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February 15, 2015 Leave a comment

If I call a Ford Fiesta a Lamborghini Gallardo does it then go faster?

January 12, 2013 Leave a comment

If I am disappointed with the speed my car moves will it go faster if I call it a Lamborghini Gallardo? Perhaps if I get it a shiny new badge that covers the old badge and maybe even give it a re-spray?

Over six hundred failing primaries in England are to be converted to academy status. That will be six hundred schools with the same children to educate, on the same sites, with often the same staff, teaching the same curriculum. Or will it? One academy in Bristol managed to dramatically increase the standards despite having the same site, staff and one would think the same pupils. However, a little scratching of the service reveals an admissions policy taking 80% of pupils from a more affluent neighbouring post code. The result I suspect is that those children who used to attend before the academy nameplate was nailed up are now being pushed out into LEA maintained schools and are disproportionately reducing the LEA results. Clearly then, academies work because in this area of Bristol the academy is considerably out performing the nearby LEA schools. Except, of course, nothing has changed. Taken as a big picture the standards in this area of Bristol have most likely not changed at all. Children are in different schools. Children working against social disadvantage aren’t affecting the statistics of the flagship academies, but they are still there, hiding below the surface, missing out on education because the real cause of low attainment was ignored in favour of a headline winning national strategy that now publishes the improvement that the local community wanted, even if that community are now prohibited from attending their local school.

Schools need to be allowed to focus on their core purpose, teaching and learning. Rebranding, even if it comes with a new letterhead, school badge, uniform or multi-million pound privately financed building can’t improve standards, at least not without a little behind-the-scenes manipulation, such as an admissions policy. Focussing on teaching and learning is what will improve standards.

It is refreshing to be able to sit back and watch developments in UK education with a critical eye before adopting them into school. Certainly I oversee the National Curriculum being taught in the schools that I lead but with the facility to dictate the ‘how’ from a basis of sound teaching and learning as opposed to needing to respond immediately to non-educators stipulating ‘how’ the education should happen.

Most effective strategies for school improvement focus on the process of learning and move away from the product. Why then is the UK determined to try and find a just method of measuring affectiveness of schools based on product. We can talk about value added, contextual value added, mix in some poverty factors, employ teams of mathematical graduates to crunch the numbers and convert the raw statistics into pie charts for the tabloids, but the real measure of schools comes from an evaluation of the teaching and learning. For that, the inspecting body needs to turn the focus away from judging teachers and look more closely at the learning taking place in school. I can make a judgement on the standards within a classroom fairly accurately and fairly quickly by talking with the pupils about their learning. I don’t need an analysis of how many are claiming free school meals, how many are diagnosed with a behaviour problem or what proportion of those pupils appear to move two percentile points when I look at the teacher assessment data. The teachers are responsible and must be held to account for the quality of their teaching but to improve schools we need to focus on the aspects of teaching and learning that have the most impact and not be pushed into manipulating statistics to attempt to demonstrate improvements.

It will be interesting to watch in a generation’s time and see whether or not the millions poured into the rebadging of ‘community primary schools’ as ‘academies’ has made a real difference to the educational attainment of the nation. We won’t be able to see that until a generation of pupils has been through their education and then we will discover the truth not by looking at the output of the academies in comparison to the remaining maintained schools, but by looking at all pupils and comparing to the previous generation.

In the meantime, I am happy to sit outside the direct influence of state controlled schools and lead learning that makes a real difference. Positions available in September for anybody needing to get back to real teaching. In the meantime, I am off to paint my car and rebadge it, just in case despite my cynicism, it can make a difference.

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Spanish Sundays

November 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Spanish Sundays

Sunday always seems like the embers of the weekend. I think the fact it was a four day weekend due to the All Saints’ Day Holiday only adds to that feeling. How do teachers secure a work life balance? I would suggest that the aspects of both work and life should be condensed into those things that matter most.

Somehow getting that balance seems easier working in an international setting. We took the dog for a trip to the beach this afternoon. He does love the beach and never tires of swimming to retrieve a stick. The dog, Rusty, is a rescue dog with certain abandonment issues. Having been found by the bins near a beach he never strays far from us even when out. Today the Mediterranean Sea looked just too enticing to leave only to Rusty so when his stick ventured too far for his usually brave retrieval instincts I waded in and joined him in the water. The day was hot but the water was cool – maybe 17 degrees. After splashing around for twenty minutes or so and avoiding a jellyfish the size of a basketball I dried off within five minutes of standing on the beach. It was one of those warm pleasant winds from inland and the views back towards the mountains were spectacular.

We were home barely an hour before it was time to take my daughter to her weekly horse riding session. We finally sat down at home at about half past seven this evening. Of course, all of those activities are available in the UK although the idea of swimming in the sea in November may take a little more courage in the UK than it does here in Spain. The difference is that with the bright sunshine here one is actively encouraged to go out for the day. The four day weekend was coupled with all the usual work of a teacher. Writing the Christmas nativity script, editing music for the Christmas production, marking assessments, planning for the week ahead. It is just that I genuinely do feel that in comparison to my UK work commitments as a teacher I do now find more time for family and relaxation and that the work and life are far more evenly balanced than they were when teaching in the UK.

How do you get your work life balance correct and if it is out of balance, how can you put it right?

You are not a tree…

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

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.”

Spanishmove has moved!

October 30, 2012 Leave a comment

In March 2008 I entered the blogging community with the story of my family’s intended move to Spain. When the time came and we moved I felt the blog had fulfilled the intended purpose and so I stopped updating.
This new blog is the update. Four years on we are still living in La Barraca in Spain. This new blog will be the update of the relocation together with other thoughts and tales.
Stories from the classroom, from the perspective of my role as Headteacher, elements of travelogue, together with a sprinkling of stream of consciousness as it occurs.
I hope some followers from the original Spanishmove blog will make the journey to this new site and pick up on where the story left off over four and a half years ago.

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