We can rebuild it

As I write this, I note that Dr Rebecca Allen’s Caroline Benn memorial speech on teacher workload has received 60 Retweets and 107 Likes on Twitter. If you haven’t read it, do. Even if you are overburdened with your own workload.

Citing DiMaggio and Powell, Allen explains the isomorphic pressures which have resulted in schools becoming more alike, and how this has contributed to increased expectations on teachers. She points two fingers: one at reforms of Ofsted; the other at increased school funding under Labour. These are classic cases of unintended consequences, for I recall the little cheers we uttered when we heard the inspectors would come in smaller teams, and when we realized for once that we had a government that believed in investing in public services.

What went wrong?

Smaller teams and shorter notice meant that headteachers became a sort of chief inspector-in-residence. Schools engaged in continuous self-evaluation, so that they would be in a permanent state of Ofsted readiness. Heads looked across their boroughs at other schools to see how they had survived inspection, and concluded that they must do the same. They already had data on summative outcomes for pupils, and they already had a box full of policies, but – when asked to describe the quality of teaching and learning – how could they do that? They did what we often do when stuck for an answer for quality: they reached for quantity. They increased the frequency of data drops, the amount of marking, the numbers of boxes to be ticked on a lesson plan. They did this (I stress), not because they were bad people, but because they were good people being asked to do something they could not do. How many outstanding teachers do you have? What is the proportion of outstanding lessons taught in your school? These are Alice in Wonderland questions, particularly when we agree that we have not agreed on what outstanding actually is.

If ‘small Ofsted / big SEF’ was the cause of the change, a rapid increase in schools’ spending was the means, says Allen. Leadership teams mushroomed, and rather than let their hands be idle they were put to work on gathering, sifting and analysing all this data, inventing interventions and trackers to shift the data, and creating performance management systems  to hold staff to account for the data they had themselves fed in. This part of Allen’s speech makes for uncomfortable reading for some of us: this is the part that Ofsted did not force on us, the part we (i.e. those of us who were SLT) inflicted on ourselves (i.e. those of us teaching the lessons). How often did I demand information from colleagues in a certain format, by a strict deadline, for a purpose clear only to myself? How often did I conduct learning walks from which I learned little, and after which I shared even less? How many weights did I add to the wrong side of the work/life scales?

I don’t think Allen mentioned it, but I would point a finger at a third culprit here: analytics technology. We can now know how many homeworks the music teacher set last term, and at what point in the week year 11 students are more likely to access it online. We can now identify eight different types of disruptive behavior, and say which ones are favoured by the white boys, or the Greek girls, or the summer-born. We can now measure the rate of progress of every child, in every year, in every subject at any point in time. We can because, as with the Six Million Dollar Man, ‘we have the technology’. And, because we can, we must. And, because we do, we also have to do something with all the data we collect. We have to address the underperformance of the music teacher not setting the right amount of homework, and of all of those teachers (that is all of them) who have students not making the progress the flight path demands. We have to – we tell ourselves – because, if we have this knowledge and do nothing about it, we are letting down the students, the school and the profession.

bionic woman 3

We can rebuild it. Allen makes her own important suggestions about slowing the rate of curriculum change and rethinking teacher contracts. I make my own. With Amanda Spielman in charge, Ofsted have made many encouraging noises about investigating the consequences of their existence – the messages they communicate to schools about the sorts of things they ought to prioritise, for example. Justine Greening at the DfE has published excellent guidance on increasing flexible working. These follow reports and the poster on reducing teacher workload. I cannot fault this messaging, and I note also that the Department is tendering for bids through the Teaching and Leadership Innovation Fund to address workload. They recognise the problem, but I am not sure they yet recognise the causes of the problem. These are undoubtedly the twin devils of external and internal accountability. We can address the inadvertent pressures school leaders apply to their staffs, and we can congratulate those who are ‘brave’ enough to run their schools as if Ofsted were not there. But, so long as Ofsted is there, there is a limit to how far that courage can take us. I doubt we will ever arrive at the day when the top line of an inspection report reads: ‘This is a great school because it ignores everything we say.’ School leaders do load too much on the backs of teachers, but they do so because of the load which is on them. Ofsted, were it to follow its own logic, would not just stop grading individual lessons: they would stop grading schools. Then, perhaps, schools could get back to the business for which they were built.



