Thursday, 23 April 2015

Let's #TellPearson

The "global educator" Pearson are holding their AGM in London tomorrow (Friday).

A number of organisations here and abroad are taking the opportunity to highlight the role Pearson's play in the corporate takeover of education, spying on kids and the drive towards a data, test driven model of education.

This is capitalising on the fact that Pearson are already under a lot of pressure in the US. Read more about that HERE.

Various things are planned for tomorrow including press briefings and a delegation to the AGM.

One way in which we can all join in and support this is by taking to Twitter - from 7pm tonight and all day tomorrow - using two hashtags#tellPearson and #Childrendeserve

Some example tweets could be:

#TellPearson  stop monitoring social media #ChildrenDeserve not to be spied upon

#TellPearson end high stakes tests because #ChildrenDeserve a better education

#TellPearson no to for profit schools because #ChildrenDeserve good public education

Remember that during a Twitter storm it's the amount of original tweets that counts. Retweets have little effect but it's perfectly acceptable to copy and paste other people's tweets. The main thing is getting the message out there.

OK. Are you ready? Go!

PS. This is just phase 1 of the social media campaign. Phase 2 will kick in tomorrow. Stand by for details.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Mocksteds. Still happening. This is what happened when a member of a governing body objected...

This is an anonymous guest post from a member of a governing body, sacked for questioning the merits of a 'Mocksted'.

"I cannot see why any school would/should want to put itself through a mocksted" 

Sean Harford, National Director for Schools, Ofsted

The recent holidays delivered a shock. After two years of association with the Governing Body (GB) of my children's school, a letter arrived terminating this connection without warning or discussion. 

My professional background means I am well-qualified to assist with issues of law and governance. I took up my post with enthusiasm and rigour, initially assuming that my skills would be welcomed. 

However, although the GB was happy to let me undertake enormous amounts of work for it, there was a sense of discomfort attached to this as no one wanted to acknowledge the reason for the work, i.e. there were deficits in corporate governance and management. The letter through the post confirmed that it was easier  to 'shoot the messenger' than deliver real change. 

People may not appreciate the unusual and contradictory dynamic of a GB. It has significant strategic responsibilities for a school, yet it must not interfere with operational matters; it needs to ensure statutory duties are being met, yet it is comprised of volunteers who may have little or no understanding of the law;  it has multiple duties to ensure equality and promote access to education for vulnerable groups, but it may wrongly view these as barriers to league tables places; finally, it may know it has to hold the headteacher to account, but it may be crippled by deference, especially if its members are not prepared to read/understand/question the data produced.

My GB reflected all of these dichotomies. Further, the school's physical location and demographic produced a conservative and traditional outlook which presented significant challenges to providing a rounded 21st century education or even to working collaboratively with staff and parents.  In a way which is perhaps symptomatic of the malaise affecting many modern bureaucracies, the GB often seemed to lurch from panic to complacency, lacking an overall strategic vision. I think this is partly a consequence of the Ofsted blame/praise game where the focus of the school is distracted by appearances and its desire to 'look good'.  I have some sympathy: there are significant external and internal pressures acting on all schools . However, a relentless search for quick fixes and 'magic bullets' fails children and staff and distracts from the real business of educating pupils.

For me, the turning point in my relationship with the GB proved to be a proposal to conduct a 'mocksted'. It was not discussed at GB and seemed to spring from nowhere. It was to be undertaken by someone whose ability to 'pretend to be Ofsted' seemed open to question but, more importantly, although the GB and the head were arranging it and so had several weeks' notice,  it was proposed that the teachers were not to be told until the day before.

This concerned me greatly and I made my views known. I didn't expect Governors to agree with me but I genuinely believed they would be prepared to discuss the issues I was raising. I suggested we work collaboratively with staff rather than 'surprise them'. I felt this was damaging to school/staff relationships. I also questioned the purpose of a 'mocksted' when the GB did not even self-evaluate. I stressed that we had to know our school first and foremost.

The inspection went ahead on a day when the GB knew I could not attend school. It went ahead in the way planned. It was very clear that some Governors saw my views as undermining but they did not discuss it with me so I did not suspect that they would respond by ejecting me. 

