Nicky’s Going to War

Five years ago we pondered what a new government would mean for education and though many expected change, few would have predicted the pace with which it arrived. Little did we know just how radical Mr Gove was going to be, or the extent to which education would become a battleground. After years of attacks on the profession, goalposts being moved, phonics screening, enemies of promise and strikes, Gove was taken away from us and in his stead we were given Nicky Morgan.


Ah, Nicky. Quiet little, butter wouldn’t melt, Nicky. Sure she had voted against gay marriage and supported all of Gove’s sweeping changes but we all knew she couldn’t possibly be as controversial or as divisive as her predecessor. For months, Nicky floated along without anything even close to controversy.

That is, of course, until today.

It should come as no surprise really; Nicky will no doubt have been keen to put down a marker. However, that makes it no less worrying. The message couldn’t be clearer- Nicky is going to war; not against mediocrity or bad practice in the way her rhetoric would suggest, nor even against teachers this time. Now it is the turn of SLTs and Headteachers to be dragged over the coals and demonised. Not only are schools which are deemed to be ‘underperforming’ coming under scrutiny, but also those deemed to be ‘coasting’.

There are two main reasons this causes me genuine panic. The first is that the body which will deem whether a school is underperforming or not, Ofsted, is so utterly inconsistent and subjective that any confidence in their judgements, credibility in the organisation or reliability in their findings is quickly wading. Many teachers simply find that Ofsted is no longer fit for purpose, and this is something that they really ought to seek to address as a matter of urgency. Secondly, Morgan has suggested that headteachers of coasting schools could be removed from their positions. This, from the Secretary of State for Education, simply floored me as it demonstrated the clear lack of understanding of the state of the workforce in this country. Headteachers are a rare breed, in that we don’t have enough of them. What we need is to train, support and guide headteachers and those aspiring to the position rather than seek to implement a football manager approach where we go through more headteachers than terms.

The motivation behind this move lies very close to the surface and will surprise nobody in education circles. “We will provide support. Of course we will look at the academy model too.” Nicky told Andrew Marr. The idea that academies improve the provision of a school, while unfounded in ANY form of research or evidence, is one that Morgan and her predecessor have flouted repeatedly over the past few years. My thoughts on schools being forced to adopt academy status can be found here, and I make no apologies for my viewpoint.

Nicky has had her time to settle in, and now she’s lining up her arsenal. If you thought the education battlefield would have time to settle with Gove out of the way, you were very much mistaken. The fight to stand up for education shall continue for what could be a very long and battling five years. Nicky’s going to war; I hope she’s ready for the fight.

Tips for Avoiding Burnout



It’s that time again as teachers up and down the country begin to cast their eyes and their minds back towards the classroom. For some it means a fresh start after a restful break, but for most it can be a daunting prospect. It is easy to throw yourself back into the hectic school system but it is important not to initiate a routine which is impossible and unrealistic to sustain. It is shocking how many teachers, myself included, work themselves to the point of burning out. With this in mind it was important to recognise the warning signs and put in place strategies to avoid burn out. Below are some tips which may help to alleviate the stress of the classroom.


Decide what is important and let things slide. Enough is enough!

Teaching, as a career, is all consuming. It will absorb every spare second you are willing to commit to it and you will never, ever be done; you will forever be chasing that carrot on the end of the stick. Worse still, many teachers see themselves as great martyrs for the cause who simply cannot stop until another resource is made, box is ticked or book is marked. Before long you find yourself working from dusk til dawn, sat on the sofa with a laptop and a set of books beside you. Remember that your family and friends are at the very least equally as important as your pupils and should not be neglected. More importantly still is your own health, well-being and happiness. Decide what is important and what can slip and know when to call it quits on work. Put the books down, walk away and reclaim your life outside of school. It’s okay to give up for the evening.


Do things outside of school

Find something that you enjoy doing and make it part of your routine: Go to the pub with friends, watch that movie in the cinema you’ve seen advertised, get out for a walk, pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, call round to your friends, visit relatives, join the gym. Look back and ask yourself ‘What have I done this week?’ for a month or two. If the answer always centres around school and work, you may want to reconsider your routine.


Sleep, arrive early and be well prepared

Get into a regular and healthy sleeping pattern. It is important to recharge the batteries. Try to ensure that you get a minimum of 7-8 hours sleep a night and allow yourself time to get ready in the mornings at your own pace. Avoid rushing around in a last minute dart to get to school on time. In fact, plan to arrive early in the mornings. Set up your lessons and resources in a calm and organised fashion. Go through your lessons mentally once so that you feel mentally prepared and have covered all bases. Have the resources at hand and ready to deploy during lessons. Then sit down and relax for the final ten minutes before collecting the kids. This can make all the difference to how your morning feels.


