When I started my career in teaching, I was encouraged to be creative and experiment. I loved that freedom and I think it helped to make me a good teacher. I got used to reading around my subject and trying out different ideas. I made some mistakes, but I was always thinking, always learning, always trying to do better with my students. I got good results. I enjoyed my work.
Contrast that with the situation I and many of my colleagues face today. My job and so much of what happens in my classroom is being controlled and my teaching hindered by excessive micromanagement. My school has a headteacher, two deputy heads and 12 assistant headteachers. Large numbers like this aren’t unusual – such appointments seem to be an increasingly common way to retain staff who have their sights set on the leadership team.
The result? There are just too many chiefs telling us what to do. Almost every year there’s a new marking policy, a new assessment policy, and a new homework policy. Our school has posters in every classroom outlining what should happen in each lesson, in every subject.
One minute we’re told that assessments must be done on paper, the next we’re told to use books. Schemes of learning that worked so well last year have been abandoned for the new (untested) curriculum. Mixed-ability classes were introduced and then – after much upheaval – scrapped.
We have endless inspections by senior leaders. The visitor will check that the learning objectives are on the board and in students’ books, that the date is written in full and underlined, that students know their “working at” grade and target grade. They’ll collect a sample of exercise books, often without notice, to check past lessons.
The management team argue it’s about raising standards. But we teachers are so focused on making sure everything looks good from the outside that we sometimes lose sight of what we’re really there for. Who’s our audience? The students or school leaders?