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You are not a tree…

You are not a tree. If you don’t like where you are, then move.

Relocating to Spain was not something that we did lightly. For me, I was hitting a wall with regard to teaching in the United Kingdom. In February this year, four years after I agreed to take a job here in Spain, I was attending a conference in Madrid and listening to a speaker from the Department for Education. She was trying to entice independent schools in Spain to sign up for OFSTED inspections as a badge of credibility to the work they are doing. Do they need credibility such as this? I remain unconvinced. The school at which I am headteacher of primary exceeds national United Kingdom averages for end of Key Stage 2 results and this with pupils who have English as a second, third or more language. When the same pupils finish their A-Levels 100% go on to their university of first choice having achieved results far in excess of the norm in the United Kingdom. Why does the DfE think these schools want a badge of respectability over and above their achievements?

I think two concepts are at play here.
1: The DfE is struggling to cope with their own loss of expensively trained staff. A huge number of teachers training in the United Kingdom are moving to use that qualification and experience in an International setting. The cost is one problem but the need to keep teachers, especially those in the secondary sector, in the United Kingdom is very real. If the flow of teachers abroad is not stemmed or the retraining of replacements financed then in 10-12 years time the United Kingdom is looking at some serious teacher shortages in secondary education.
2: The DfE is consistently blinded by the assessment of pupils, teachers and schools. OFSTED is just one of the tools involved in this process. Surely the first question when evaluating a school is to look at the learning that the pupils are engaged in at the school. When you see learners interested and engaged, when you see that the end result is excellent results, then surely the most significant badge of credibility is already achieved.

I watch the children each morning unloading from the fifteen coaches that bring them to school and see that they come to school happily, excited by what the day may offer. I feel part of a team of teachers making a real difference in the lives of pupils who are well supported at home and keen to learn. What I do makes a difference and that is the key motivator for me as an educator.

When I was in the United Kingdom I worked in one of the toughest inner city areas of the west country. I’m sure those that holiday in the west country have the perception of a wealthy part of the United Kingdom but the truth in the inner cities is very different to the holiday atmosphere portrayed on the beaches. The sight of children returning with their own children at just sixteen or seventeen years old left me with a sense of futility. It seemed as though no amount of education spending could make any real difference to the lives of the people living on the inner city estates. Regardless of this the teachers were the most pressured and criticised and yet worked so hard in trying to raise the prospects of the children in their classes. The final senior leadership meeting I attended in the United Kingdom was exploring how we could raise the contextual value added measure of the school which had dipped below 100 and therefore was creating a negative image of the school. The purpose of the meeting was to identify strategies for increasing the number of pupils opting to eat their free school meal. Indeed, if all the children who were entitled to the free school meal ate it, the value added measure would leap and the school to all external evaluators would be doing an excellent job. Present were the headteacher, the deputy headteacher, the advanced skills teacher, and three coordinators – a combined annual salary of around £220,000 meeting for two and a half hours. The futility of the work of teachers being judged in this way is why I believe many teachers have just had enough. Teach elsewhere or leave teaching for another career?

I enjoy teaching, love the classroom and decided to give it a go somewhere else. I’m glad I did and would urge others feeling in a similar rut to remember that “you are not a tree – if you don’t like where you are, then move.”

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