Incorporate humour into your classroom

Keep it light. The worst thing you can do as an educator is to allow the pressure on you to be passed on to the pupils you teach. Humour is a great alleviator of the stress placed upon you from all around. Seek opportunities to have a laugh. The difference between shouting at a class for silence and making a joke that meets the same end is remarkable. The atmosphere in your class will change significantly, it will keep you sane and it will increase your pupils enjoyment of lessons (even if half of the jokes go over their heads!).


Forget about scores, focus on learning

This is easier said than done when you have the SLT breathing down your neck and the weight of the world placed upon your shoulders, but ask yourself, ‘Is this why I came into the profession?’ When I decided to be a teacher it was because I wanted to help children learn, not to ensure a percentage make a certain level of progress in any given time frame. The data doesn’t always represent the learning that has taken place, but the pupil will always be better for it. There are elements of the education system we cannot change, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t put a bigger emphasis on our pupil’s achievements. Keep a positive attitude towards what your pupils can do and celebrate their successes. Never allow the pressure placed upon you to be passed on to the pupils you teach.


Believe in yourself

Believe me when I say I have doubted my ability more over the past few years than I really ought to have. As a profession, we often do. I suppose when you hear the government bash you enough times, and you teach within a culture of accountability and fear, it is only natural that you begin to question everything you do. This, however, is ridiculous. You are a professional. You have years of training and experience to draw upon. You have evidence to fall back on. You take your job seriously, probably too seriously, and care for your pupils dearly. Missing a statistical target, teaching a bad lesson or being on the receiving end of a tongue-bashing from a parent doesn’t make you a bad teacher. Believe in yourself. You’ll probably never get to hear the amazing things staff, parents and pupils say about you!


The stress we put ourselves under nowadays is surreal. The expectations we set for ourselves and the mountains of work we aim to tackle mean that burnout is an all too real possibility. It is vitally important that we recognise the warning signs, both in ourselves and those around us. An ill temper and shortness with pupils or loved ones, an unexpected tearful moment, exhaustion, irregular sleep patterns; they are all real signs. Pretending otherwise is unhealthy and unwise. Should they arise, I hope this is helpful.


Secret Teacher

Academies are not the bloody answer!


In 2011 the government saw fit to introduce the ‘Academy/Free School Presumption’ to the Education Act whereby if a Local Authority felt there was the need to create a new school in its area, it must seek proposals to establish an academy/free school. Schools must then find a sponsor and agree on a location for the school. Therefore, in effect, in time all schools will eventually be taken from the control of Local Authorities. Currently over 60% of secondary schools, and roughly 13% of primary schools are already being run as an academy or free school. So what, I hear you ask, is the problem?

From the outset, let it be known that I have no problem with schools who choose to be academies. There are highly effective Academies out there providing an exceptional provision to education for the pupils that attend their schools. They do a fine job and such schools should be congratulated and celebrated. What I do however oppose is the assumption that the Academy model, as a whole, is a winning formula that should be forced upon all schools up and down the country. The current government’s belief that converting every school in the country to an academy will instantly shoot the UK to the top of the International League Tables is as absurd as it is insulting to all of those who work tirelessly to provide an excellent education in schools outside of Academy run chains.

In November 2012, despite having no legal authority to do so, the government announced its intention to turn 400 under-performing primary schools into academies. Governing bodies were warned that failure to comply with the government’s wishes would result in their dismissal, being replaced by those who would force through the conversion. In cases where the pupils, staff and parents voiced strong opposition to such a measure, the government sped ahead with their plans regardless. They have, in the time since, maintained the supposition that academies improve standards. The more sceptical of you may also wonder what would motivate ministers to deviate away from Local Authority intervention.

Academies, as independent state-funded schools, receive their funding directly from central government rather than through a Local Authority. This gives them more freedom over their finances, curriculum, term dates and pay and conditions for staff. Upon conversion to an Academy, a school will be awarded £25,000 and can receive access of up to 10% more funding which would previously have been allocated to the school through the Local Authority (This is money that would have been used to provide services for the school, and so isn’t extra funding per se). Should the Academy acquire the services it acquires more cheaply, it can benefit financially from becoming an academy. As such, large academy chains are now emerging being run by companies. Although they have the freedom to employ teachers without Qualified Teacher Status and pay teachers less, it is often the case that they follow the pay structure implemented in state run schools. They do, however, often differ in terms of conditions and expectations from their staff. Therefore academies can expect teachers to work longer contractual hours and alter their sickness and maternity arrangements should they wish to do so.

