Falling In and Out of Love with English Education

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What can teachers learn from each other?

I have just completed 8,000 miles in two weeks, visiting schools and working with teachers in Jordan, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Peterborough. One thousand teachers across eight schools in 10 separate training days.

Here is a snapshot of the lessons I’ve learned from visiting schools – what I’ve seen and heard – on my travels.

250 teachers in Jordan …

In corridor conversations (in and amongst the delicious food), I met one teacher who has been living and working in Jordan for 24 years. In an international context, for teachers in England who ‘fall out of love with English education’, working in a profit or non-profit organization can see your classroom resources increase two-fold.

Despite the pressures of teaching, working overseas offers a happier balance. A better lifestyle is attainable – including tax breaks. Support staff are also thriving, with bursaries for masters degrees and 100 per cent free school fees!

75 teachers in Hampshire …

In this small school (island) community, teachers are working with pupils who may struggle with having high or finding a relevant role model. Lacking support from the local authority, and under new leadership, this school is doing everything it can raise aspirations for pupils. From classroom decor and furniture to talking about teaching and new policies; Sometimes all it takes is a great leader to lift community spirits and transform the culture of its staff.

75 teachers in Herefordshire …

I’ve never taught in a rural community, but despite the surrounding hills, an orchard, allotment and farm tractors, working in any school across the UK present the same challenges as any other school. In rural schools, admissions, financial stability and viability are a genuine concern.

In this context, a school may place more importance on staffing rather than the latest IT gadgets. If there is a lack of community resources (eg transport, shopping, roads, births, death), it makes it difficult for a school to thrive.

600 teachers in Lancashire …

Close to the M6, this large further education college supports over 5,000 students.

With over 600+ staff, this college is large, well-resourced and provides students with a wide range of subjects. From maths and English to hairdressing, engineering and Level 1 Caring for Children, our English colleges provide specific and specialist courses to enable all of our young people to pursue their dreams.

In this context, the challenge was for the teaching staff to become ‘research literate’ and use our training day to support their professional practice for the year ahead. The new teaching and learning team have got the willpower and resources to start facilitating conversations about teaching.

100 teachers in Northamptonshire …

In a local multi-academy trust, early career teachers have gathered to spend an external day away from the ‘day job’ to reflect and refine their early practice. The benefits of a trust and local authority organising events such as this ensure professional development is relevant, properly funded and inspires teachers to take action.

When teacher CPD builds knowledge, motivates teachers, helps develop teaching techniques and leads to embedding practice, great things can happen.

35 teachers in Oxfordshire …

In this setting, I came across an organization that was a ‘first’ for me.

An international sixth form boarding college. Over one hundred 16-18-year-olds; international students from overseas – no British students – studying the international baccalaureate. The teaching staff were ‘day teachers’ with the pastoral teaching staff taking over during the evenings to safeguard the students living on site.

100 teachers in Peterborough …

Teachers working in the context are facing a significant challenge. Despite a beautiful new building and extensive sports grounds, this school is battling ‘local reputation’ and other new start-up schools. The teaching staff has seen quite a change in leadership and procedure, and prior to the pandemic, were battling a negative Progress 8 score.

The teaching staff are doing no different to any other teachers. Rather, it is the context in which they work, that makes traditional forms of success more difficult to achieve.

75 teachers in Shrewsbury …

In this independent primary context, classrooms and school grounds were phenomenal! In the heart of Shrewsbury, a school with 330 students thrive on abundant resources and an increasing pupil population. However, despite the glitz, the challenges are exactly the same, with some ideas of assessment and feedback heavily outdated.

The result? Teachers may be ‘pushed’ into various methods to appease parents who are choosing to pay more for education. One suggestion that I’ve yet to see any independent school take on, is how to reform lengthy school reports.

Finally…

We know teaching is tough. We also know teachers should be paid more, and the hours are long, but these are not the reasons why teachers join the profession. For those who don’t teach, teaching is a vocation: a calling or a sense of purpose.

Carol Shrewsbury

On my travels, I’ve met thousands of teachers. Most reach 5-15 years in the classroom, but few exceed 25 or 30 years of teaching. Imagine my surprise when I met Carol this week and discovered that she started teaching at 21 years old, and 53 years later, she is still working with pupils!

What an achievement! Against various local and government pressures, there is a place in education for all teachers to find something they love doing.

If you are unhappy in your school, take a brave step and try something new. I can reassure you, it’s a big world out there where all of us can fall in and out of love with English education.

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