on You Tube is one from a trainee teacher which said: “It’s sad enough that most kids aren’t enjoying school but the fact teachers are finding it torturous too is reason enough for dear Mr Gove to face the facts that something isn’t working here. Things need to change.”

Another said: “It should be made into posters for every classroom in the land; we should chant it like a mantra or sing it set to music at the start of every NUT meeting.”

What surprised me was that it was even generating support from outside the profession. “ Bloody beautiful words, genius. On behalf of all non-teachers, unilluminated parents and people of under-bolstered intelligence I salute her!” said another poster.

Ms Green, who studied creative writing at Liverpool John Moore’s University before working as a freelance poet, is writing a full length comic play about education to be staged at this year’s Edinburgh Festival entitled Burning Books, which she admits is “ quite left-wing”. She is also due to perform at the Latitude festival. Not gonna lie, I really wish I could go to these festivals to seem these performances. Hopefully someone will record it and put it on youtube for us all to watch 😉

I shall leave you with the video itself. Enjoy!