‘So what if academies have the potential to offer a slightly rougher deal to teachers; it will provide my child with a better education!’ I hear you say. Not quite. Yes, the government have been quick to point to academies that have rapidly improved following their transition from state schools, but careful interpretation of the data available suggests that there is a general upward trend in under-performing schools throughout the country. Many cases have been brough to public attention whereby schools that have already begun to see rapid improvement have been forced through the conversion process irregardless and then can be held up as examples of the process working. Despite countless soundbites by the current government, few of their claims stand up to any form of serious analysis. On the whole, progress markers as well as school improvement figures suggest that state schools and academies are working at strikingly similar levels. However, removing a school from Local Authority control removes their access to:

  • specialist help for pupils with special educational needs as well as monitoring of this provision
  • support for governors
  • CPD for staff
  • legal advice and guidance to make sure schools comply with the law to keep children safe.

Crucially, the Local Authority also has the ability to liaise between schools to co-ordinate admissions. With more than half of secondary schools now working independent of this body, organising schools admissions has become increasingly unclear. Gaps are appearing in accountability, admissions monitoring, school support services and school place planning. By 2023, it is estimated that there will be a surplus of 880,000 pupils in England alone and schools are already beginning to run out of places. The current government have spent £5bn in an effort to tackle this. Unfortunately, due to the amendment to the Education Act, sponsors of new academies haven’t always sought to place these new schools in areas of need. According to the National Audit Office, there have been no applications to open mainstream primary schools in half of the districts with a high or severe forecast need of new school places by 2015-1016.

I’m not here to argue that state schools are better than academies or vice versa. There are fantastic and terrible academies much in the same that there are fantastic and terrible state schools. My objection is to the rational that all schools must be academies; that academies are the savour of our school system and must be implemented all over the country. They do not raise standards any more dramatically than state schools already do. They are no more viable. They are the result of dwindling coffers for our local councils and efforts to break the unions. This policy of conversion at all costs bears the potential to be the onset of privatising the education system and is opening the door of our children’s education to businessmen with ulterier motives. The current government have raised many questions within education; academies are not the bloody answer!

Secret Teacher

My Workload is Killing Me

Featured image

Teaching is bloody great. I can think of seldom few jobs where you go to the same room, in the same building, with the same people everyday and have a completely different experience. I love my job, I love the people I work with (even the ones I probably shouldn’t) and after almost four years in the profession I can honestly say I have no intention of leaving. But I can completely identify with those running for the hills.

On the back of my classroom door I have three class pictures. Peering into the room from behind a group of increasingly small children is the face of a rapidly aging man. I barely recognise the man in the first photo: He has spiked hair meeting in the middle like a shark fin, in a way that suggests he may just be Jedward’s older brother; his skin is tanned and smooth; his expression is a picture of youthful determination and naivety. What a difference a couple of years makes.

Looking back to that NQT year, I could not be faulted for effort, yet effort alone does not make a good teacher. I spent much of my first year hiding in my classroom hoping not to be found out, firmly clinging onto a steely determination to make myself into the best teacher I could be. I read, I listened, I learned from my mistakes and slowly I crafted myself into the type of teacher I’d always wanted to be. I put in the hours and as I did so I found my school day becoming longer and longer as I desperately tried to keep all of the plates spinning. And for that year the plates remained upright. I was the proverbial Jack of all trades, albeit master of none, yet like my plates, I was still standing.

In the years since, I have maintained the work ethic that I had in my initial year but the energy is quickly wading. Working from 7.30 in the morning until gone 5 each evening isn’t exactly an ideal working model, particularly when you often take work home with you and leave tasks unfinished. As my capability has improved over the years, so too have my responsibilities and titles. I now find myself as the leader of a Year 2 team in a three form entry school leading five teachers, five teaching assistants and 90+ children as we desperately try to navigate our way through the stress and data a SATs year always manages to create. So too do I have the lead on Maths in the Key Stage, along with leading a literacy initiative and my duties as a school governor. Alongside this I am attempting to complete my NPQML. The plates that were once spinning nicely now wobble like a bowl of jelly as I await the crunching crash of ceramic imminently.


Tasks that once seemed relatively simple now feel like the most labouring chore: maintaining an organised classroom, marking books, planning lessons, preparing resources, evaluating work, implementing ever-changing methods of assessment. The daily grind outside of actual teaching can be tough, and may you pray to whichever deity you follow for assistance dare you skip your duty for an evening for it will build up on you quicker than the debt on a forgotten pay day loan.

The energetic teacher from that first picture on the door has long since disappeared. In the mirror I now see a man aged beyond his young years: a size one razor taken to the entirety of his cranium in an effort to hide the rapidly emerging bald spots on the crown of his head; pasty white skin which suggests he hasn’t seen the sun in some time while dark wrinkles form under his eyelids; his expression is a picture of exasperation and exhaustion. He finishes each half-term like an extra from ‘The Walking Dead’ while his concept of quality time at home is slowly becoming falling asleep in front of the tele with his loved ones in his arms at the end of a long day.

