The Bad Old Days 

This poll was put on Twitter today.

To say it caused outrage is an understatement. Comments kept coming in about weekly book looks, observations and planning scrutiny. Some were acceptable and concentrated on developing teaching and learning, working with teachers to improve practice. Others however, were draconian, with planning having to be handed in to SLT in advance, weekly/monthly full observations, weekly book scrutinies etc etc etc.

As Sue Cowley (@Sue_Cowley) put it, “If you recruit someone, but then don’t trust them to do the job you recruited them for, I would worry about your recruitment procedures. Offering someone a job is offering them your trust. If you think they need support, it becomes your responsibility when you employ them”. Sue also struggled with the reasons behind teachers having to hand in planning to SLT before teaching them.

I am in absolute agreement with Sue on this one. I have lived through this and will explain here. In no way am I saying it was right and it caused undue stress on the staff but this was our context. Thankfully we have worked through it and are coming out the other side, not entirely unscathed. I wrote a bit about this and trust building in my previous blog. There is some crossover with this one.

We were a Requires Improvement school, having been Satisfactory previous to that, and Good previous to that (under old 7 grade system). Our LA set up a Securing Good programme, which all RI schools had to participate in. The LA Advisors visited us twice as often as Good schools and did joint observations with the HT and SLT. We were observed three times during the year for Performance Management purposes. They wanted more but the teachers spoke to their unions and our PM policy stated maximum of 3 hours observations. So the Advisor told SLT to do Learning Walks to gather evidence and only stay in classrooms for 10 to 15 minutes so official feedback to staff was not necessary. Book scrutinies had to be fortnightly to monitor progress and yes, consistency in marking. This was also an action from OFSTED, which I know has changed now. OFSTED was mentioned in everybstaff meeting.

I sat in one pupil progress meeting with a Year 2 teacher. The Head went through the English books and told the teacher she wasn’t following school policy as all pieces did not have a next steps comment. The progress in the books was outstanding, despite this. I had had this conversation with the HT beforehand and said we couldn’t criticise as the children were making progress and that the feedback must have been taking place for this to happen. I said we should be asking what she did and use it with others. But no.

Lesson observations became tick lists (based on OFSTED criteria) to be achieved. WALT, WILF and TIB had to be displayed (because SOME teachers weren’t sharing them within lessons) and discussed at the start of the lesson or that box wasn’t ticked (yes, even if you needed to wait until later in the lesson). All sing, all dancing lessons were expected. Progress was expected to be seen in 20 minutes and WILFs reviewed at least twice within the lesson.

Another area for improvement was differentiation. SOME staff were not stretching the more able children or providing sufficient scaffolding for others. Instead of supporting those teachers, as Sue so rightly stated should happen, all teachers had to fill in weekly planning grids for English and maths with boxes for three levels of differentiation, an introduction, a plenary and an evaluation. These were handed in twice, once at the start of the week and then again at the end, with an evaluation. This increased workload and stress levels. The HT kept them in a folder and ticked them off when handed in. Staff were chased up when not given in. They were monitored half termly against a tick list that was purely policing a system, not the content or impact.

It was only last year, when I was Acting Head that we stopped this, despite having achieved Good in 2014. Some things were so ingrained in the HT psych that they couldn’t be let go.

We now do not collect planning, although Subject Leaders do look at it with the teachers, but in conjunction with book looks, visits to classes and discussions with teachers and children, so that they can talk about what their subject looks like through school and monitor progress and coverage. This is done in a supportive way. There is no planning format for all. Teachers bring books to pupil progress meetings as evidence to be discussed.

We are constantly reviewing our feedback policy to ensure it reflects what is happening. We do not expect to see it looking the same in all year groups, as was previously the case because “consistency”.

As for observations, these are now shorter, within a previously agreed window, so that learning is seen in context and staff are not planning to the hilt, or teaching things out sequence for a show lesson and losing sleep, which was the way we were. This doesn’t suit everyone but we are working through this together.

It seems that some SLT have not moved on from these bad times. No wonder many teachers don’t feel trusted. Tarring everyone with the same brush doesn’t cut it. Support teachers individually to improve their practice.

SLT must trust their teachers to do their job and work with, not against, them to develop further. I know there are many out there who do. Those SLT who do not, well they need to take a long, hard look at themselves and ask if they are in the right job.


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