Inevitably, the 'inspector' confirmed what the school thought about itself. So that really was money well-spent. Governors can now rest assured that not always implementing or understanding policies and practices is not necessarily a problem when it comes to inspection time as long as they can 'handle' what is thrown at them. And, clearly,  inspection time is what counts.

The first GB meeting after the inspection was then also changed to a date I could not attend.
I heard nothing more. Two weeks later, without any attempt to speak to me, my holiday time letter arrived, telling me that the GB had decided to terminate my position, leaving me feeling hurt and shocked. This termination felt like an act of bullying which could have been incredibly damaging to someone who hadn't developed my rhino's hide and could have irreparably damaged the relationship between school and parent and possibly even school and child. 

Are the two issues related by anything other than timing? The letter suggests otherwise but a reasonable conclusion is that they are as the last GB meeting had seen me being assigned additional roles.

The GB's decision was entirely challengeable legally and I have told the GB this. But what benefit is such a challenge to anyone but me? And, realistically,  who wants to be part of such an organisation?

After raising the illegality of their practices, I was asked to attend a meeting. I said I would if I was to be provided with an apology for their poor handling of this matter. This response has been complete silence.  Clearly, the school's 'values' agenda applies only to children.

Interestingly, on Monday 2 March I was alerted to a twitter conversation which was started by @emmaannhardy who asked:  "I keep hearing about Mocksteds in schs & the crazy pressure they put staff under. :( I wondered what you thought to Mocksteds @HarfordSean"

The answer from Sean Harford, Ofsted's National Director for Schools, was:

"I cannot see why any school would/should want to put itself through a mocksted. A good L&M team will know its school and 1/"

"2/3 staff well enough to support school improvement. Why should it need to put more stress on staff and spend more public"

"3/3 money? Just can't see any justification for this."

I felt slightly vindicated on reading this but as the conversation progressed it was clear that the only accountability mechanism being suggested was the local authority - a body unlikely to involve itself in these type of school disputes, especially when LAs take money off schools for these 'mocksteds'.

Schools should not be fiefdoms but the reality is that, with no genuine accountability, GBs can effectively do what they like. In the hands of managerialists this will result in a focus on targets and a concern with how schools look to those who inspect them, irrespective of the true picture.  My view is that this fails pupils and staff but evidently it was not a view I was permitted to hold. 

I can only conclude that Thomas Paine was right when he said: “A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Hate Mail

OK people, we need you to roar like you’ve never roared before.


The Daily Mail has used its front page to attack teaching unions.

Some background:

The NUT representative for Haringey in London is a woman called Julie Davies. She has ruffled some feathers locally both by representing her members effectively, and by supporting the Save Downhills campaign, which caused Gove and his goons no end of grief.

Now two head teachers have said that they will no longer accept Julie Davies as the NUT representative in Haringey.

This is obviously completely unacceptable. The whole basis of teaching unions is democracy, and the NUT members in Haringey voted in Julie Davies as their representative. Heads cannot dictate who represents NUT members in Haringey, only the union members themselves can.

When strike action is taken locally, rather than at national level, it is usual for that action to be ‘sustained’, i.e. the union concerned will use funds set aside for the purpose to ensure that members aren’t disproportionately penalised financially - as they are taking action over and above national action.

The NUT in Haringey is not “paying teachers to strike,” they are using union funds, set aside for the purpose, to defend the rights of all members. It is a clear point of principle that heads cannot decide who represents union members. The very idea undermines all teaching unions and that’s why it’s absolutely necessary for NUT members in Haringey to take strike action – they do so on behalf of all of us!

Here at TeacherROAR we are a huge supporter of all the teaching unions. They are the last bastion against the likes of Gove and have had considerable success in slowing down his ‘reforms’. We cannot allow them to be undermined in this way.

The Daily Mail are using this dispute, and twisting the truth, to further their agenda to damage and weaken the teaching unions. We need to show them that we will not tolerate this.

So what can you do to show your disgust at the actions of the Daily Mail?

  1. Join in our Twitterstorm at 9pm tonight (12 November). Express your disgust for @DailyMailUK using the hashtag #HateMail 
  2. If you use Facebook post messages expressing your concerns on the Daily Mail page
  3. Send email messages of support to

Monday, 13 October 2014

Will 'superteachers' be just like 'superheads'?