What’s worrying here is that I’m no martyr. I am the new norm and many are doing much more than I am. This is the new expectation of an increasingly demanding profession. The powers that be seem set on implementing a system that simultaneously advocates increasing the retirement age while actively ensuring a generation of burnt out teachers. If this blog were a metaphorical plate, it crashed to the ground months ago as my most easily disposable task. Time is not a gift that is bestowed upon the new age teacher, and even during this week off I find myself cursing the headteacher for closing the school and demanding we take a break. Such demands will be completely ignored as I’ve come home with a list of things to do as long as my arm, all of which are playing catch up rather than putting down a platform for next half term and though I would normally have considered myself well organised, I know that my Easter holidays will be spent in much the same way.

Teaching is the most wonderful profession and I absolutely love my job, but the current workload is unrealistic and unsustainable. It is no surprise that 50% head for the exit door within five years. Should we wish to retain our skilled and dedicated young teachers, we need to change the system before the plates come crashing.

Secret Teacher

An Independent Education Standards Authority: Is David Laws Onto Something?

David Laws’ warning on Sunday of the ‘corrosive impact of self-interested political meddling in schools’ was greeted with the incredulous nonchalance of a teaching community up to its neck in change, implemented by a self-indulging egomaniac who caused chaos while being propped up by none other than David Laws himself. The irony, it seems, was entirely lost on him.

laws and gove


After perhaps the greatest period of change implemented in the shortest period of time in well over a generation, politicians are beginning to change their tune in an effort to sound more melancholic to the education sector prior to next year’s general election. With teachers up and down the country crying out for more effective leadership and support, the official opposition have impressively conjured up the perfect solution, waving their magic wand and watching all of our troubles disappear once we have uttered a few words swearing allegiance to our kids and our workload. The gimmick reeks of desperation emanating from a Shadow Secretary clutching at more straws than a masturbating scarecrow. There is a real dilemma facing us next summer when we vote: who is the least idiotic of this group of self-styled Etonian éclat of educational elite? (Uttered without the slightest inclination of sarcasm)


Between now and next May we will no doubt be inundated with gimmick and nonsense in equal measure as the all-too-similar political parties battle to secure our ‘X’ next to their names. As a general rule, most of us will read, ridicule and reposit to the deepest edges of our memory these empty promises and nonsensical ramblings, only to be recanted in the staffroom whilst bemoaning the state of this nations governance. Indeed that was the initial reaction of most this morning, ‘David Laws; warning of the whims of ‘here today,gone tomorrow’ politicians? The Lib Dem who clung to the shadow cast by Gove? Ring Alanis Morissette up there and tell her to add a verse to that song of hers!’


But what if what he said was actually, dare I say it, a good idea? Surely removing education from the hands of politicians, most of whom themselves haven’t even had experience of the state school system, can only be a positive thing. No politician should ever again be able to rewrite the curriculum to suit their own ideology and personal interests in the manner Gove did. An independent body could ensure continuity and cease (or at least ease) the constant to-and-fro nature of the education system in this country. It would also prevent goal posts being moved and politicians manipulating the system to present the image of huge improvements when in reality very little has changed. There would be a sense of accountability, a word that has been rammed down our throats in recent years while public servants and politicians wreak havoc and run.


Of course, like many of these announcements, there are more questions than answers. Would the government choose the ‘independent’ body members to match their agenda? Would the body add fuel to the debate raging between traditional and progressive teachers? Would new school builds be allowed to choose whether to belong to the Local Authority or become Free Schools automatically? Would all schools (state, free or otherwise) be compelled to work within the remit of such an authority? Would school funding be distributed evenly? Where do Ofsted fit into a new picture?


David Laws’ announcement this morning may have more to do with attacking Gove than it does any real passion for systematic change, but it nonetheless presents the idea of removing education from the cusp of political games and point scoring. I, for once, will pass on the chance to read and ridicule and call for this one to be investigated further.


Secret Teacher

The Importance of Effective Middle Leadership

For the last twenty years or so, the means by which a school’s capabilities are judged has been on a perpetual pendulum of change. In 1992, under a government which (largely speaking) had been privately educated and had no real trust or respect for the state school system, OfSTED was given the task of externally assessing a school and so the pendulum made a great stride to the right. Then the more liberal Labour government came about, a government that initially did place a great deal of trust in schools. They placed more emphasis on Local Authorities and school’s being responsible for their own judgements and development (although OfSTED was always used parallel to this) and so the pendulum swung back to the left. These Local Authorities had teams who would observe practice, develop staff and lead school improvement. Such teams are rarer than the ill-fated Dodo these days. Eventually Gove came along and pushed the pendulum so far right that it entered space that had previously been unknown to exist. A distrust of teachers and a climate of fear has hung over the education system in this country like a sullen mist ever since. And so, a year before the next general election, the only proverbial clogs of the pendulum that have remained unchanged since it first began swinging continue to churn out students and strive to provide the best learning opportunities for their pupils.