Digital natives still need teachers

Digital Natives

Whether as enthusiastic natives or reluctant luddites, we all inhabit a digital world. A teacher will be woken by her phone. Over breakfast a smartphone app will remind her that she is to collect homework today, to be uploaded to cloud storage. She has exchanged lesson ideas with colleagues online and jazzed up lesson four with video clips downloaded from the internet. Every afternoon she places her lessons on the school’s VLE, so her students can access them from home. Before she goes home she updates her students’ progress on the data tracking system; it informs her that her summer-born students are falling behind. That evening she joins a discussion on that topic on Twitter and finds a link to an academic paper. Before she goes to sleep she thinks to add the link for the benefit of others in her online research community. One hopes she has remembered to switch all her devices to flight mode as she turns off her light.

She knows her students will not have done. The media look under the bed covers and find teenagers messaging other teenagers, sharing files and photos, trading insults and not sleeping. Before breakfast (if he eats breakfast) on of them will already have played a computer game with his online friends and earned credits for the next level. The homework app on his phone pings. That’s fine because the thirty minute bus ride is long enough for him to find, cut and paste a nearly relevant article and submit it to his class’s secure storage area. He will sit at the back of his classroom, shielding his eyes from the sun, unable to make out the content on the interactive whiteboard. He prefers his art teacher, who lets him listen to the music he has streamed to his phone.


The above picture will not be recognized by everyone. Technology, and how teachers and students interact with it, is subject to much variability. It is a matter of space and time. There are countries, then there are jurisdictions within countries, then schools within those, and classrooms within schools, all using technology to varying extents and evolving all the while.

Different school leaders have made different decisions. Often with dedicated external funding, some schools have invested heavily in hardware, software and staff training. In 2010 the UK’s Home Access Grant made 270,000 grants to low income families in England to buy laptops with internet access. In 2014, ‘The Year of Code’, the UK government supported the training of teachers in coding with £500,000 of match funding, to coincide with its introduction to the national curriculum (apparently the first G20 country to do so). There are online solutions for everything from recording classroom observations to awarding student incentives, from teachers’ annual appraisal to staff recruitment. There is plenty available. What is in shorter supply is evidence that any of it makes much difference.

A summary of the debate: the impact of technology use in schools

Nesta, the innovation charity, reported that UK schools had spent more than £1 billion in the five years to 2012 on digital technology. ‘The education sector has invested heavily in digital technology; but this investment has not yet resulted in the radical improvements to learning experiences or educational attainment.’ (Luckin et al. 2012, p.8). Higgins et al (2012) conducted their meta-analysis of forty years of research evidence for the impact of technology in the UK and internationally, saying it ‘consistently identifies positive benefits.’ (Higgins et al. 2012, p.3) However, studies linking ‘the provision and use of technology with attainment tend to find consistent but small positive associations with educational outcomes.’ (Higgins et al. 2012, p.3). And the studies do not find a causal link.

“It seems probable that more effective schools and teachers are more likely to use digital technologies effectively than other schools. We need to know more about where and how it is used to greatest effect, then investigate to see if this information can be used to help improve learning in other contexts. We do not know if it is the use of technology that is making the difference.” (Higgins et al. 2012, p.3)

Higgins et al state that interventions using technology aimed at improvements in student attainment are slightly less effective than other non-technology-based approaches, such as peer tutoring and effective feedback. The authors acknowledge the difficulties in understanding and applying the research evidence, given the rapidly changing nature of the technology and the conflicting need to wait to see the evidence emerging. Nevertheless they conclude that ‘it is not whether technology is used (or not) which makes the difference, but how well the technology is used to support teaching and learning.’ (Higgins et al. 2012, p.3)

It is all down to the teaching. This is a more measured response to the claims made by Bennett and colleagues that ‘a sense of impending crisis pervades the debate.’ (Bennett et al. 2008, p.1) They refer to the ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ first encountered by Marc Prensky.

“…these young people are said to have been immersed in technology all their lives, imbuing them with sophisticated technological skills and learning preferences for which traditional education is unprepared. Grand claims are being made about the nature of this generational change and about the urgent necessity for educational reform in response.” (Bennett et al. 2008, p.1)

They note that the debate – about how students may learn differently in the twenty-first century – is poorly-informed by research or theory, and amounts to a ‘moral panic’.


