I enjoyed this so much I thought it was worth re-blogging – sound advice on educational leadership from a practising head teacher.
My name is Leonard James, I am a secondary Science teacher at a comprehensive school in England. I have been teaching for eight years and have been promoted to middle leadership during this time. The Long Walk is an outlet for my personal concerns and frustrations about British education. Here I outline said concerns and provide links to the archive of blogposts.
The educational establishment
The educational establishment sits at the summit of the British education systems managemental hierarchy. It is a toxic mix of empire building CEOs, consultants, gurus, bureaucrats and politicians. They are divorced from, and therefore ignorant about, the everyday business of schools. They manage from afar via endless specifications, targets and compliance checking. The following series of blogs highlight some of the unintended consequences of this management style:
School choice, competition and the Free Market
The problems described above are exacerbated by personalities within the educational establishment who can't get along. Some members of the educational establishment are monetarists (mainly CEOs and some politicians) pushing for an education system based on free market principles. The following posts describe how teachers and their work are or might be affected by this sort of thinking:
Many of those within the educational establishment (who are described by Michael Gove as 'the blob') reject liberal education in favour of child centered 'progressive' pedagogy. This pedagogy undermines the authority of adults, has contributed to a national behaviour crisis and is detrimental to learning:
A few days ago the Times published an article (behind paywall) about teachers objecting to the increasing rarity of the school staffroom. This isn't news. CEO type managers have long set their sights on the staffroom whose very existence runs contrary to their 'utopian' vision of teachers taking tea with students or enjoying a working lunch in communal spaces within their departments.
For most of these managers the road to utopia has revolved around making the staffroom so inconvenient a proposition that teachers may as well never go there; for some this process is virtually accidental:
Foulds, head of Cheltenham Bournside School, is not a fan of the staffroom. In the past year he has moved the one at his Gloucestershire school and reduced it significantly in size.
The PE departmental staffroom is what might be politely described as “lived in”. Two parallel rows of desks are cluttered with laptops, folders and loose sheets of paper. Above them, the walls are lined with timetables and notices. By the door, pictures of babies are pinned to a noticeboard. Four teachers are sitting in the small space; fleeces hang on the backs of their chairs. One works on his laptop, while holding an open book on his knees.
“We don’t have a lot of time between lessons,” says PE teacher Victoria Clasper. “We’re either setting up equipment or we’re in the changing rooms. Lunchtimes, you’re either on duty or running a club. Then we’re in here when you’ve got non-contact time – when you’re planning and organising.”
The PE staff are, essentially, proving Foulds’ point for him. His school has almost 1,800 pupils, 125 teachers and 75 members of non-teaching staff. “In terms of space, the main staffroom would not support that,” he says. But it does not need to: most people simply do not use it. There is an all-staff briefing once a week, but that is the only time all colleagues will be in there at the same time. Many barely visit at other times.
“You have to ask yourself: what purpose does it serve?” says Foulds. “What’s it for? Are there other priorities for the space? There’s always a question over the efficiency of having a staffroom at all. But that has to be consistent with the ability for staff to have work areas.”
For others the decision to axe the staffroom was deliberate:
…scrap teacher staffrooms. Michael Wilshaw has done precisely that and, along with other measures, has produced one of the most successful state schools in the country – Mossbourne Community Academy. He has no central staffroom and teachers have to take tea and coffee in 'learning areas' around the school, “I wanted staff and students in close proximity at all times so that, at vulnerable periods such as breaks when you get bullying and vandalism, pupils don't all head in one direction and staff in another”.
In case anyone felt like complaining the Secretary of State for education Michael Gove, desperate for acceptance from his petulant cabal of free marketeering idols, quickly sought to remove any legal obligation for schools to provide a staffroom in the first place.
So the problem here isn't so much the vision of utopia itself but the way in which we have got there. The modern normality of the working lunch is rather sad as is the idea of the corporate school manager kettling teachers out of the staffroom for a pasta pot and riot control; Wilshaw may have scrapped staffrooms but, to his credit, had a bigger grasp on behaviour in the first place. The exhaustion and stress caused by these ill thought out acts are a mere microcosm of the wider culture of burn out and short termism within the teaching profession. There is little to be gained from pointing this out to the educational establishment and ambitious managers that seek to join it for experienced teachers with the time and space to talk are the enemy of that other grand vision we hear less about – a cheap, recyclable workforce that doesn't complain.