David Cameron has written in today's Mail about his great new education policy - 'superteachers'!

He says:

A National Teaching Fellowship will pay the best of the best to work in failing or inadequate schools. I want to see 1,500 of these top teachers signed up and in post by 2020. That means two in every school; every child within reach of first class teaching.

Where to even start with this hugely insulting nonsense? 

The UK has the second best education system in Europe and the sixth best education system in the world according to a recent study. Every child already has access to first class teaching. It's a huge insult to the teaching profession to suggest that they don't.
The fact is that teachers are constantly being told that they are doing it wrong and other people know how to do it better. This is demoralising whether you are a classroom teacher, middle management, or a head. Being ‘offered support’ has come to have a whole new meaning in education circles. People wince when they hear it, knowing that it will usually entail not genuine support, but a constant stream of critique that is undermining and destructive.

And it’s not like we haven’t been here before. Before 'superteachers we had 'superheads'. We had superheads like Richard Gilliland (who employed his son and his daughter and resigned after government auditors uncovered a series of extraordinary purchases including hi-tech gadgets, antiques and sex games), like Jo Shuter (despite being given a CBE and a head teacher of the year award, she was investigated for fraud and struck off the teaching register after using school funds to pay for her own birthday party), and like Sir Alan Davies (knighted for services to education he narrowly avoided jail after pleading guilty to six charges of false accounting).

Do you see where we're going with this?

For the record we don't know any teachers - heads or otherwise - who don't want to get better at what they do. And mentoring and coaching done in a collegiate way can be extremely effective. Sharing and building on good practice is essential to developing and improving education (and incidentally is one of the many things which performance related pay could destroy). 

Superteachers? Thanks for the idea Dave, but it's about time you and other politicians told the truth. This country is already full of superteachers and they are fed up with being denigrated and insulted by you.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Major online action tomorrow night!

Here at TRHQ we've got wind of a major online action tomorrow night (Tuesday 30th). All we know right now is that it will happen between 9 and 10pm so make sure you've got internet access then. There will be a special hashtag which will be revealed nearer the time. 

Friday, 1 August 2014

Harris: Leaving the 'Evil Empire'

An experienced teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, writes about their feelings on leaving the Harris Academy chain.

When I tell teachers where I’ve worked for the majority of the last decade, when I mention the name “Harris”, I often see a look in their eyes of haunted horror mixed with deep personal relief that it wasn’t them.  But finally, I’m going.  I have a new job in a great comprehensive and I can finally begin to put my professional life back together.  Sounds melodramatic?  They don’t call it “The Evil Empire” for nothing.

While not all of the academies in the chain are the same, there is a common theme that the Harris federation really struggle to hang on to the staff in their schools.  Average annual turnovers of between 25-40% of personnel are not unusual at some sites.  OFSTED have been known to spin this in their glowing inspection reports as being part of a 'relentless drive' to ensure the very best teachers work at Harris academies: the inference being that those driven out can’t cut the mustard. But that’s just not true.  We keep losing perky GTP youngsters, full of beans and inventiveness and a desire to succeed… burned out and gone.  On the other hand, in my mid-sized secondary academy there will only be seven teaching staff over the age of forty left from September, because valuable, experienced, ‘outstanding’ teachers have been driven away year-by-year through a constant compulsion to throw away the practices that work in favour of those that are flavour of the month.  Only one member of our SLT and one of our Middle Leaders have school-aged children of their own, doubtlessly because the 60-80 hour standard working week is simply incompatible with family life.  I have one friend at another Harris academy who returned to work part time after having children, but regularly has to put them into childcare on her ‘days off’ in order to keep on top of the workload.  Needless to say, she’s also looking for work elsewhere. Through one initiative and another the weekly contact hours with students grow higher and higher, and staff are no longer invited but expected to teach additional classes in the holidays.