Bennett et al could have been writing about the reporting of a study commissioned by the security software firm Kaspersky Lab. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a company engaged in cybersecurity, they maintain that ‘[d]igital technologies are not just transforming the way we live and work; they are changing the way we think, learn, behave – and remember.’ (The rise and impact of digital amnesia 2015, p.4) This was translated by BBC online into ‘Digital dependence “eroding human memory”’ (Coughlan 2015). The Kaspersky study – of 6000 adults in UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Benelux countries, conducted by Opinion Matters – investigated the growing tendency among adults to search online before attempting to recall information. Adults in the UK were least likely to recall their partner’s phone number, with the (presumably more romantic) Italians being most mindful. ‘Moral panic’ might be an apt term too for Paul Kirschner (2015). The Distinguished Professor from the Open University of the Netherlands notes the shallow information processing of those who read intensively online, how the nonlinearity of hyperlinked text requires ‘extra non-productive cognitive effort’, reducing ‘the cognitive resources available to the reader for deep learning and efficient memory consolidation’. He continues:

“In other words, there might really be the case that the result of this digital immersion is that how these children think and process information makes it difficult for them to excel academically, but NOT because of outdated teaching methods in schools but rather due to the possible changes in their brain functioning that impede learning.” (Author’s italics) (Kirschner, 2015)

Kirschner blames the text-type; the OECD thinks it lies in the teaching. Their 2015 report found that countries’ PISA rankings for reading, mathematics and science were impervious to heavy spending on technology for education. The digital divide will be better crossed when every child reaches a basic proficiency in reading and maths; access to high-tech equipment is not the issue. More is not better.

“Overall, students who use computers moderately at school tend to have somewhat better learning outcomes than students who use computers rarely. But students who use computers very frequently at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.” (Students, Computers and Learning 2015)

OECD education director Andreas Schleicher (2015) and Luckin et al. (2012) both make similar points about the continuing role of the teacher. Schleicher, offering his analysis of the OECD report cited above, says that one interpretation is that:

“…schools have not yet become good enough at the kind of pedagogies that make the most of technology; that adding 21st Century technologies to 20th Century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching. If students use smartphones to copy and paste prefabricated answers to questions, it is unlikely to help them become smarter. Educators who want to ensure that students become smarter than a smartphone need to think harder about the pedagogies they are using to teach them.” (Schleicher 2015)

Luckin and colleagues (2012) predict that the digital devices will keep flowing into schools and homes, but, after all the money that has been spent, we need to ‘make better use of what we’ve got’. They argue:

“We need to change the mindset amongst teachers and learners: from a ‘plug and play’ approach where digital tools are used, often in isolation, for a single learning activity; to one of ‘think and link’ where those tools are used in conjunction with other resources where appropriate, for a variety of learning activities. Teachers have always been highly creative, creating a wide range of resources for learners. As new technologies become increasingly prevalent, they will increasingly need to be able to digitally ‘stick and glue’.” (Luckin et al. 2012, p.62)

As Higgins and colleagues remind us: ‘It is …the pedagogy of the application of technology in the classroom which is important: the how rather than the what. This is the crucial lesson emerging from the research.’ (Higgins et al. 2012, p.3)

Future direction of technology use

As Schleicher (2015) says, ‘Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge.’  It seems a safe prediction that access to technology will expand, even if the concomitant improvements in knowledge remain disappointing. Not everyone is pessimistic about the prospects, however. One might expect the chief marketing officer of an LMS to espouse the joys of hypertext. Renny Monaghan claims:

“…teachers and administrators have begun to embrace the idea of creating a personalized learning experience for students. Instead of teaching a subject at one speed to an entire class, technology allows us to reach students individually at a speed and pace that’s right for them, and then scale that experience as appropriate.” (Monaghan 2015)

She envisages a ‘real-time analytics’, drawing down student data from ‘the full learning ecosystem’, allowing adjustments to be made at the level of the individual. This might be termed ‘the small curriculum’, where teaching can be truly personalised in classrooms – or anywhere else the learning management system can penetrate. It consorts with ‘big data’: the mining of huge sets of data (such as England’s National Pupil Database) for nuggets of new knowledge of ‘what works’ in schools. This calls to mind Higgins’ six myths:

Myth 1: New technologies are being developed all of the time; the past history of the impact of technology is irrelevant to what we have now or will be available tomorrow.

Myth 2: Today’s children are digital natives and the ‘net’ generation – they learn differently from older people.

Myth 3: Learning has changed now we have access to knowledge through the internet. Today’s children don’t need to know stuff, they just need to know where to find it.

Myth 4: Students are motivated by technology so they must learn better when they use it.

Myth 5: The Everest Fallacy: we must use technology because it is there!

Myth 6: The ‘More is Better’ Fallacy.  (Higgins et al. 2012, p. 20-21)


His list is perhaps the product of a mind unencumbered by the need to market what he writes about.

Alongside Higgins’ six myths might sit Luckin et al’s ‘two key errors’. These frequently occur when trying to make gains in education from technology.

