I am now in my 30th year of teaching. I started teaching in 1987, before the National Curriculum, before SATs, before the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies, before OFSTED (which started with 7 grades, from very poor all the way up to excellent), before INSET Days (when they started they were called Baker Days, after the Education Secretary at the time, Kenneth Baker), before PPA, before schools were trusted to run their own budgets.
ILEA was still a thing, but not for long.
Schools used to get months of notice before an inspection. Nice, I hear you say. Not really. I prefer the short notice.
During my career I have experienced 15 Education Secretaries (the title has changed many times) and 6 Prime Ministers. 17 of those have been under a Conservative Government, 13 under Labour.
I could go on but, suffice to say, I have seen a lot. I am also making myself feel older than is necessary!
When I started, we planned in a notebook. Our topic planning was a spider diagram. Our maths and literacy were lists of activities. Many times, teachers would be walking back to class, still not sure what their lessons were going to be, let alone what the children were going to be learning. The only schemes were reading schemes that the children worked through.
Teaching Assistants were rare. Only children with statements of special educational needs had a 1:1. The rest of the school had 1 or 2 general TAs who washed paint pots, made cups of tea for teachers on duty (I know, but it happened) and went on trips with classes.
The introduction of the National Strategies in 1997 brought about mass employment of teaching assistants to run interventions/catch up alongside the strategies. Money was available for this but that has long gone.
In 1997, the Literacy and Numeracy Hours were introduced. Teachers had to time their lessons. Many had the horror of advisors turning up with stopwatches and feedback mainly consisted of being told off if you didn’t go into independent time to the minute or you did not spend long enough on your introduction. Guided/ shared reading AND writing had to be incorporated into this and planning sheets were scrutinised to ensure this happened. I apologise to those reading this who remember and lived through these times, for the shiver that will go down your spine at the next graphic, but youngsters need to see what we went through.
Those teachers who trained during this time were taught how to plan in little boxes and to stick to planning no matter what. Schemes of work were provided by QCA for Foundation Subjects (although not statutory, merely examples of schemes, many schools took them on as they stood) and these too were planned in boxes. Year 3 pencil cases, Year 6 designing and making a slipper in DT, anyone? One slipper? Yes, really.
Lesson observations became more rigorous, tick boxes were created and teachers expected to get all ticked to be outstanding. One off show lessons became the norm and from the moment an observation was put in the diary, teachers started to plan their potentially outstanding lesson that would tick all boxes. They planned, changed their mind, planned again. They lost sleep. They cut out 300 numbers/words/phrases for a 5 minute activity, had 5 levels of differentiated worksheets and bags under their eyes. They kept going in lessons where it was obvious to all that the children were confused and were adamant that little Lisa had known how to add fractions yesterday.
So, fast forward to the past couple of years. No matter how many times we work as teams to discuss learning and progress happening over time and that one off lessons will not be graded, some staff are still of the mindset that they need to get everything into one lesson. They still panic about observations. Even when we did some coaching, they were defensive about any suggestions for improving the provision in their classrooms. The pressures that were put on teachers over the years, especially when sub levels and points progress every 6 weeks became a thing have a lasting legacy.
It is taking a long time for this indoctrination and mental torture habit to be broken. There are some who will never let it go, no matter how much support is given. It has been a hard couple of years, some are still thinking in levels and are scared to say that they know children are on track, given what has been taught already, not what has not been covered. Some are still struggling with covering less in greater depth, having only known the processes of moving children on quickly, so that they can pass a test, the teacher can meet their Appraisal targets and the school can meet floor standards.
As a senior leader I want to trust my teachers to do the job they signed up for, to educate children. I want to let them get on with it but for some there is still a fear straying from what they think SLT (or worse, external bodies) want to see. Still the fear exists, for some, that every aspect of learning needs to be in each lesson or it cannot be good enough.
There are still fights to be fought with those (externally, I hasten to add) asking for data half termly, grading lessons, asking for predictions that cannot be made and those who don’t trust teachers.
I will fight those fights so that the teachers can grow in confidence again and trust themselves. Just as SLT need to be trusted to know their school, their staff and their children. There is work to be done.
We are on a journey. We are on this journey together. Trust me.