You may be thinking “well, come on – long hours go with the job“ …and they do.  They always have.  There is much more to it than workload.  I'm sure you all remember when Sir Michael Wilshaw, the outgoing Chief Inspector of Schools, infamously said in 2011 "If anyone says to you that 'staff morale is at an all-time low' you know you are doing something right." A phrase so unethical, so vile that I hardly knew where to begin in my reaction to it. Well, it seems to me that leaders of the Harris federation may have taken that comment as a goal - an instruction that they should go out of their way to destroy morale, as the surefire way to achieve their objectives.  Because achieve them, they do.  Harris academies get great results in tough areas, and it can be hard to argue with that… until you look at other schools which also get those great results with similar kids, and you see that those schools can hold onto their staff.  I have occasionally been invited to the staff social events of other schools and what's remarkable is that no one is crying in the corner; or tearing out their hair; or endlessly, furiously trying to make sense of the head’s latest brainwave.  It’s a revelation.  Because there’s nothing wrong with the destination: maximise progress, never give up on the kids, pursue excellence in teaching… it’s great stuff.  It’s just the route Harris academies take that destroys dedicated, skilled, motivated teachers.  The philosophy of the federation is to pre-empt what they think the Department for Education / OFSTED might want, identify a way to deliver it that will produce lots and lots of evidence (at whatever cost to actual teaching time), and make that the ONLY permitted way to teach.  And at the same time, you must, at all costs (and you may have heard dark rumours about methodologies at some of our academies) deliver four levels of progress for every single student otherwise not only will your pay stagnate but if it isn’t Ebacc, your subject or course can disappear from the curriculum with no notice or consultation - in some cases triggering redundancies.  Three mini-OFSTEDs a year with 48 hours notice will keep anxiety levels high (and that’s at the academies where ‘Outstanding’ has already been secured – at our newer or more troubled sites the inspection regime is constant and aggressive).  There may be some happier Harrises, but the atmosphere at the ones I know is toxic.  There is a culture of presumed incompetence, and each observation or evidence gathering exercise is used as an opportunity to catch you out. And it's this culture, in combination with the workload, that’s simply unsustainable. I look around at the federation training events and see thousands of mostly young staff, (overwhelmingly slim, caucasian, dressed for sober commerce - there’s a definite Harris ‘look’) and above all the hubbub and din there’s an almost audible note of all these bright, resilient spirits being stretched to breaking-point.  For my own part: I’m a consistently outstanding teacher and I've lasted a lot longer than most... but that's partly because I have been made to feel, for many years, that despite my observations and great exam results no one else would ever want to employ me.  It made me so unhappy that a summons by the head for a ‘chat’ (never any indication of the subject matter, this is management-as-guerilla-warfare) would see me feeling sick to my stomach.  Worse, I know the poisonous culture has made colleagues at more than one Harris academy consider taking their own lives. 

A while ago, Gove (ahh, Gove… I like to imagine his strange, disappointed little face when he heard about the reshuffle) wrote about Lord Harris as a “hero” and his overpaid henchman / CEO Sir Dan Moynihan as “inspirational”.  Every current or ex-Harris teacher I saw respond to this described a feeling of nausea having read the article and for me it was a sickness borne of frustration.  How can they pretend this is a bowl of proverbial cherries?  How can they ignore how unhealthy it feels to work in this system?  How can they look at exam results and OFSTED judgments and pretend not to see how many teachers – talented, intelligent, professional teachers – are leaving the federation and will never, ever return?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

In a teaching union that's not striking? What should you do on a strike day?

You should NOT cover for striking colleagues. 

This undermines their democratic right to withdraw their labour. 

Please support colleagues on strike by following the official advice of the teaching unions.

NASUWT official advice

NASUWT members should:
make clear to the headteacher/principal that they will be reporting for work as normal;
make clear that they will not accept any variation to their contracted duties and/or undertake the timetabled or other responsibilities of those engaged in action, including taking into their timetabled lessons pupils from classes of teachers who are involved in strike.
That's taken from this page on the NASUWT site. 
ATL offical advice
ATL members should advise the head teacher that they are available to work normally, but they are not willing to accept arrangements which undermine the industrial action of colleagues. This is normally done via the rep.
ATL will normally consider it unreasonable for you to be asked:
  • to take over the work of colleagues engaged in industrial action, other than in exceptional circumstances (such as genuine emergency)
  • to undertake a teaching load greater than usual or to accept additional responsibilities or duties as a result of colleagues taking industrial action
  • to agree to the amalgamation of groups of pupils or students or to the division of one group between others as a result of colleagues taking industrial action.
That's taken from this page on the ATL site.