This is all well and good, but what has it got to do with middle leadership I hear you ask? Although OfSTED have the right to inspect schools under Section 5 of the Education Act of 2005, they very rarely do. They claim to carry out an ‘idependant external evaluation’ of a school’s effectiveness and state that their judgements are based upon a national framework. Such a framework might ensure that the information provided to parents and the Secretary of State for Education was consistent and reliable, and based on this OfSTED have a reputable place amongst the mindset of parents the width and breadth of the country. However, those who work in the education system know that this is a facade. Beyond the smoke screen, OfSTED are a much more haphazard, ill-informed and inconsistent group of self-employed ‘experts’ than is generally stated. OfSTED has carved up the country into six large zones, each sub-let to an independent and privately run company which carries out inspections on behalf of OfSTED. These companies work independently of each other, but are nonetheless expected to follow the guidance on how to inspect schools. The problem is that most of the inspectors are retired or have left the profession and have, at best, failed to read the guidance and subsequent updates and, at worst, simply ignore it. Whatever their reasons, OfSted are anything but reliable, consistent or reputable. More often any Tom, Dick or Harry subcontracted to a shady contractor shows up to inspect your school whatever way they see fit. If you’re lucky, you will have a well-informed, professional team who are understanding and know what to consider when making judgements that will impact upon every person in the school. If you aren’t, it’s time for your leadership team to earn their pay… and that is when it pays to have a strong middle leadership team.

In order to see off any OfSTED team, but more importantly to improve the opportunities of the children in the school, the self evaluation process cannot be overemphasised. A strong leadership team will ensure that the school has a strong vision and that staff are united in their determination to reach the aims which are set out in order to achieve this. The school will then need to gather evidence to support any judgements it makes, identifying areas of strengths and areas to be developed. This will then be fed forward to the Senior Leadership Team which shall decide upon the school action plan to move the school forwards. Middle Leaders are pivotal the to self-evaluation and evidence gathering elements of this process. Through strong management and gaining an accurate picture of where they are up to with their area of the school or curriculum, middle leaders can gather the evidence needed to ensure the school continues to improve. The best schools in the country develop their middle leaders and afford them time to get to grips with their responsibilities. They also utilise them effectively and develop them professionally so that the school ultimately isn’t being led from the headteachers office only. A strong headteacher, although responsible overall for the running of the school, will have the ability to delegate responsibilities and develop staff whose judgements are dependable and constructive.

The pendulum is ever-changing and out of the mess of the Birmingham ‘Trojan Horse’ affair, things looks to be getting worse for teachers in this country. Despite most of the schools involved being part of Gove’s pet project of Free Schools/Academies and therefore out of Local Authority control, Gove has seen fit to say that there is an epidemic problem in schools. Although the minutes of their governors meetings should have been forwarded to Michael Gove himself, and although Gove was in a position to send two advisors to the academies to prevent this mess (perhaps even resulting in Gove being guilty of dereliction of duty, you might conclude), he has managed to spin the situation so that we are ever closer to no notice inspections; a concept that drives fear into the hearts of teachers everywhere. Whether or not they ever arrive, the pendulum has a chance of swinging back over the next year as Gove seeks pastures new and we seek any other government on offer to us. Regardless, we will still have an OfSTED force who are very inconsistent. To give yourself the best chance of fighting your corner, and indeed to truly improve your school, the development of middle leaders is pivotal.


Besides all of this, we are in the midst of a headteacher crisis. You may just find that by the time you next reach work, your head will have jumped ship! Middle leaders are going to be headteachers very soon. Within years we are going to have the youngest set of headteachers this country has ever known, many of whom are middle leaders now. If we want the education system to continue to flourish, we have to prepare them adequately now.


Secret Teacher







The Farce of SATs

Take a deep breath. Relax. Exhale. It’s over for another year.


If you have pupils in Year 6, work in Key Stage 2 or have any sort of dealings with a primary school, I’m sure you haven’t been able to miss the fact that Year 6 pupils up and down the country have completed their SATs this week. The past few days will have been about as far from the norm as you usually will find in the calendar. Schools practically fall over themselves to ensure that their statistics (how cynical of me, of course I mean pupils!) are in school in a frame of mind fit to sit the most important exams of their young lives to date.


