No budget? No problem

A fellow teacher was tasked with organizing a series of events for World Book Day.

The budget? £0

This struck me as completely unreasonable. How could the school expect something impressive and yet offer no financial support? Yet it is hard to blame SLT. The school's financial position is dire and they have a responsibility to mind the pennies.

This teacher has pulled it off. There's an author coming in, there's a book swap event, an opportunity for students to create their own bookmarks and much more.

I don't tell this story to suggest that the cuts won't hurt. There are parts of education where the loss of money will be felt and students will suffer. This story, however, is a wonderful example of someone who was not dissuaded and who focused on what could be achieved. It would have been easy for him to decide the task was unworkable. Instead, he made it work and students are going to gain.

Inspiring what you can do with nothing.

The Poetry Surprise

I was expecting it to be a disaster.

Bottom set Year 10 and Romantic Poetry did not seem likely to mix well. The early responses were not good.

"Why do we need to look at this? I'm not going to be a poet when I'm older."
or, more simply,
"This is bullshit"

Yet they are enjoying themselves. They like the puzzle of teasing out a poem's meanings. They enjoy picking out the different techniques. Some are even starting to appreciate the imagery.

It turns out these students aren't close-minded. I was close to making the mistake of deciding that they wouldn't "get" poetry before I'd given them a chance. I tried to come up with fun ways into the poems and they surprised me by actually giving it a go.

Technology working and not working

A year ago, no-one at my school know what an eportal was.

Now they are at the centre of the school's behaviour policy. Eportal is a web system that tracks student behaviour. A student does something good and they get a positive eportal. A student does something bad and they get a negative eportal. Simple.

It's a fine example of new techonology improving things. Previously, behaviour was logged haphazardly, in different ways by different teachers or, in many cases, not at all. This easy-to-use system has vastly improved the way students' progress is tracked. A form tutor or head of year need only glance at a student's eportal profile to see all their eportals, each accompanied by a short report. Parents have also been very impressed by how comprehensive a picture the system provides.

It hasn't, however, been all good. Eportal also contains an alerts page. It is meant to be an easy way of giving staff useful information. For example, an alert can be issued if a student is being sent home for illness and their teachers will see it. The alerts page has, however, become an excellent way of passing the buck.

Here are few recent entries:

“Y10 students seen smoking outside the gym.”

“Y11 students running around corridors during break.”

"Students throwing litter in playground."

Teachers put these alerts up and then put their feet up, pleased that they have “responded” to the trouble. As a rule, most teacher then read the alerts, shake their head and do nothing. Logging an alert has become a useless substitute for action

The lesson? New technology may be very exciting but it only actually helps if you work out its correct role.

The thin line between ambitious and ridiculous

In the eyes of others, all my department's hard work is reduced to the number of students who get a C in their English GCSE.

The percentage of students securing at least 5 A-Cs (including Maths and English) is crucial in determining the school's standing in the league tables. A drop or even just a lack of progress will hit the number of applications. And Ofsted will be upset.

Our Headteacher has been set stern targets for this year and teachers are grumbling. The general view is that he's picking these numbers without any understanding of reality.

There is a tricky balance here. For targets to be meaningful and motivational, they have to be achievable. Yet there is also a need for ambition. If your notion of achievable is based on what has been done before then the school won't get any better. There is scope for being bold. Staff will inevitably feel pushed and under pressure; I'm afraid that's sort of the point.

Your homework is . . . nothing

I read a piece of research the other day that confirmed something I'd long thought.

It was a meta-study looking at the factors which impact on attainment. Bottom of the list was the setting of regular homework. This came as no suprise to me. I've long seen the setting of homework as an exercise in futility.

I do think there's something to be said for reading homework (planning a post on this sometime soon). Written homework, however, never works. A couple of students do it well. The same students who really didn't need to do any extra work. Most rush off something very poor. A good number don't do it, setting off a tedious cycle of sanctions to get the work done, inevitably to a poor standard. At the end of the process, a lot of effort has been expended and some paper filled but very little gained.

If students are taught well, there isn't much need for them to be taking written work home. Most teachers are setting it out of tradition rather than for any particular aim.

How not to allocate scarce resources

A personalised timetable is one of those cunning euphemisms that education specialises in.

For the uninitiated, it gives a sense of a learning being carefully designed to meet the needs of students. In reality, it's a way of schools being able to keep on roll students who they haven't been able to expel.

Students who get personalised timetables are those who've proved themselves so disruptive that the school decides they can't be kept in normal lessons. A personalised timetable has fewer lessons than a normal one. The school is pretty pleased about this as it keeps these kids off-site for much of the time. Someone else's issue.

They are, however, entitled to tuition in all of the core subjects. Our English department is therefore obliged to provide every member of this dream team with 1-1 tuition for two days each week.

So whereas the brightest and most determined students struggle to get the help and support they patently deserve, we offer it to those who have shown zero interest in their education. It's unproductive and it's unfair.