The Demoralising Nature of Accountability

Sometimes I need to remind myself that I am a good teacher. I think of the discussions I have had with my head-teacher where she has sung my praises and spoke of my potential, the cards I have received from thankful pupils and parents for my hard work and dedication to their children, overhearing colleagues speaking positively of me in school, the feedback Ofsted gave me, the steady progress that I am making in my career, and the progression that is evident in the books.  I go through this list in my mind regularly as, all too often, the nature of accountability in school makes me seriously question my ability to teach.

I don’t wish to speak ill of my SLT. I can genuinely say that I am working under one of the most professional and competent heads in my region of the country. She is fantastic at her job and has proven time and again that she knows how to improve outcomes for pupils and help schools work to their maximum potential. The deputies and other members of the SLT are approachable, supportive and hard-working. However, the process of accountability repeatedly makes me question my ability as a practitioner.

stress

At the beginning of this year we knew that Performance Related Pay (PRP) was going to be introduced. We were all new to the process, and so when the time came I read my targets and signed the document. One of my targets was to ensure that 96% of my pupils make at least two sub-levels progress in reading, writing and maths. I now know that to set a percentage target is against the rules and I suppose I can bring this up at the end of the year, but the fact will remain that I need the vast majority of my pupils to make this progress. In fact, it means that I can only afford to have one pupil from each set fail to make two sub-levels progress this year if I wish to meet my PRP targets.

The worrying thing is that this model is unsustainable. If every pupil made two sub-levels of progress each year, I fear we would run out of levels. Pupils do not learn in this linear fashion. The fact is that during their time in school there will be times of progressional stagnation and other times when they will flourish in the most remarkable of ways. The national expectation is that a pupil should make two full levels of progress between KS1 and KS2. As such, that is 3 sub-levels every two years. As a Year 4 teacher I am going to be working in a system where pupils are on track to meet their expectations, and yet I will be held to account in a way that suggests I am failing.

At the beginning of each half term, we hold our pupil progress meetings. We go through the same usual routine. I sit down with a member of the SLT with a list of names, numbers and letters. We skip through those numbers and letters to highlight those who haven’t made ‘sufficient’ progress. We discuss what I have done to support these pupils. We discuss what I could do to further support these pupils. We agree that these pupils are my target group.  Each session I become increasingly frustrated. The pupils, an overwhelming majority of whom have already made at least ‘good’ progress in Year 3, often need a lot of consolidation when they reach me in Year 4. Sometimes I wonder where the scores for the pupils coming to me have come from, as they have such potential to create a rod for my back. What really annoys me though is the thought that I am not already doing everything I possibly can to support these pupils. I have put in place every intervention and strategy at my disposal to try to ensure they are making progress, and they ARE making progress. Maybe it isn’t enough to change a C to a B, a B to an A, or an A into the next level, but they are working incredibly hard and making progress.

This week we sat down again and the data wasn’t great. By that I mean I am struggling to get two sub-levels from my kids this year, not that they are failing to meet national expectations. However national expectations are no longer good enough, we need to be exceeding that. I found myself deeply concerned prior to the progress meeting. I knew my data wasn’t going to be seen in the most positive light. I had a restless night or two and found myself worried and agitated. My work life suffered for this, as did my relationships with those at home. Following the meeting, I felt pretty crap mentally and physically. I have been ill, though this may merely be coincidence. The fact remains, however, that I am doing all I can. The pupils are not moving and I don’t know what more I can do. I can’t invest more time or effort than I currently do, I already work a ten hour day and then take more home with me. The simple fact is that 96% of my pupils are not going to make at least two sub-levels progress this academic year. This may mean I won’t progress on the pay scale, but I am more worried about how the SLT will view this in regards to my ability as a practitioner.

I try to remind myself that the SLT have the school’s best interests at heart, but I wonder if they realise just how demoralising and detrimental the process is. Each half term I am served a reminder that my best efforts are not good enough, and that my pupils are not making sufficient progress despite the fact that they are on track to meet their individual targets. I have recently seriously questioned my ability as a practitioner. Luckily for me, I have had the right people around me who can point me towards evidence that I am a good teacher. I go back through the list in my head: head-teacher, pupils, parents, colleagues, Ofsted, books.

Maybe I am just a little too quick to beat myself up, but I wonder how many others there are out there who feel the same. I wonder if there are teachers far better than I am who question whether the classroom is the right place for them. I wonder if I opened up in the staffroom, would I be on my own in how I feel or would this be the elephant in the room. If I am to work until 68 I have over 40 years left, and though I have no plans to leave the profession, I’m not sure I can stick this for another four decades. The system has to change. I don’t really know what the answer is, but I do know we don’t get the best out of our pupils by demoralising or devaluing their teachers.

Secret Teacher

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “The Demoralising Nature of Accountability

  1. Michael March 21, 2014 at 10:11 pm Reply

    I taught in London last year. It was a great experience, I learned loads and it has made me a better teacher. I’m now back teaching in Ireland and I work at least 20 hours less a week. We don’t have levels, we don’t get observed or have anything like Ofsted but I think my teaching is actually better. I have more time to be creative and plan fun stuff with the children. I feel really sorry for teachers in England and hope some day, someone in power changes things.

