Recruiting and retaining the best teachers for our schools
In a meeting of the government's Education committee last week, the School Standards Minister, Nick Gibb, suggested that the increasing working hours, and consequent issues over recruitment and
retention of teachers, were in part the result of an "over-marking" culture. By which, it seems, he means that teachers spend too long marking homework with, and I quote the article here "different coloured pens" Instead, he suggested, all
work should be marked with a simple grade, and only when it is clear a concept has not been understood should they leave a written comment. Teachers are not "working smartly", he suggested.
Now I'm no expert in this field, but I confess this left me puzzled and feeling a little aggrieved at a number of levels.
Firstly, the idea that reading a piece of homework and awarding it a grade, as opposed to reading it and offering pertinent comments, would generate a significant time saving in a teacher's day
seems highly unlikely to me. I seriously doubt teachers are spending time leaving what they'd consider to be spurious comments, and if they are, what (Ofsted) might be their motivation for doing
It would seem to me that the more significant aspects of work beyond the classroom must be around (1) lesson planning and (2) the documentation of achievements, progress and "value add".
Changes to the national curriculum
Experienced teachers might hope to capitalise on lesson plans drawn up in a previous year, but with an ever changing curriculum and targets that get more onerous for teachers and pupils alike each year, the teaching framework, and therefore the lesson plans, constantly need updating. I'm not advocating the use of outdated teaching methods, but merely suggesting we allow teachers the time to focus on things that can really make a difference, and perhaps letting them use their professional expertise to determine where this is. If the curriculum was left alone for a couple of years instead of constantly being tinkered with, perhaps this would free teachers up.
Documenting progress and value add in schools
As for documentation, the government, it seems, has ceased to rely on the expert opinion of teachers about the progress of a pupil as they did in our day. Instead there has to be an audit trail
of evidence around each student's achievement and progress (God forbid their actual school books should provide this evidence...!). This need for documentation, to ensure above all that Ofsted is
satisfied, can only be a massive time drain.
It would seem to me that the latest advice on how to mark homework will do little to alleviate any of these pressures.
Children need quality feedback to learn
As for the impact on the children of simply receiving 'a grade', I'm not at all convinced this would be a positive one. The article I read referred to the fact that children are likely to become
focused only on a final mark and not on what the teacher is telling them. I agree this could be an issue. For children that are to grow up into results oriented, A-type personalities, this might
not be all bad. But what about the other children, who in all likelihood represent the majority of the class? What about those for whom the grade received will do nothing positive for their
confidence and engagement...for whom getting a perceived "poor" grade each week will simply put them off learning, and curb their will to try?
What's more, what will they actually learn from this grade, if one week they get a B and the next a D, but there is no context or explanation as to WHY the marks differed? How can you reproduce good work when you're not sure what made it good in the first place? Children need feedback, they need to be engaged in order to learn. I consistently hear my children's (primary) teachers saying that they like mistakes because mistakes are how we learn. But if these are not capitalised upon by bringing to light the mistake (in a positive way) and explaining how it can be fixed, then surely that learning opportunity is lost?
I wonder, what would be the response of Ofsted if the teachers were to apply this same method of feedback during their lesson time? What if teachers used this same principle and determined that they didn't need to give commentary, or praise, or emotion or encouragement within their lessons. Just deliver the facts. Would that constitute good teaching? Would Offsted be happy with that? God, imagine the 30 pairs of glazed-over eyes....engagement would be at an all time low.
Give teachers more professional freedom
It seems to me that if we have a problem with recruitment and retention of teachers, we should maybe make the job more appealing.
Maybe if we allowed teachers to exercise their professional expertise in determining what would improve the outcomes for a child, instead of getting them to document everything against a 60-point audit plan (I'm guessing here...) they might feel a little more respected and enthused.
Maybe if we allowed them to update lesson plans where needed, instead of updating them because Whitehall keeps tinkering with the curriculum and targets, we'd free up their time to add value. Maybe if we gave them this professional leeway we'd encourage the best.
And of course then there is the thorny issue of pay.
I know that my children are exceptionally lucky with the teachers we have in our school. They are highly dedicated, competent, articulate, skilled and perceptive people for whom I have no end of admiration and respect. And I really do mean that. I know too that not every parent could say that, and therein lies the problem. I don't believe all politicians are bad, and I have no doubt they are trying very hard to improve education for us all.
But instead of saddling the best of our teaching talent with onerous burdens that don't help or prove anything, why don't we allow them their professional heads and freedom, so to speak? Why don't we make the profession attractive enough so that high calibre candidates want to join it and stay in it? Isn't that how it works in the city, where the UK is deemed to set the international standard in terms of talent? Attract the best. Surely that is the way to solve a retention and recruitment issue, rather than commenting on which coloured pens these (grown ups!) are best to use!?
What do you think? Join our discussion now!