The term that tried to break me (and why it failed)

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‘Kites fly highest against the wind, not with it.’ Winston Churchill

This post has been ‘in the making’ for a while and has needed considerable reflection about what to write.  I’d like to draw you attention to the disclaimer in the right Winking smile I still think these are thoughts in progress.  They are put here as a real audience forces me to reflect deeply.  This is on of the best features of blogging.

Some may have notice the fall off in visible activity for a while.  As I explained back in December, this has partly been about allowing time to focus on the important, unsexy stuff.

It also is because the school I work in failed Ofsted in January.

There’s nothing quite like that to take the wind out of your sails especially as we have been riding high as a department for the past few years and continuing our upward trend of GCSE results.

Together with other internal changes, the future of Priory Geography as it exists now has been on thin ice, a difficult situation to contemplate after four years of often heart-breaking, soul committing, ‘head-above-the-parapet’ innovation.

However, the report is quite a positive read.

During the visit, the department carried on as normal, getting students out, being judged to deliver Good with Outstanding and Outstanding lessons and having a clear development plan.  I could rant about Ofsted, their approach and use some of the well worn arguments but I have no problem with inspection nor being held accountable, especially as we spend (mainly) tax payers money and are paid by the state.  I would say that in terms of teaching, 20 minute observations encourages teachers to focus on the one off lessons, however, it was business as usual.

For those that are yet to receive an inspection under the new 2012 framework, a few tips aimed at classroom teachers and middle leaders:

  • Get the children doing something. Don’t talk much.
  • Plan for collaborative conversations between students and independent group work.
  • Show progress over time by including levels / grades with your marking as well as targets.
  • Plan for every pupil, it’s not good enough to simply know their needs.
  • Have a development plan that tackles major priorities and is based upon data.
  • Use data to track students and plan effective interventions.

One of the most difficult aspects of the past term is being seen as inadequate (We have been there with an Inadequate Subject Inspection of geography not long after I took over).  We are not.  I suppose it’s the tarred with the same brush metaphor. 

The most important thing is what is going to happen about it?  It’s tempting to fly the nest, but I’ve never been one to move away from a challenge.  I also can’t speak for the fantastic team I work with (without whom there would be no doubt that the past term would have been almost impossible to bear instead of actually a lot of fun and simply inspiring).  I’ve also learned a lesson.  The culture of teaching has shifted in the past nine years since I started. The question of where you want to end up has been raised quite often. Personally, I want to be a headteacher. But, at the moment I enjoy working with a great team who have a shared goal.  It’s made me think:

  • I believe that the best teachers need to be where they are needed the most.  Being able to reach more children is great, but if an inspirational teacher isn’t in the classroom….;
  • That goes for leaders too;
  • Actually, there’s nothing wrong with being a teacher. And enjoying it.

I have confidence in our headteacher and his vision for the school.  I have every faith that I work with some of the most inspirational (and most difficult) young people I could come across.

Now, I wouldn’t do something silly like commit or anything, but it seems to me that the madcap, critical, left-of-field, boundary pushing me has a place.

Ofsted has also really focused my mind on what’s important and what’s not. I’ve concluded (somewhat tentatively in places), that:

  • Most off-site CPD is rubbish.  In house stuff that is linked to the curriculum, develops teacher’s skills and abilities, takes them out of their comfort zone, has a whole-school impact and is embedded is better. For example:
    • Olympic geocaching;
    • Dysarticulate;
    • Mobile Learning;
    • BBC School Report;
    • Our regional geography network for Portsmouth and surrounding areas;
    • Microsoft’s Partners in Learning;
    • Internal reflection;
    • Department meetings in coffee shops;
    • The GA Conference as a department;
    • Sharing practice with each other and beyond the department.
  • Children are important.  Our Head often says ‘let’s do it because it’s right, not just for Ofsted.’  That’s too damn right as long as we live it.
  • Change needs careful communication and coherence, especially when the pace of change has to be fast.
  • Sometimes, leaders just need to tell people what to do. Suck up the consequences and not ask for permission before doing it. 
  • Most people are up for the fight, others shy away from taking responsibility.  I have no time for the latter.
  • There is no point in being an inspirational, ground breaking department if there is no whole school reach.  In school variation is a killer.

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So, the future?  Priory Geography is a great place to work.  I still look forward to going in to work because of the young people and (most of) the adults I work with.  I know that I sing their praises often, but it’s a great place to work because of the superb team of Jo, Sam and Alec

Could I run from a situation that I could help make better?  Those that know me (who don’t call me ‘Dave’) know the answer Winking smile

Stay tuned.

4 Responses

  1. Your post is inspirational. I wish you, your department and school all the best. Too often I have come across teachers who forget why they are really there getting bogged down in paperwork and beaurocracy.

    I am not a Qualified teacher but as an occasional support teacher I have at times experienced the wonderful highs of teaching those difficult to reach children which makes working in a school worthwhile.

    Keep going you are one of these teachers your kids will remember for ever I am sure.

  2. An inspiring and passionate post David. With all you are doing at your school, it is saddening to hear that this was the conclusion made by OFSTED. That said, it is brilliant you are proud to continue striving for excellence. Love the quote at the top and would also add one my friend is always telling me – 'anyone can sail in a calm sea.' @mrlockyer

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