    Like

  2. Downunder March 14, 2014 at 6:13 pm Reply

    I feel exactly the same. I used to live and teach in Australia, got homesick and moved back. After two years of teaching here again, I’m done! The pressure and relentless work load is just too much for me. I’m heading back to Australia at the end of the year where ofsted don’t exist and everything is a lot more laid back!

    Like

  3. Amy March 11, 2014 at 7:16 pm Reply

    I understand everything you are saying!! I have all of these feelings too!!

    Like

  4. Mairead March 11, 2014 at 8:59 am Reply

    I agree totally. I have felt all you have and more and been in ill health because of it. Outstanding reports in inspections have kept me going but so demoralised at times it has affected my overall confidence. We would never get the best out of our kids by making them feel demoralised so why do it to teachers?

    Like

  5. herecosyouare March 10, 2014 at 9:47 pm Reply

    Totally with you. I agree about the non-linear progression, and the need for change, too. There were comments earlier this year about the number of young teachers who leave the profession in their first five years. I expect this situation to only get worse if things keep going the way they are.

    Raising the numbers of the levels we give our children, and the amount they are supposed to know by the end of year six, is not the way to improve standards, in my opinion. We need to build a love of learning which will last a lifetime, not the feeling that school is a place in which your best is never good enough, for staff or for pupils. ,

    Like

  6. Beccy March 9, 2014 at 5:10 pm Reply

    The absolute reality is this situation and many others faced by teachers leads to dishonesty, even if to be fair it is done unconsciously, surely the teachers we most want to keep are the ones who are honest and deeply reflective. As well as those who are able to unpick and come up with solutions to faults in the wider school systems.

    Like

  7. bt0558 March 9, 2014 at 1:09 pm Reply

    Indeed. You should not have signed the targets to say that you agree.

    You have a head that is happy to introduce a system that makes teachers accountable for targets that cannot be met. When aggregated these targets will produce school results which will sustain the head and SLT.

    “I try to remind myself that the SLT have the school’s best interests at heart, but I wonder if they realise just how demoralising and detrimental the process is. Each half term I am served a reminder that my best efforts are not good enough, and that my pupils are not making sufficient progress despite the fact that they are on track to meet their individual targets.”

    This seems to me to be straightforward nonsense. They may say that they have the best interests of students at heart but the interests of students is not best served by having demoralised and demotivated teachers. One of the first lessons in management/leadership will contain a discussion of setting SMART objectives. While SMART is simplistic and not my favourite it does the job.Unachievable objectives will are just PR at best and bullying at worst.

    “I can genuinely say that I am working under one of the most professional and competent heads in my region of the country. She is fantastic at her job and has proven time and again that she knows how to improve outcomes for pupils and help schools work to their maximum potential. The deputies and other members of the SLT are approachable, supportive and hard-working. However, the process of accountability repeatedly makes me question my ability as a practitioner.”

    “One of the most professional and competent heads” would not be be doing this, would not be setting people up to fail and would not be making teachers accountable for the unrealistic. This is both incompetent and unprofessional.

    There are very good examples of other schools up and down the land in which the head (one of whom appears to an extraordinary leader) does not adopt this approach and achieves outstanding results by leading the staff rather than bullying them.

    I am amazed that you have so much respect for the quality of leadership. They might all be lovely people who care about student outcomes in the short term but if this sort of leadership persists for too long there will be no decent teachers left to lead.

    Not intending to be harsh to you, but the only thing that will change the situation is if teachers do not sign and be ready to leave if necessary.

    Like

  8. primaryblogger1 March 9, 2014 at 12:03 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Primary Blogging.

    Like

  9. solocontrotutti March 9, 2014 at 11:05 am Reply

    “I try to remind myself that the SLT have the school’s best interests at heart, but I wonder if they realise just how demoralising and detrimental the process is.”

    I wish colleagues would stop defending SLT and then saying things like this. It’s their job too know and implement a process that is both purposeful but also achievable..

    Like

  10. Louie March 9, 2014 at 11:01 am Reply

    You certainly aren’t alone. I feel this way even as my classes are making excellent progress.

    The system is being pushed in a direction to maximise guilt which in turn forces us to work even harder (though not necessarily better, as our relationships with children are tainted by our high stress levels).

    Well done for reminding yourself regularly that you are a good teacher, it’s a shame that the system does not make you feel that way, I’m sure the progression outcomes would be better if it did!

    Like

  11. K (@kayajs24) March 9, 2014 at 10:43 am Reply

    I’m having a similar battle in confidence over my GCSE results. Target was set by SLT, I’ll be lucky to get even close. I’ve worked very hard for my students, but some lack the motivation, some lack the skills and despite my best efforts I feel like I am yet again failing. The thought of this terrifies me, because once our SLT want a member of staff out then you can do very little to prevent it, which has happened to 3 very good friends this year.

    Like

  12. teachingbattleground March 9, 2014 at 8:24 am Reply

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

    Like

  13. littlemisswelsteadscookeryclass March 9, 2014 at 6:58 am Reply

    You are most certainly not alone. I know this feeling well!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: