I was invited to observe a colleague’s lesson as part of some middle-management training. The idea is that if a school’s management know what the correct judgement for a lesson is (outstanding = 1, good = 2 etc) then that school knows its staff and will be able to explain itself to any visiting inspector. The process was straightforward enough but also insidious. The denial of subtlety and the insistence that learning can, and indeed must, be seen to be happening in front of any observer’s eyes is absurd, unintelligent and unjust.
I have left one school and moved on to another. At the last place they never did show the staff ‘Waiting for Superman’. Apparently there “wasn’t time”. I like to think that my exposure of this film as a horrid piece of corporate propaganda helped to keep it off the agenda. In my old classroom I left a picture of some fine young ladies sitting at their harpsichord; as you can see I have put words in the mouth of one and thoughts in the mind of the other, and I re-titled it as well: it is no longer ‘Adelaide de Guiedan and her sister’ (by Nicolas de Largilliere) but instead ‘Pupils will not learn to think for themselves if their teachers are expected to do as they are told’. You will have to click on the picture to read the other quotes. They are both from the Cambridge Primary Review (2010)
I understand that the member of senior management who came across this, whilst instructing someone else to clear the room, decided to personally remove this portion of wall-display. Perhaps it now adorns the wall of a senior management office. We may never know…
The following quotes in bold are from a recent lesson observation; these quotes are followed by my thoughts on each one. The intention is to show how a system of quick judgements can be both inaccurate and destructive. ‘Performance-related pay’ is being pushed through at the moment as the obvious solution to poor teaching. The following few points illustrate how easy it is to make inaccurate judgements. There is also a sense that the final grade is more important than the development of the teacher’s practice. This has disturbing implications for a new era of ‘performance related pay’.
I thought I’d liven up a last week’s staff meeting with a little bit of citric acid. When asked if there was Any Other Business (AOB) I had this to say:
“The recent NUT meeting that was called to elect a new representative was most fruitful”
[I hold up a lemon]
Here is a quote from Ken Robinson speaking at a Royal Society for the promotion of the Arts (RSA) event in 2009
“Getting back to basics includes recognising that great education requires great teaching; it’s not enough to know your discipline, great teachers have to know how to engage people, and great teachers do. And what, really, I think most people find exasperating is when – well intentioned as they are – politicians decide they’re going to take control of a process they don’t know, promote ideas they only half understand and remove the one thing which improves education which is the discretion and creativity of the people actually doing the work.”
(If you don’t know Ken Robinson just put his name into Youtube for a number of interesting talks he has given in recent years).
I sent the following message to a fellow teacher who has been treated with contempt by those employed to support and guide her. She had taught a literacy lesson to a class of five and six year olds. Some of the children had used ‘ellipsis’ (as a set of dots) in their writing because they had learned about these three little dots earlier in the week. The children knew about them and were intrigued by them and by their special name: ellipsis. The management/observers regarded this as reason enough to dismiss the entire lesson as ‘inadequate’. Curiously they felt the need to ‘reassure’ this particular teacher that she was an outstanding teacher but – due to the grave matter of five year olds messing around with dots – the lesson in question had to be judged as ‘inadequate’.
A message of support:
“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
We had an INSET about teaching grammar today. The DfES have decided to jiggle the curriculum about and, as part of this process, the teaching of grammar has been redefined. This means some aspects of grammar have become more or less important and the order that these grammatical elements should be taught has been tinkered with. The whole process is petty. The DfES reasserts its position over and above ordinary teachers while achieving nothing of real value.