“Collectively, they have put the technology above teaching and excitement above evidence. [Original emphasis.] This means they have spent more time, effort and money looking to find the digital silver bullet that will transform learning than they have into evolving teaching practice to make the most of technology. If we are to make progress we need to clarify the nature of the goal we want to satisfy through future innovation.” (Luckin et al. 2012, p.64)


Digital technology is all around us. It is convenient, ever-present and often designed in formats which are engaging to the point of addiction. It pervades our schools, from its security systems to its timetables. It connects every member to the school community, and it connects the school to the wider educational community beyond. It is expensive but it is making a difference, at least a little; or at least where technology is being used in moderation there are moderate gains. There may be losses too, as young people, trying to cope with the interruptions in digital texts (and the interruptions from their other devices), fail to learn deeply or even to commit things to memory at all. So, teachers still matter. With some concerted professional development in ways to align the technology to genuine learning goals, teachers could make an even greater difference.


A version of this blogpost originally appeared in Earley, P. and T. Greany (2017) ‘School Leadership and Education System Reform’, Bloomsbury.





Bennett, S., K. Maton, L. Kervin (2008), ‘The “digital natives” debate: A critical review of the evidence’, British Journal of Educational Technology, 39 (5).

Berry, J. (2015), ‘Using social networking for professional development’, Professional Development Today 17 (2), 60-64

Coughlan, S. (2015),‘Digital dependence “eroding human memory”’ BBC Education & Family. Available from <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-34454264> [9 October 2015].

Higgins, S., Z. Xiao and M. Katsipataki (2012) ‘The Impact of Digital Technology on Learning: A Summary for the Educational Endowment Foundation’, Durham University. Available from <https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/The_Impact_of_Digital_Technologies_on_Learning_(2012).pdf> [14 November 2015].

Kirschner, P. (2015), ‘The Disturbing Facts about Digital Natives’.  20 October. Paul Kirschner: Blog. Available from <http://portal.ou.nl/nl/web/pki/blog/-/blogs/the-disturbing-facts-about-digital-natives> [14 November 2015].

Luckin, R., B. Bligh, A. Manches, S. Ainsworth, C. Crook and R. Noss (2012) ‘Decoding Learning: The Proof, Promise and Potential of Digital Education’, Nesta. Available from <http://nesta.org.uk/publications/decoding-learning> [14 November 2015].

Monaghan, R. (2015), ‘Education Technology is Nothing – without People’, EdTech Digest, 17 August. Available from <https://edtechdigest.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/education-technology-is-nothing-without-people/> [14 November 2015].

OECD (2015), Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection, PISA, OECD Publishing.

Schleicher, A. (2015), ‘School technology struggles to make an impact’. BBC Business, 15 September. Available from <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34174795> [17 September 2015].

‘The Rise and Impact of Digital Amnesia: Why we need to protect what we no longer remember’ (2015), Kaspersky Lab. Available from <https://blog.kaspersky.com/files/2015/06/005-Kaspersky-Digital-Amnesia-19.6.15.pdf> [15 November 2015].




#Lower case r, upper case ED, 17

ResearchEd17 could be forgiven for being a bit self-conscious: in recent weeks it has been spoken of less favourably, had its grassroots raked over, its biases heat-mapped. Sure enough, when I arrived (like a marathon runner along Cheering Lane), it was clear that the cheering crowds had stayed away.

total gridlock ‘Total Gridlock’

There was barely a complimentary canvas bag in sight. Was TB defeatED? Was his love affair with geeks in the staffroom and policy wonkers in the anglosphere endED? Had his hash been tagged for the last time?


It turns out that Chobham Academy, in the shadow of the Queen Elizabeth stadium, is larger than the average comp: they hosted the 2012 volleyball in their foyer – which is where we found the hordes and their canvas bags. Tom was in pink, Helene was handing out raffle tickets to win lunches, and all was right with the world. Someone (we blamed the Harris peeps) forgot the free pens, but we are high starters with 21st Century skills happy to photograb speakers’ slides and live-tweet our research. Our only concern was failing phone-battery power. #WorkingOutHowToMakeADyingPhoneWork.

I have engaged with ResearchED on many previous occasions, but this was the first time I got to engage in ResearchED. If you have never done it, you should, it’s miles better than sitting on the floor all day, and you get to rub shoulders with famous people and Nick Gibb. And you get to start the day in the speakers’ lounge, this year styled as the training room. I limbered up there with my fellow presenter James Mannion and teachers from the City of London School.


