Week 3 of my return to teaching in a large secondary school in the UK. Some initial observations using REORDER. Click here for an explanation of this blog.
Just exactly how do you learn 1500 names ! I know all the arguments for human scale education in which the number in any learning community should be as close to the ideal 90 as possible but knowing this doesn’t help in the reality of most secondary schools. The rate at which a new teacher to a school has to pick up names, faces, back stories, strategies that work and learning journeys of individuals is astounding. Invariably, those with the most outging personalities and needs will tend to be learned first. The skill set (and memory) required for this is considerable and I have been out of training for eight years so am able to appreciate how far ahead of me my collagues are in this area. The school has a pastoral and curriculum divide in terms of leadership and those on the pastoral side are without exception, outstanding in this area of skill which could partly explain this career route.
The school has a reasonably low staff turnover and so the knowledge base on most students is rich and detailed. Tutors stay with their groups as they progress up the school and for examination subjects the teachers tend to remain constant too.
Community areas have been identified for every year group and these are largely owned by the students even when they choose to play music a little loudly this is dealt with in a highly respectful way by the staff which allows the students to retain this ownership. All have lockers and there is a breakfast club and homework club. This adds up to a strong internal sense of community with a strong positive ethos. A survey of parents conducted each year constantly raises the state of the buildings and facilities because, even though the school does an excellent job with what it has, the building stock is old and was originally designed for half the number of students.
Although there are numerous ICT devices to book out, half the lessons taking place across the school at any one time are in classes of beween 25 and 30 students and teacher led without access to ICT. This is the reality of the vast majority of schools I have visited, even those in so called 1:1 environments. I last taught in this way in the year 2000 so relearning the skills of how to do this has been a remarkable eye opener. Between 2000 and 2004 I had provided children with teacher training and they used peer learning then to deliver the curriculum so my role and that of other teachers in my ‘school’ were of learning experts with a very different and more targetted role. From 2004 to 2012, presentations to audiences of between 200 and 2000 allowed me to perfect largely lecture style techniques and in most cases, all the participants had their own devises and had chosen to be there. Innovations in this space and in online webinars required different skills to the classroom. Now faced with 30 students without the internet or text books and knowing some have very little desire to learn the particular subject content for today, I have to remind myself of a whole context which I mistaken thought I already knew but in reality had forgotten the first hand experience.
I have always been in the position of lead professional in every school I have worked in and so experiencing being the de-skilled new comer surrounded by colleagues who are bursting with strategies and recent experience is providing unexpected insight that is facinating.
The school is oversubscribed but in an a slightly above average income bracket with old buildings so overall has a level of resourcing which evens out as exactly average for state schools in the UK. Recently the UK government has been providing short term incentives to schools to become ‘Academies’ so that they can remove local control and make schools more attractive as business chains. The school has taken these incentives as most have, knowing that the first to jump will tend to recieve more. This additional funding has allowed some of the buildings to be enhanced but is not enough for any rebuilding.
Distribution of Leadership
The school has a very flat leadership structure and there are some opportunities for students to take on leadership roles. Hierarchy does not appear to be a major barrier as it is in many schools although there are still relatively few engaged in substantive leadership.
The school is data rich and there are regular checks on achievement and progress, there is an annual analysis of data and guidance for departments in how to use the data to evaluate effectiveness of strategies. This is much improved from the average use of data last time I was working within a school but still not at the level required for widespread teacher action research.
There is a commendation system at the school and the use of praise tweets. For staff the head is excellent at recognising contributions and making sure these are widely recognised. There is lots of evidence that this positive ethos has spread to other areas and students recieve recognition with gratitude.