Dear Fake Headteacher,
Thank you emailing us your recent newsletters on a Saturday morning. It’s usually when we are relaxing with our families so we don’t always read them straight away. They have been thought provoking to say the least. You are clearly an ambitious and passionate person who wants the prestige of being the head of a good or outstanding school whatever the cost. The thought of being a head of a ‘Requires Improvement’ school can’t be an easy one. Many of us have actually worked in these schools and it’s not easy.
I appreciate how hard your job must be but my colleagues have asked me to respond to your newsletters as many of us have grievances with your policies. You don’t set aside time for us to discuss strategies to reduce workload or allow time to discuss how we could make our jobs less stressful, so I hope you don’t mind giving up your Saturday morning to read my letter instead.
Initially, I was asked to write a general response to your newsletters but many members of staff had a particular problem with your book scrutiny policy. Let me remind you of some of the things you expect to see in all of our books. This is just the first page.
Could teachers make sure they have included:
- short date,
- daily typed up learning slips for all subjects,
- success criteria present,
- tool kits present,
- children responding in purple pen,
- green and pink highlighting,
- deep marking once a week,
- peer assessment,
- child feedback,
- staff to initial all work,
- evidence of verbal feedback given,
- regular written next steps,
- 2 stars and a wish present,
- spellings picked up on,
- marking code followed,
- every piece marked daily,
- praise used often but not too much,
- more able being stretched,
- barriers to learning being addressed,
- progress in grammar evident,
- photographic evidence whenever possible,
- evidence of children’s understanding is checked and intervention taken as a result, evidence of target setting,
- proof of teacher impact evident,
- evidence of pupil premium children being supported.
A Year 6 colleague was very upset this week because she was put on a coaching program. Her books did not meet your high standards during your latest book scrutiny even though her class has made accelerated progress this half term. The standard of work her class produce is always exceptional. She responds to the needs of her children on a daily basis and adjusts her lessons accordingly. Her assessment for learning is outstanding and always has the children eating out of the palm of her hand. She regularly praises the children for their efforts and as a result, the behaviour of her class has dramatically improved. Despite this, you have destroyed her confidence by criticising her methodology because her books didn’t show enough green and pink highlighting and learning objectives weren’t consistently typed up (the children had written them instead). Apparently, you told her she had forgotten to write the date on some pieces of work and some work had just been ‘ticked’. You told her this was unacceptable.
Surely, the most important part of any teacher’s job is that children make progress. If progress is clearly seen in any teacher’s book, especially accelerated progress, you have to assume the teacher has done an exceptional job. Progress like this doesn’t just happen. You must assume they have intervened at the right times, pushed on the more able, applied a bit tough love when necessary, used appropriate humour and praise to motivate etc. To criticise the teacher just because they didn’t completely follow your book scrutiny guidance is ridiculous. What does progress even mean? It can often look invisible but it’s happened. The fact that a child who needed constant reassurance and support in September now works completely independently with enthusiasm is progress. Their books won’t show it but it’s huge progress.
It is comparable to asking Lionel Messi to play in goal and then when he plays poorly, you make him a substitute and put him on a personal training program so he can improve his game. He is punished because he cannot work in the way you have dictated. It is not natural for him to play in that position. He performs far better when he has the freedom to play in his favourite position. Dictating to teachers how to mark and give feedback to children is ludicrous.
If you looked at a teacher’s set of books and no progress was evident over time, then you would be obliged to support that teacher by offering guidance on how to improve using strategies you saw fit. Everyone understands this. You would need to intervene. However, the large majority of us will show you good or better progress regardless of your marking policy.
You are currently asking all members of staff to play in the wrong position. Let them play in the position they prefer so they can show maximum effectiveness. Then judge them. Only then, are teachers fully accountable. Teachers are not marking books naturally. Often, some teachers will skim through the books they are about to hand in for scrutiny and look for opportunities to write extra comments and add additional marking codes to make their books look better. I have. This is madness.
As you wander around the school at lunchtime you will see teachers marking their books. Teachers are so worried now about the their books, they are over marking in some cases just in case they get too many ‘reds’ on their book scrutiny feedback. It doesn’t help when you repeatedly make comments like, ‘you are not spending all lunchtime marking are you? Make sure you find time to eat and relax.’
When you have to mark literacy and maths every day (not to mention other books), and plan and prepare the next day’s lesson, you can begin to see why lunch time has become a good time to get work done. It is never a good time to work at lunchtime but teachers have to. When you throw in teacher participation in after school clubs and the subtle pressure to attend additional meetings, it won’t be long before teachers don’t even make it to the staff room. Most teachers I speak to are working at least 1-2 hours every night at home and most of Sunday evening. This is not healthy or desirable. Many teachers report they work 50-60 hour each week.
“It’s all about the books,” is all I hear at the moment. But OFSTED have said they don’t care what the books look like as long as teachers are following the school policy. As long as OFSTED see progress, that’s all that counts. So why don’t you change the book scrutiny checklist to something like:
- Progress will be first thing I look for in your books regardless of how you mark or the type of feedback that is evident
- I trust how you feedback to the children.
- I trust you will adjust lessons accordingly to meet all children’s needs
- I trust you will push and support children as needed.
- I don’t expect to see particular feedback in books as I know you spend most of your time telling your class how they have done and what they need to do to improve. You don’t need to prove this.
- I don’t need to see photographic evidence of when you went outside for a lesson or had the weighing scales out!
- I understand that some lessons will not be evidenced in books because you didn’t do it in their books!
- I will expect to see progress in books.
- I will only intervene if progress is poor. Then you will mark how I tell you.
- I repeat, progress will be first thing I look for in your books regardless of how you mark or the feedback that is evident.
- If progress is present, you must be a caring and hardworking teacher who gets the best out of the children. Well done.
When OFSTED see progress in books they will be very happy. They will be happy because your staff have been following your (new one above) marking policy.
And you wonder why staff are not attending as many school discos, fairs, film nights, clubs etc. They are exhausted and run down.
To tell a teacher they are ineffective because they have not managed to get enough ‘greens’ on your long book scrutiny checklist is outrageous. Has a class made good progress? Yes? Then perhaps you could tap into how that teacher achieved that progress and share this with the rest of us instead of being such a control freak by demanding everyone has to toe the line with your checklists in the name of consistency.
If your book scrutiny checklist ceased to exist, you would presumably expect to see very little progress in books? What a naive attitude to have. You are panicking. In some or most cases, you would probably see better progress because teachers would be free to spend more time on planning and resourcing their lessons more effectively.
In fact, your book scrutiny could look like:
Is good progress present over time?
It’s that simple.
Thank you. I will of course be expecting an early morning meeting with you on Monday morning… gulp.