Imagine if all the boxers from the undercard were put in the same dressing room: it’s just like that. Your competitors (those you suspect will draw a bigger crowd) are in there, as are real live people who misleadingly look nothing like their Gravatar. I’m represented to the online world by a three year old drawing by my daughter, who at the time loved me enough to ignore my greying hair. In short, there is little small talk in the speakers’ room; just people doing some research before it’s their turn to present.

You would get fit working in this school. It’s designed like one of those spiralling coin boxes that entertain you as you give your old euros to charity. I joined Lisa Pettifer for a lap on the second floor. ‘Is M213 this way, Lisa?’ ‘Just keep on walking, Mark, and it soon will be.’ Jonny Peacock and Christine Ohuruogu go to school here. Sensible presenters like Christian Bokhove wear t-shirts with penguins on them. He told us that spinach does not contain lodes of iron, that the myth apparently occurred during the Great Decimal Point shift, that that too is a myth traceable to the Readers’ Digest, which may or may not be available in the Netherlands. And the moral of his tale was: don’t pretend that you know stuff really well unless you really do; try a little nuance when discussing cognitive psychology on twitter. I will try my best, Christian, but it’s in my nature…

‘Mark Quinn et al’ were giving their talk on practitioner enquiry during session 3. Six of us at the front, going for the prize of Those Most Likely to Outnumber Their Audience. Tom helped us out by scheduling against us Sherrington, Christodoulou, Weston, Jones, Creaby, Davenport, and Hood and Fletcher-Wood… et al. Well, I don’t know how many flocked to the gurus this year but we were very happy with our little turnout. Everyone had a seat, they could join in on the chat, and I could pick out old colleagues Barbara Terziyski and Vivienne Porritt.

ResearchEd17 There are more people just out of shot.

We were making the case for the gnomes of the research garden, teachers carrying out the sort of micro-research that tests out the grand theories without ever being reported. Nick wanted to know if his year 8 had a growth mindset, and if they did did it show up in achievement and effort data. (They did, and it did not.) Joe, the head of RE, has an ontological interest in creativity: he wanted to know what his students thought about it and where they would like to see more of it. Richard wanted his year 11s to be more reflective about their work, had a hunch that peer feedback would help him get there, and found that it did. The great thing about ResearchED is that it showcases some of the disciplined enquiries that real teachers are conducting, but even if ResearchED did not exist these teachers would still be gnomically enquiring away.

Amanda Spielman finished my day. That’s great because she is passionate about workload, so much so that Ofsted will ask headteachers how they are reducing it. She is also passionate about research and will turn the inspectorate’s attention that way increasingly. I asked her if she would research the impact Ofsted have on workload, and act on the results. I can imagine headteachers replying to Sean Harford’s questionnaire by saying they tell their staff to ignore Ofsted. Ofsted could write a best practice review of all of those schools that ignore them. That would be great, because lots more schools would read Ofsted’s how-to guide to ignoring Ofsted. Spielman might pull her hair out at that unintended consequence. One to watch.



CPD: the case for

In Mark Enser’s blog on the subject part one and part two, he argues that the current funding crisis in England’s schools might have the unintended consequence of forcing teachers back on to their own resources and, as he suggests, start doing their CPD for themselves. I make a point of trying never to disagree with Mark. He urges the profession to engage with the Chartered College of Teaching, and to get reading the books from the chalkface, from the likes of Summer TurnerShaun Allison and Andy Tharby. Mark is fond of a Teach Meet, and he wants more in-school professional development to be collaborative and opt-in. He’s not wrong. He is not alone in often finding external professional development – the kind we call ‘training’ or ‘courses’ – dull, pointless and even (sometimes) dangerous. And internal inset can often be no better, as Fish64 reminds us here.

I have recently left the classroom to take up a programme leader position at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning, at the UCL Institute of Education. I set up this Twitter poll to find out what people still looked for when, for whatever reason, they found themselves being ‘facilitated’ by an external pd provider. (And in the sincere hope that I might be able to meet some of their expectations.)

You can read comments on the poll here. One particularly interesting strand in the conversation was the suggestion that teachers at different points in their careers might be looking for different things from their pd. It’s not surprising that those newer to the profession like hoovering up tips: they’ve got many cats and are looking for as many ways of skinning them as possible. Some of these tips are what other teachers (the longer-serving or the precocious parvenus) call fads, or snake oil: there is no evidence to support their efficacy and what links them is their sciencey plausibility. Oddly, however, some colleagues still like them, they persist in using them and weirdly they seem to work for them. The research base for Learning Styles is non-existent, apart from all those professionals still deploying them and getting good stuff out of their pupils out of sight of researchers. This is not a blog in defence of the pursuance of nonsense, but a plea not to disdain colleagues who have found ways that work for them. I suspect many young teachers look to Twitter for inspiration and for collegial support, and the occasional tip.