Except of course… well… they probably aren’t that important to the child and don’t actually have much of an impact on that child’s future. They will be given a score and move on into secondary school where they will be assessed and put into ability groups according to the school’s new set of assessments. Even if the SATs scores are used initially, it won’t be long before they are shaken up and those that over-performed or under-performed find their way back to the groups that match their needs. The kids will go on to have the future in education they would have had if the SATs in Year 6 didn’t exist.


Don’t tell this to those in charge of primary schools though! I could swear that life itself might actually stop if pupils were to collectively have a bad run of form. Though, admittedly they are left with little choice. When OfSTED come in as heavy-handed as they do and make sweeping generalisations about the state of education in a school based on scores at KS1 and KS2, they better be damned good. It is of little wonder that Year 6 teachers, SLT and Headteachers have spent the week pulling their hair out. At times it has been like a scene from some kind of ‘Carry On’ movie…


The local bus and taxi companies line the entrance to the school being given directions to pupils houses as the sun makes its way over the horizon, marking the beginning a new day. A child was once ten minutes late in Year 1 and we mustn’t risk another late arrival. An empty chair is a wasted statistic. When they arrive we will gather them all in the hall where we will let them eat their fill: toast, milk, water, cereal, whatever they want. Somebody on the yard once read on the back of a yogurt pot that exercise helps you to think better so next get them doing laps of the school grounds and jumping on the spot. Hell they’ve never done this before but who knows, maybe a bit of movement will suddenly remind them of how to reduce fractions to their simplest form? Then slowly the mist of apprehension silently falls upon the mass of pupils entering the school for the second time in forty minutes. They walk to their places, looking at the classrooms that have been covered from top to bottom in bin-liners as if 60 minute makeover are going to film an episode over lunchtime. The kids are nearly ready to have the instructions read to them when the door bursts open. As if they have heard the music of their favorite wrestler break the silence, every head in the room spins round to see the line of additional helpers flood into the room. We have the PPA teacher, teaching assistants, SLT, office staff, the cleaners, dinner ladies and a bin man who arrived at the school at just the wrong time sitting next to the pupils poking them in the ribs to keep them on task and read questions. Then the moment it’s all done, just as the kids are about to leave the room, the Year 6 teacher flees through the corridor like a spy through cold-war Russia to give the Headteacher an in-depth analysis of how difficult the paper was and how pupils responded.


It would be comical if 90% of that wasn’t true! Sadly however, the truth is that the bus, breakfast, exercise and additional support is not there in the interest of the pupils. It is there to do everything possible to ensure that the data is positive by the time the assessments are marked and sent back to the school. And let’s be honest; who could blame those in charge for doing all this? When they are under such pressure, they will do everything they can to help themselves alleviate the stress. The blame for the farce that is SATs week does not lie with them. It lies squarely at the feet of those in charge, who increasingly demand that assessments be used as an evaluative tool of a schools capabilities and provision of education. Unfortunately, testing is the approach advocated by those who know least about education, oblivious to the fact that you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it. Nursery baseline assessments, Year 1 phonics screening, Year 2 SATs, Year 6 SATs- pupils in our education system are tested far too much.



At the risk of sounding like the vicars wife in an episode of ‘The Simpsons’, won’t somebody please think of the children! The system we have forces us to turn our back on real life skills and thematic approaches to develop through investigative and experiential learning, instead focusing on learning test techniques and narrow approaches to delivering English and Maths. There does of course need to be an approach adopted to ensure that schools are delivering the curriculum to a high standard. The irony is that the process we currently use ensures that pupils are deprived of exactly that, as the last time I checked the curriculum stretched outside of the core subjects.


The pupils in my school will spend the next week at the cinema, bowling, ice-skating or playing sports, but one week of rewards will not make up for the months of cramming that has deprived them of a broad and balanced curriculum. Until the system is changed, year group after year group will experience the despair of Year 6 SATs. Until the system is changed, the farce that is SATs week will continue annually.


Secret Teacher


Discussion: Teaching Outside Your Comfort Zone

“You don’t have to answer me now, just think about what I am about to say to you and come back to me with an answer when you’re ready. You completed your induction year in Year 5, and have worked really well in the two years since in Year 4. We have been really pleased with your progress, and want to help you gain as much experience as you can. How do you feel about moving to Year 2?”


I’m a man. To a certain extent, there is a stigma that comes along with that when working in a primary school. People tend to make assumptions when they think of males in the primary school. Often men have the Physical Education curriculum thrust upon them, are expected to be expert disciplinarians and tend to find themselves working with the older pupils in the school. To a certain extent, when training I had fit the mould of this description and upon taking up my position at my current school I was happy to slip into Year 5 and take on sporting extra-curricular activities. This was very much within my comfort zone. KS1 had never really been on my periphory, it might as well have been in another world. After completing the obligatory KS1 placement on the first of four years of my initial teacher training, schools were keen to see me complete my other placements in the upper reaches of KS2. As my placements grew in length, I found myself placed in Year 4, Year 5 and finally Year 6. Even in the pressure cooker of Year 6 SATs, I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing and felt largely comfortable. This ensured that in my short career in KS2, I have been developing well within my comfort zone. And so, seemingly from absolutely nowhere…


“How do you feel about working in Year 2?”

My bubble burst.


I suppose, rather selfishly, my first thoughts were of my own progression and how helpful such a move would be to my own career. Having already had one eye on a possible future in school leadership and knowing that my headteacher supports me fully in this (it was her idea and she is guiding me down that road), experience in KS1 will undoubtedly stand me in good stead for the future. It will also force me to learn how to teach phonics and adapt my practice to meet the needs of a much younger and more demanding group of pupils. I will learn new skills and teaching strategies that will make me a much better teacher in years to come. Both in terms of my professional development, and my future aspirations, there is the potential for great growth in the coming years due to such a move. When I allowed myself time to mull it over, I then began to consider what it would mean for the pupils. For them, they will have their first experience of working with a male. I cannot recall the last time (if ever) a male has taught in KS1 in my school. There is no reason to believe that the pupils wont react positively to working with a man, and I actively do what I can to ensure that I am positive role model for all the pupils who I work with. They will also have a young(ish), (relatively) energetic and hard-working teacher who will do all he can to ensure they develop to the best of their ability.


So what is the problem? Well, there are SATs. There are children much smaller and more immature than I have ever taught before. There are parent’s who, during their experience, have never had a male teach in the infant section of their school before and may come with preconceived attitudes towards me. There is no time to settle in, as in Year 2 results are expected from the get go and excuses matter little and there is the fear of being completely out of my depth.


I firmly believe that teachers should remove themselves from their comfort zones once in a while in order to stay fresh and to ensure they don’t fall into the pit of routine and becoming stuck in a year group. I had made my decision before leaving the room that day, and agreed to the move almost instantly. Upon seeking reassurance that I had made the right choice, a good friend of mine advised me that there is no growth in comfort, and I agree with that sentiment hugely. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have apprehensions about the road again and so I ask for your advice. Have you moved to teach outside your comfort zone? Do you have any dos/don’ts? How can you help enable a smooth progression for yourself? Do I have anything to be worried about? Is there anything I can do to minimise disruption to routines or structures?


Thanks in advance,

Secret Teacher


Discussion: Should we fine parents who holiday during term time?

In September 2013 a new rule came into effect which prevented schools from granting pupils time off school, except for in ‘exceptional circumstances’. As such, parents who make the decision to remove their children from school to take them on holiday are doing so in a manner inconsistent with the law of the land and risk a penalty. Previously pupils could have been granted up to ten days leave without ramifications; however that is no longer the case. As a result, the number of parents being fined for taking term time holidays has increased by over 70%. Surely, this seems resonable. You break the law, you get fined.


That is, of course, until you consider why parents choose to take holidays during term times. Of course there are some parents whose holidays are previously prescribed to them or who simply cannot take time off at any other period of the year, but for the vast majority the decision is a financial one. Peak holiday demand drives up prices for flights and accommodation and many argue that the only way they can afford a family holiday is to take one during off peak periods, such as term time.A trip to Disneyland in Paris costs almost £400 more during school holidays for example, while a trip to Centre Parks last year would have cost you £890 more during the summer break. Such savings may be unlikely to deter you from the possibility of a £60 fine per child.


The fine, however, is not the only cost we should really we counting up. Despite the argument that holidays are for a relatively short period of time, a child who misses one week of school for holidays each year would miss at least 70 days over their years in education, amounting to three months of school. The DfE have stated how damaging poor attendance can be and pointed out that pupils who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent. They also closely monitor school’s attendance figures and put pressures on head teachers to ensure that these figures remain high.


When the issue was debated by MPs, not one member supported the call to put pricing caps on holiday firms cashing in on the school holidays. In balance, such a cap would be incredibly difficult to enforce and may result in further difficulties booking holidays. It is, after all, a simple case of supply and demand. The solution put forward by MPs was to give schools the power to stagger their holidays. I remain unconvinced, however, that this is a viable suggestion. Certain times of the year are always going to need holidays placed around them: Christmas, Easter, a portion of the summer etc. Furthermore, a family with pupils at different stages of their education will still require all the schools their children attend to be on holiday at the same time for such a solution to work. If schools decide their holiday dates independently, this may not be the result.


For me, the solution lies with the schools and those who run them. In my school, this problem of holidays is minute compared to the amount of regular absentees and late pupils. These issues seriously impair the education a child receives. In my primary school, if a child is an hour late two times a week, they will miss 40% of their maths provision. If this is a regular occurrence, it has a significant impact on that child’s progression. In such cases, I fully support bringing fines or legal action against the parents who persistently fail their children, which borders on neglect. I believe the decision on holidays should have a more ‘common sense’ approach. Perhaps if the child’s attendance is above a certain percentage, for example 97% for the previous academic year, and the family wish to take their child on a holiday realising that this is not a luxury to be afforded to them annually, I believe the school should have the authority to authorise that on a one off basis.


There are no easy answers in this debate. It is possible for a parent to receive a criminal record for taking their children on holidays. However, for some, a ban on term time holidays means a ban on holidays altogether. Is a holiday a basic right? Should schools have the authority to fine parents for taking a holiday during term time? Does the solution lie in changing term times? How far behind will a child fall in a week or two? Do the skills acquired on a holiday potentially outweigh the lessons missed in class? Should children be allowed to holiday during term times?


Secret Teacher

The Unions are Defeating Themselves

I suppose you would have to have lived under a rock for the past few years to be unaware of Michael Gove and his mission to shake up the education system. Indeed, few Secretaries of State for education have managed to be just as controversial as this one which, if we look back at those figures who have previously held the office, is a statement in itself. As I’ve stated before, the education system here seems to be perpetually floating on a sea of change. However, this statement seems to have renewed vigour since Gove took office and began to impliment his vision.


Yet, despite the fact that the vast majority of those working within education are united in their opposition to Gove and his policies, the unions’ apathy towards each other is seriously impeding their ability to resist policy change in any meaningful way. Instead of embracing the anger and frustration of the workforce in order to channel this energy into a significant strategy to oppose the Secretary of State and show him that we will not accept such demeaning and damaging alterations to our education system, the unions are playing a political power game against each other to promote their own interests and make personal professional progressions. Gove can’t believe his luck. We can read a great deal into how seriously he takes the unions through the fact that neither he, nor David Laws, sees fit to sit down with them personally.



When the National Union of Teachers went on strike in March, they did so on their own. Their allies from the previous strike had chosen to withdraw their threat of walking out as they felt Michael Gove had made reasonable concessions towards them (that is to say he agreed to meet with them to discuss the implementation of his changes and not to discuss whether the changes should actually be implemented). Many of their members supported not only the right of NUT members to strike, but also their decision to do so. Many (although admittedly not all) of those who I spoke to had iterated their desire to take strike action which was obviously impeded by Christine Keates’ (NASUWT General Secretary) decision not to allow them. I have been informed, for example, that the North West division of NASUWT unanimously voted to take strike action only to be overruled by Keates.


Now, Christine Keates is within her rights to act in such a way and withdraw from this round of industrial action if she feels that that is what she needs to do. However, her statements which were leaked to the media the evening before the strike were not only damaging, but also very revealing. It was no surprise that ministers such as David Laws were speaking out against the action, but to hear what Keates had sent her members greatly shocked me. She spoke of an NUT campaign of aggressive accusations, intimidation and suggested that the NASUWT need not feel obliged in any way to ensure that the strike action is a success. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, strongly denied any wrongdoing and accused NASUWT of game playing by announcing a free membership campaign as the NUT announced strike action. This pathetic, point-scoring immaturity goes on and on.


The unions that were once united, representing 85% of teachers in the country, now seem bitterly divided (although they would be at pains to deny this). As a result, it undermines everything they seek to achieve. People stood on the side of the road and applauded those on strike action marching through cities. On the television, the general public supported teacher’s right to take strike action. There was a general feeling that the public may just be on the teacher’s side in this dispute. Yet, as the NUT were on strike, all other unions were in the classroom delivering lessons. This completely breaks the back of any action that was taken, and the responsibility for this should be laid squarely on those in charge of ALL unions. Until they are united, their members will be divided.

Initially, there was a bitterness within me towards those who opposed the strike action, those who were members of others unions or those who were generally unable to actively support it. I spoke with colleagues and couldn’t understand their rationale. Luckily I took a moment to reflect and remembered that we actually agree on the fundamentals of what we oppose, and more importantly, what we want for education. However so long as the unions are at each other’s throats or floating along anonymously outside the main dispute, teachers will never be taken seriously and any action taken will be redundant.


In a dream world we would have only one teaching union but realistically that will never happen; so how do we win? The two Christines need to put personal rivalries and delusions of grandeur behind them. They need to find a way to sit down with all of the unions and find a way to present a united front to oppose Michael Gove and his policies. They need to find a way to show the public that their children’s education system is under serious threat. Until they do this, the unions are defeating themselves.


Secret Teacher


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