This graphic summarizes the day’s learning at the Chartered College of Teaching National Conference in Bishopsgate. Hopefully we will get the presentations made available to us later on. We have heard from Daisy Christadoulou on comparative judgments in assessment, from Lucy Rose on creating schools that allow flexibility in teacher working and from a panel of teachers led by Prof Tim O’Brien on teacher workload and wellbeing. All of this was good, absorbing and challenging. Much of my thinking has been remodelled as a result and I have gained confidence to implement policy and approach that I did not have beforehand. What has been really noticeable is the level of committed positive engagement shown by everyone. This has been a direct result of holding the day on a Saturday in half term. Only the interested, engaged and committed turn up. Having said that, there are about 300 here out of a 10,000 membership, and I wonder if the venue is too small.

The afternoon was less convincing, I thought, and in general, there was a breadth to the conference that exclude depth. The Twitter feed is uniformly enthusiastic about everything, as you would expect, but I have not sensed the authority of the profession in the same way that their joy and enthusiasm is clearly present. The exception has been the amazing Abed Ahmed, a young maths teacher, telling young people, and us, to stammer with confidence. This was moving in all sorts of ways, and being an affirmation of being rooted in the people we are, helped us own our selves, rather than any techniques we rely on to teach, as the focus of our calling.

Like all conferences, there were dead moments that failed to instruct or inspire, but as an opportunity to receive legitimate challenge as a school leader, to hear again the voice of teachers, to reflect on practice and grow in considered wisdom, it has been worth coming. Important learning and questions that have emerged have been:

  • Open tasks cannot be assessed by closed rubrics. This has big implications for the use of the interim frameworks for assessing writing, which have some general use, but which wrongly assess the quality of children’s work, mistaking quality for compliance to the framework. Instead, comparative judgment of work, whether in assessing writing or other subjects, will produce a more reliable, faster result. Chasing the rubric is not always a good idea. We need to give children open tasks with holistic judgments. This means that we will move to a comparative judgment approach as soon as we can, and get exploring it in the SLT this year. It is clearly the way that the wind is blowing, and has the NAHT backing.
  • How do we normalise flexible working practices? We have not done this well as a school, and by being really clear in our expectations of part time staff, we can improve their contribution to school life. The evidence for the impact of flexible working is well established, and Lucy demonstrated ways in which legitimate obstacles (and just plain old myths) could be tackled. A project developing the thinking around this is the MTPT Project. The contention is that if schools are family-friendly, they tend to be everyone-friendly. A number of actions for me flow from this, principally in the area of not being clear about expectations and provision right at the start. This form might be a start, that we could both use as a self-assessment and as a contribution to research.
  • What are the components of teacher wellbeing that we can actually help or change as a school – without being tokenistic as a leadership team? For those of us who place our own wellbeing quite low on the scale and just keep working, we have to be forced to think about these things! However, Tim O’Brien outlined some of the key factors we need to take into account in determining whether there is a specific “teacher wellbeing” as opposed to any other kind of wellbeing. He identified three prime factors that impact together to create a specific difficulty that is driving well-motivated people out of the profession, some intrinsic, others extrinsic:
    • The emotional labour of being a teacher is both intense and underestimated by those in and out of the profession: we have essentially a parenting role for a class with all the emotional baggage that entails.
    • We have endured enforced change, without consultation, for decades. This has had the impact of flattening out expectations, taking away teacher agency and reducing autonomy, as school leaders have had to move the ship to get everyone facing the same direction – again!
    • Hyper-accountability, fuelled by UPNs and things like Fischer Family Trust, that restrict autonomy of teachers and schools within a system that is trying to be (despite its protestations) more monochrome.
  • To help us with these, a number of teachers who have been part of the CCT’s Teacher Wellbeing Programme (notable contributions from Alison Rooney at Furze Down School in Winslow, and Ceri Hathaway from Brooklands Primary in Long Eaton) were give the opportunity to share their solutions. Some things that have actually worked have been:
    • Replace teacher observations with lesson study, where teachers work with each other to hold one another accountable (with no pay issues attached!) and to learn from each other;
    • Increasing opportunity for teachers to do PPA at home or offsite;
    • Remodelling the staffroom so it is only a place for relaxation and not a place for work at all
    • Lots of other ideas, variously scattered across #ConnectCCT18

There were plenty of other things today that really began to help my thinking where it has got traditional or just unattended to. Hopefully some of these things will get into the life of the school, despite the pressures of a LA review (coming up 1/12 March) and OFSTED lying in wait….

(Written 17/2; published 18/2)



About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher by profession, now working as an educational researcher, in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011. My work looks to make education effective for the whole child and keeps a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, amateur printmaker, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for children. The views on this blog are all my own.

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