Given I’ve filed a few teacher planners in my time, I can feel for those for whom another tip would take them over the tipping point. Many of us aren’t looking for ‘another way’; actually, we wouldn’t mind if you told us it was OK to stop doing some of the things we have felt for a while might be pointless. External pd, for us, is a chance to meet up with others of similar bent. You can do a lot of talking and listening, even thinking, on a day out of school with others enjoying the same release. Collaboration is what professionals do, combining experience with wisdom to arrive at new insights. At best, this goes way beyond the confirmation that ‘we are doing it right already’. Competent facilitation disturbs, discomforts, disrupts: it provokes you until either you have shifted your position, or you understand better why you hold the positions you do. And (my Twitter poll suggests) an exploration of the evidence base matters a great deal too. Here are some of the theories, this is the evidence and … it might work for you too.

This 2015 report for the NCTL by the UCL Institute of Education and Sheffield Hallam is the most authoritative account we have of ‘professional development that leads to great pedagogy’. It reminds us that pd must be grounded in the real context of the school, start with the end in mind, and is best when collaborative and informed by expert external input. It was referenced by The Teachers’ Professional Development Standard in 2016, which argued that effective pd was a ‘partnership’ of teachers, school leaders and pd providers. The prerequisites for this partnership to be successful are:

1. Professional development should have a focus on improving and evaluating pupil outcomes.

2. Professional development should be underpinned by robust evidence and expertise.

3. Professional development should include collaboration and expert challenge.

4. Professional development programmes should be sustained over time.

And all this is underpinned by, and requires that:

5. Professional development must be prioritised by school leadership.

None of this contradicts my poll. Respondents still want externally-supported pd (only 6% avoid it), they want it to be research-informed and collaborative. And, sometimes, they want to be told stuff.


Pressure Poll

It is really no stress at all to find an image to feature in a blog on ‘teacher stress’. Many of them are clearly posed (why the need?), images of people who probably aren’t teachers at all because, if they were, their skin would not look this good.


I recently conducted a Twitter poll asking the question,

“If you think that stress at school is too much, what’s causing it?”

I did it mainly because I had never conducted a Twitter poll before and I wanted to work out how to do it. I did it also because, as of Easter, I am no longer working at school (apart from popping in on Wednesdays to tide my A level students over until their exams): I am suddenly a lot less stressed than I used to be, so have the time to witter on twitter.

Here is the poll:

For all my researchy friends, I self-defensively point out some of the caveats to this sort of enquiry:

  • The question ‘leads’, by the very mention of stress. (Although, I did give an opt out.)
  • Only those teachers browsing Twitter could come across it.
  • Only those who follow me on Twitter, or following the 25 who retweeted it, could come across it.
  • I didn’t offer an explanation of ‘boss’ in the first option, and in the second what did I mean by ‘etc.’?

But, setting all those reservations aside, I was quite interested in what it threw up. (And 593 responses over one weekend was a lot more than I anticipated.)

If this had been a general election, we would have had a hung parliament with ‘Cuts’ being given the first opportunity to form a government. No single option was a clear winner; indeed, as the weekend unfolded, each option spent some time in the lead. If I had allowed four days, and not three, ‘I’m not stressed’ might easily have topped the poll. In my question, I tried to allow for the fact that stress is bound to exist – what I was interested in was too much of it. Nonetheless, over a quarter of my self-selecting sample aren’t feeling the burn.

Many were kind enough to add their comments. Several of these may have opted for number one or two, given that they cited the many and various pressures of the job. Here are a selection:


The ever-shifting demands, the fact that sometimes these run counter to our own values, or are imposed upon us by external forces such as inspectorates or the media: these are familiar themes and intractable so long as teacher agency is compromised.

Although cuts leading to additional burdens was the commonest answer, it drew fewer comments.

Thanks to everyone who took the time, despite their stress, to respond. I do wonder whether, for some of us, Twitter is a pressure valve allowing us to relieve a little stress in the evening. Perhaps I will conduct another poll…












How I said Goodbye

This day last week, I had one week to go. I pondered on my reasons for leaving teaching, after 22 years, on what I had learned, and on what I should say to my colleagues as I left. I wanted them to still feel fired up about teaching, despite the pressures there are and despite the signal I could not avoid giving off by my own resignation. I wrote my speech out, knowing that I could turn a better phrase on paper than I could ‘live’, but in the event I was hijacked. I read my speech out OK, but barely: I kept expecting someone to ask me to speak up. As my words expanded, my voice lost volume.

