Listen, really listen, to our teachers. Our schools’ accountability systems need urgent change.

Wilshaw and Adonis. Listen, really listen. The writing’s on the wall.
Image by Couleur from Pixabay

This week, I invited staff and parents to share their experiences and thoughts about the lockdown. I wanted to get an idea of how our school community (parents and staff) were doing and how they were finding the new normal. Was there enough learning being set? Can children access the tasks? How much time are our children/teachers spending each day on ‘school stuff’. The responses floored me. Both questionnaires echoed the same themes, but in light of disparaging tweets from MPs and Ofsted leaders, not to mention the answers I was seeking, I will concentrate on responses from our staff body. The learning is clear.

The responses floored me. When this happens, I know that a significant realisation is on the horizon, if I can bear the discomfort. I purposely designed the staff questionnaire to allow for qualitative responses so I could gain a sense of what was going on, even though it was ‘accountability’ that drove it. What was the response to this questionnaire really saying?

We have become hard-wired to justify our existence.

The most frequent and immediate theme in the responses was a sense of needing to justify our existence. It has become hardwired. Despite enormous pressures and disparity in our teachers’ home lives, there is a societal expectation that school’s prove they are earning their crust. Teachers have internalised this. It is the thing they mentioned the most. I have internalised this as a leader. It’s not only inhumane, but it’s also contrary to a long term improving system.

I asked them to describe any concerns:

I need to be disciplined- regular breaks from the screen and try not to overcompensate for the fact that I am working from home. (Guilt complex)

…the idea that we must ‘earn’ our salaries, despite national lockdown.

Worrying about justifying my time as I know tasks are taking me a bit longer than normal.

Worry I’m not doing enough CPD.

I am physically and emotionally drained. I am not sleeping well- and if I am honest- my thoughts tend to be school related.

I am hopeful that what we have learned during this time we can implement into changes needed in our society. I hope Trusts recognise the pressures on their staff and prioritise fairly what is needed to move forward.

Physically, I’m obviously not working what I was before, but mentally it feels much more than previously – the year I was having, that’s significant!

I feel that I am trying to keep everything spinning but don’t feel like I can do it all, all of the time. I am trying different ways of structuring my day to manage but this is trial and error! This week I am trying to work around the kids rather than the other way round but I have this guilt that I am not responding to a comment on google classrooms immediately.

You can feel their sense of guilt, despite doing their best, despite not having the right technology, despite trying to juggle the needs of their own families, despite a global emergency.

Seriously – we spend more time justifying what we do, than doing it. This is emotional load. There are reverberations in the public discourse calling for a change to our current accountability systems. If the government wants to retain educators, this has the substantial potential to make a change. We seem, despite the overwhelming evidence in successful countries who do not have external moderation bodies, reluctant to remove Ofsted. Surely schools would go down the pan without a whip at their backsides? On to my next point…

Schools are committed to the flourishing of children and families.

The second most prevalent worry? For their children. Teachers understand how important education is for helping individuals and communities to transform their lives. Despite the brilliant discovery of Google Classrooms, not all of our children are engaging. We know that this is down to a multitude of reasons – and our teachers are worried about this. Their responses also show ways they have creatively devised to change this: from personal phone calls, doorstep visits with resources (including food), coaching parents to teach, daft videos – loads of things. They are tenacious about building connection for the good of our children and ensuring they stay motivated and learning.

Been getting nightmares over the past week. No idea why. Worry about how children and families are coping

I had an epiphany, very early one Sunday morning… I didn’t know why I was so unsettled. I was restless about the children and their circumstances. After sending, what I hoped was received as, heartfelt emails to reassure parents I have felt calmer and have enjoyed the wonderful learning experiences that some of our children are having at home. By sharing these, via Google slides, I’m hoping more engage and maximise the potential of the situation we are in.

I do worry for the mental health around parents and children coming back to school. As some may not have left their houses. I would hope we can offer extra support for those parents and children when we do get back. I have the constant worry about my parents, how they are coping. Some conversations can be upsetting as some parents are anxious and upset. I have to remind myself that I can’t change it I can only help them through it by being there for them.

We need children to retain what they’ve already mastered. I also feel the pressure as a parent. I don’t want to overload my class’ parents but I also feel that if they want my guidance, I can give it. Also, I’m trying to coach my parents to teach their children. It makes me overthink every upload. I’m not just sending a worksheet and saying ‘do more of this’

Frustrated that children don’t respond to learning set. this is as a class and the individual child i set work for. Its hard to get over the thinking that it is all pointless, especially when i was so excited i could set learning and couldn’t wait to hear back from him.

As someone who has always tried her best to engage her class, I’m struggling to not take it personally that so few of the children are actively engaging in what I’ve set up for them – especially when I had to work through teaching myself how to teach in a whole new manner and style. I know it’s not, but it feels like a personal rejection. I know there’s nothing I can do about it, but that knowledge isn’t enough to satisfy my reactions. I also miss my class more than I thought I would.

They are concerned about our families’ wellbeing – including their own. Family circumstances are disparate, as are the personal lives of our teachers. Reading their comments about the concerns and worries they have on a personal level brought me to tears. I’m not the gushy type – this is significant. A one size fits all expectation of school provision is ridiculous – if it was ever sane, now I think of it.

Our educators are criticised for being ‘oppositional’. Moaning minnies seeking an easy life, substantial pay and stacks of holiday. (Pffft). In the questionnaire, I asked our staff for three words that described their current situation. A second humbling took place. There was almost an equal balance between the positive and negative. The emotional intelligence and resilience of our teachers is glorious.

Glorious and to be celebrated.

In my teaching career, I have worked in a range of schools in every Ofsted category. I have championed Ofsted and have found the inspection process useful in the past. I was even a fan of Michael Gove at one point – at times, some schools have needed a kick up the arse. (Lynch mobs, please form an orderly queue).

I don’t think like that anymore.

Ofsted, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, Members of Parliament, Department for Education – I implore you to scrutinise the underlying, unquestioned and prevalent beliefs about our schools and take an honest evaluation of your accountability systems and processes for their effectiveness and morality.

There has to be a better way.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Bill

    Hi Shelley,
    Good to hear your staffs’ emotions and fears together with your voice of sanity. I hope you and your family are well. I often think about September when I cycle up Looe Hill.
    Keep Safe,
    Kindest regards,
    Bill

  2. sacredtinnedpears

    Thank you 🙂

    I’m looking forward to it. September, that is, not (never ever) cycling up Looe Hill!

    Keep safe,
    Shelley

Leave a Reply