I should call it the ‘humble-mumble’: the things they said about me before I got a chance to stand up left me feeling unworthy of the moment… I didn’t deserve it, and the words I had ready would not rise to the occasion either.

Please Stand Up

Because this (above) is what they said. Each stood up on behalf of the group mentioned on the left, leaving me sitting nearly alone. Orchestrated by Barbara Terziyski, it was a roll call of some of the most fabulous people I know; to have been associated with them was my luck and my privilege. It would take a much better person than I to deserve their applause.

So this was the speech I mumbled. I have adjusted it slightly, to better suit a public rather than the original private audience.

26 years ago I made a decision. I’d graduated from Queen’s in Belfast, had spent a year in the Students’ Union and I had a range of great postgrads I could do, or apply to join the trainee journalism programme I had been promising myself. I had choices. 

Instead I did a crazy thing: I bought a rucksack and a sailor’s trunk, packed them and got on a bus to Poland. There I became a teacher and I have been one ever since. 

In February I did another crazy thing: I applied for a job at the IOE and today, one way or another, I stop being a teacher. 

‘Teacher’ is a great word: everyone knows what it means; everyone has a favourite, one whom they hated or who inspired them. We hold teachers to higher standards than normal people. Teachers have a vocation, we are trusted in loco parentis, under certain circumstances we can give a child a paracetamol. We can tell right from wrong, trainers from school shoes; we can read any child’s handwriting,  and when we can’t we can deep mark it anyway. We can take the origins of the universe and explain it in 50 minutes to a room full of 30 kids, each with their own special need.  We solve simultaneous equations while simultaneously taking a register on Progresso … with one leg in the corridor and one in the classroom, minding both. On a Tuesday evening we sit in teams to work out what types of questions will help students think more deeply in history, or geography or art. Teachers walk down corridors at break time without turning a blind eye or a deaf ear. We stop <insert child’s name> from doing stuff, or we try to, or we beat ourselves up when we can’t. We help kids who don’t have friends to make friends, and separate others from their friends so they might get some work done. We mark, plan, teach. We think, pair, share. We speak in triplets because that’s more persuasive. We perform a highly complex task in front of a hundred or more sometimes sceptical schoolchildren every single day, without getting stage fright. We bend young people to our will, making them work sometimes in spite of themselves, then we send them home after putting extra stuff on Show My Homework. Because of us they learn to design, experiment, differentiate and integrate, to compose, summarise, decline and conjugate, to overhead clear, gain a perspective and arrive at a conclusion. Many learn a lot, a lot learn less, and some learn at a pace different from the one we set.

Teachers – we … you … are the best a society produces; and we… you are the best hope for it.


Perhaps it takes tough times to really find out how good a person is, or how good a team is. This is a tough time for the education system, it’s tough being a teacher nowadays and certainly we have had hard days here. Over the last few years, when I have been doing my work outside Chace, I have been to schools and worked with staff and school leaders there. I meet some impressive people, hard working clever people. But I don’t meet better people than the ones I see here. I can’t thank now all those who deserve my thanks – I have tried to do that during this week. But I have to thank the people in the 3 teams that every day make my job a joy. The SLT continue to protect us from many of the worst excesses of government policy, and I want you to appreciate that that is a daily battle. Our headteacher does the toughest job in the world, he does it with a grace and humour I could never find, and I am genuinely proud to have served him. The Humanities crowd are loyal to each other and generous to others. My 2 heads of department – Dalga and Hugh – mean much more to me than their titles suggest. They give me credit where none is due. I wish I could have been better for you, but please know not all your efforts were in vain.

This year has been hard, but getting to spend it in the office with the CLT team (and Phil) has been extraordinary. Louise, Dan, Ethan: you have blown me away with your commitment and skill. We are a more confident, research-informed, better bunch of teachers because of you. And Barbara. As Hof and CLT, I have line-managed her every day of the 9 years I have been here. Frankly for most of that time it has been trying to get out of her way, so that the force that is Terziyski can get on with it.

Then they gave me gifts of alcohol and books, chocolates and pickled vegetables. And a cherry blossom tree. Similar to the one that stood for years at the front of the school, from today it stands at the front of my house.

Planting cherry blossom

22 Years on the Clock

22 on the clock

With one term gratis for good behaviour, I have 22 years on my teaching clock. That’s about 880 weeks. I have not counted the number of students I have taught, or teachers I have trained, or NQTs I have inducted. I struggle to recall the numerous A level and GCSE specs I have ploughed through; parents’ evenings I reckon I have endured about a hundred of. The only other significant number I have left is 1. I have one week left as a teacher.

I haven’t written my speech yet. I have penned cards to some of my closest colleagues, utterly failing to convey the quantity and quality of my admiration for them. I’ve signed them off ‘Love, Mark.’ When, with another person, you go through difficult times, you share a tough job but you smile your way through it because there is mutual support and trust – then, there is a sort of love. We have achieved things together none of us could have achieved alone: we have made teachers, we have made some great teachers, and those teachers have achieved even greater things with their own students. Maybe I will make a speech out of that.

What do I know now that I didn’t know when I started? Have I made 22 years’ progress? I’m a lot less certain than I used to be. Now I realise that learning is slow, possibly invisible, and unlikely ever to be accurately captured in a lesson or a test. Now I know that I don’t truly understand what I am looking at when I sit at the back of someone else’s classroom, or skim through their exercise books, even though I will be asked to make a judgement or offer feedback: if learning is intangible, then the processes involved in teaching are mind-blowingly complex, conditional upon an unknowable balance between what we call ‘relationships’ and what we call ‘subject knowledge’. I think I mark work better now, and that I give better guidance about how students can improve their writing, and that some students whose behaviour would have given me trouble before no longer does. That’s my progress. I might get a speech out of that.

I’ve got some funny stories – that always goes down well in a speech. There is the time when I left my passport at home on a trip abroad, and the other when my colleague left the kids’ passports in the hotel safe. Colleagues will remember the open evening when, after a fire alarm we left some of the parents at the bottom of the field in the dark. But I’m not a comedian and stories are only funny to those people who already know them.

There is the option to make the speech that many other teachers across the country will be making this Easter, or summer: the one about why they are leaving. Students, and their parents, don’t have the respect for teachers that they used to. Workload is impossible because we have to cater for every learning need, stretching the highly able, supporting the lower starters while somehow narrowing the gaps between the two. ‘Those who can’t’ seem to have decided that among the things they cannot do is teach, because the job does not pay well enough for the stress you have to endure. DIRTy green pens! I won’t be making that speech, cocking my snook at all the poor sods still sitting in the staffroom. I don’t buy it anyway: I’m leaving a great profession, not a terrible one. If the golden age of high teacher regard occurred at any point within the past 22 years, if the job used to be a breeze, if we were ever well-remunerated for sitting on our arses – if any of that happened, it didn’t happen in the schools I ploughed my furrow. Schools were always skint, respect always had to be earned, and piles of marking always resembled the New York skyline. Sure, I’m tired but I ain’t moaning.

Place me in a cube with 30 kids and I can still be transported. Training H to stay in his seat, when really he wants to run the corridors; responding to R’s quizzical look, as he politely expresses some doubt about my latest pearl; getting everyone to hang on J’s stumbling, unconfident word; realising that there is no history homework that S will do that cannot be improved with a teabag stain; watching R master English and my subject within two years of entering the country; building W’s self-esteem so that he edges his way from an F, to an E to a C. These are my victories. These are the wins that allow me to live with the fact that S cuts my worksheet into confetti, that R thinks I don’t like her, and that K has bust his knee again so will miss weeks more of school. The gains do outweigh the losses, for me they always have. There is a speech in that. But the speech could darken: just because I have given a convincing display as a competent teacher for the past 22 years is no guarantee that I could keep it up. It takes a lot of personality to keep going – by that, I mean that I have to dig deep into my inner resources to stay good at what I do, to achieve more gains on my ledger than losses. If teaching has changed in my time, I might note that being good has got harder – harder for schools, their headteachers, their classroom staff. The bar went up on being OK, and it’s going up on being good. That’s a bit scary for a young fogey like me.

The speech-that-gives-thanks is both the safe and the right one to give. It’s a pity somehow that I can only thank those in the school I am at now, and not also those from the other schools that made me the teacher I will soon no longer be. My primary school teacher, who kept me reading when I wanted to run away. My A level German teacher, who was the one who suggested I might give this game a go in Poland. Chris Husbands who trained me at UEA, and Andy Buck who was one of my first headteachers. Simon, my first head of department; Shirley the Head of 6th form I was assistant to, and Jen who was assistant to me in the same role. The role call of gratitude is just too long: teachers are the best people in the world and I have been surrounded by some of the best of them. (That’s definitely in the speech.)

By the way, I still have some mileage left in me, or hours on my clock – or whatever the metaphor was that I began with all those years ago. There will be another blog for that, ready for the summer term. By then, I will have adjusted my standfirst, my little self-description – those few words in which I proudly pronounce myself a teacher.